TAMPA — In six decades of guiding St. Lawrence Catholic Parish worshipers, the late Monsignor Laurence Higgins' leadership also made life better for countless Tampa residents, a legacy that will now be immortalized in a 6-foot, 300-pound, bronze statue to be installed outside Higgins Hall on Oct. 7.
Bishop Gregory Parkes of the Diocese of St. Petersburg will bless the statue and the city will unveil a sign renaming part of Himes Avenue as Monsignor Higgins Avenue. The public is welcome to attend the 6 p.m. installation which will be streamed live on the parish web site, stlawrence.org.
Three plaques will be attached to the likeness. One details his biography below the words Welcome Home. A side plaque includes his sermon-ending catch phrase, "Let's Do it." Another expresses his strong belief in La Familia, the family unit.
"We had some job convincing him," said Bob Best, a longtime parishioner and close friend recalling the effort to win the ailing clergyman's approval to commission sculptor Linda Ackley. "He really didn't think he was worthy."
Nor did he approve of the expense.
"He would have far preferred the money go to charity which is why we kept it really quiet," said Best, adding a handful of influential friends covered the undisclosed cost.
"It was a good deal," Best said. "Linda treated us well, and there's a lot of people who loved him. About six months before he died in August 2016 we convinced him this was a way to keep his mission alive."
Best is organizing a fundraising dinner to follow the public installation, to be emceed by former WFLA-Ch. 8 anchor Gayle Sierens, with 700 guests celebrating his church and civic contributions. Guest speakers will include Monsignor's nephew, Martin Gourley, former mayor Dick Greco and parishioner Mark Donohue. Tickets are $75, with all proceeds providing financial aid to Cristo Rey Tampa High School, St. Peter Claver School, and St. Lawrence Catholic School students — all schools that Monsignor helped found and maintain.
"He did so many things beyond the church," Best said. "He was an incredible guy."