chancery "open house" reveals a house of ministry

Father Jorge Torres, Director of Vocations, greetsCorpus Christi Society members Huguette and Selim Ayoub.

If Robin Neel, a parishioner at St. James Cathedral, had to choose one word to describe the difference between the offices of the Diocesan Chancery and a traditional office environment, that word would be “love.”

“Every department talked about love and service to the people and parishes, not the mechanics of their jobs,” she said. “Their job is more than that. There is that sense of love.”

Robin was one of 14 guests who joined Bishop John Noonan on October 20 for a “behind the scenes” tour of the Diocesan Chancery, where the Bishop and nearly 120 diocesan employees minister and serve.

“For me, the building is not just any building. It is a special and holy space because within occurs the carrying forth of the mission of the Church,” Bishop Noonan said of the historic downtown Orlando building.

The tour was part of an effort by The Catholic Foundation of Central Florida to help the faithful understand how their gifts to Our Catholic Appeal change lives. Most of the guests who attended the tour are members of the Corpus Christi Society, a group of Catholic leaders who support Our Catholic Appeal at the level of $10,000 or more annually. Of the 28 ministries that receive funding through the appeal, the majority are based in the Chancery.

“What goes on here?” Bishop continued. “Quite simply, a life of service.”

The fruits of that service could be found on every floor. At the Office of Vocations, guests learned that the diocese is currently supporting 35 young men in formation for the priesthood- one of the largest groups in diocesan history. All 35 grew up in Central Florida, nurtured by our parishes. Another 34 men are in formation for the permanent diaconate. Catholic school enrollment throughout the diocese is steadily increasing.

The good news extends abroad to our sister diocese in the Dominican Republic. Since the Diocese of Orlando began a series of medical, construction and education missions to a remote, mountain-top village in the Diocese of San Juan de la Maguana, not one child in the community has died, said Bishop Noonan.

The tour also gave guests an eye-opening look at ministries they never knew existed. Although Robin Neel attends Mass right next door at St. James Cathedral, she, like several other guests, wasn’t aware that the Chancery houses a Catholic radio station, Buena Nueva FM, or that Catholic Volunteers in Florida has an office in the building.

Other guests were astonished by the sheer number of ministries aimed at serving parishes. These services often go unnoticed by parishioners and include tech support, budget planning, and help with construction and maintenance decisions.

“The Chancery is here to serve and assist our parishes, so that pastors can concentrate on taking care of the spiritual needs of people. So they don’t have to serve as business managers or accountants,” explained Bishop Noonan.

Diocesan archivist Renae Bennett wrapped up the tour with a colorful account of the Chancery’s history, architecture, and even its windows: Green on the first floor signifies Jesus Christ; red on the second floor represents the Holy Spirit; and gold on the third floor symbolizes God the Father.

The property, located at 50 East Robinson in Orlando, was originally the site of St. Joseph’s Academy, founded in 1889 by the Sisters of St. Joseph. The Academy was later renamed the Cathedral School of St. James and relocated to its current home on Ridgewood Street across from Lake Eola. The building that would eventually become the Chancery was then sold to the Federal government in 1939 and developed into a post office and courthouse. The Diocese repurchased the building in 2001, but a post office still remains in the back half of the structure and an engraving on the eastern exterior wall bears witness to its time as a federal courthouse.

“This property has always been a part of our history,” said Bennett. “In God’s wisdom, we were able to come home again.”

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