He had just finished going on about why people justifiably don't like lawyers when he announced he was about to become one. “It's an honorary thing,” said Monsignor Laurence Higgins, although he went on to talk about a string of family barristers back in Northern Ireland. He thought the honorary title he was getting from Ave Maria University meant he was holding up his end of the deal. We were having lunch this week — the Monsignor, George and Leonard Levy, and me. It seemed like an ecumenical gathering of two Jewish twin brothers, an Irish Roman Catholic and a Lutheran. But then for decades, Monsignor Higgins, who is approaching his 60th anniversary as a priest, was practically Tampa's official deliverer of prayers. If there was a notable function, especially if it was wrapped around the world of sport, you could count on the Monsignor being there with a prayer.
Technically, he retired in 2007 from St. Lawrence, but he remains in constant demand for funerals, weddings or you name it. The Levy twins are almost as well-known, largely for their civic involvement. It is no coincidence the Levys and the Monsignor have all been named “Citizen of the Year” at the annual Governor's Luncheon. Usually, with these three, I expect the conversation to turn to sports. The Monsignor played professional Irish football before seeing the light, and the Levy brothers were instrumental in so much around here, including bringing the Bucs to town. But there was none of that. The Monsignor's Irish eyes were not smiling. There was nothing specific, although he was loaded with examples of his anger. We started with politics, which is not always a good place to start, especially when you are trying to solve the world's ills over corned beef sandwiches. But it was George Levy who brought it a little closer to home when he said one problem was the meddling in the schools by politicians without a clue. That's where Higgins jumped in, saying he was tired of everyone blaming the schools for society's problems when the focal point needed to be the family. I'm not too sure what the Monsignor said next. Whenever he gets serious, his Irish brogue gets thicker and you look out the window to see if the clouds are getting darker. If there is a single ill dragging this country down, he is convinced it is the breakdown of the family. “We throw the children out into a world of video games and television where the object of almost everything is to kill people.” “They've become desensitized,” George Levy added, trying to get in a sentence or two, but there was no stopping the Monsignor. “We have lost at least two generations because we have abandoned the principles that this country was founded upon,” he said. “Somebody has to stand up and say, 'No!' once in a while and it needs to begin with discipline in the family. If it does, then the schools will follow and business and politics will follow after that.” I'm not so sure about politicians, but I could see where the Monsignor was going and he was right as usual.