Seminarian Anthony Tran and I went to the funeral Mass of Fr. John McLaughlin at St Martha Church, Miami Shores; Anthony served the Mass with Archbishop Wenski; I concelebrated some twenty or thirty priests. (Many priests are on vacation in these summer months; more would have been there.) I knew Father McLaughlin throughout his whole ministry; he was ordained in 1966 by Archbishop Coleman Carroll, who also ordained me a priest in 1973. We were contemporaries, him a little older.
This is what I remember about him and what Archbishop Wenski, Father Federico Capdepón, and Father Tony Muldery remembered about him when they spoke: he was a simple, humble, loving priest, anxious to serve the people where he was assigned. In his 51 years as a priest, he served parishes and high schools in Dade, Broward, and Monroe Counties. He was the founding pastor of St. Martha Parish in 1978, which began celebrating Masses in the converted Bikini Motel on the 114th block of Biscayne Boulevard until the new St. Martha Church and the Pastoral Center/Chancery were dedicated in April, 1983. He served there as pastor until 1993, when he moved to pastor Blessed Sacrament Church in Fort Lauderdale for ten years until his retirement in 2003. But in his retirement he worked as chaplain on cruise ships, tending to the needs not only of the passengers but also of the crews. He challenged the passengers who might have been away from the Church for a long time: “If you see me on the deck, please stop and talk.” He also volunteered for ministry to seafarers at Port Everglades, tending to the spiritual and sometimes physical needs of those who work on the cruise and cargo ships.
Anecdotal stories give an insight into the man’s heart. When Fr. Capdepón of St. Martha Parish was having surgery and would be absent for two months, Fr. John said he would cover for him. When a Haitian young man Fritzner Bellonce was a seminarian, and feeling a stranger with no place to go in this country, Fr. John made him welcome and provided a place for him to stay at Blessed Sacrament Church. Fr. Bellonce, who is now pastor of Holy Family Church, grieves for the loss of a dear friend. In his retirement, he also organized a ministry for retired priests, explaining: “There’s nothing worse than for a retired priest to feel alone. He needs to feel that we care about him.” In ordinary ways Fr. John was extraordinary. That is a challenge for us in “Ordinary Time” in the Church’s calendar: we must be extraordinary in following gospel values in the ordinary situations of life.
Two “extraordinary” encounters marked Fr. John McLaughlin’s life. In his role as pastor at St. Martha Church he welcomed Mother Teresa in 1986. In 1987 he hosted Pope John Paul II’s meeting with priests of the United States. People might say he was privileged to meet and welcome those special guests who became saints. I hope they know how they were blessed to be meet Fr. John.