Florida Irish come from many different places and religious faiths. Two controversial and influential Irish-American men-of-faith, who made lasting impacts upon Florida and the Nation, were Miami Archbishop Coleman Francis Carroll and Reverend Dr. D. James Kennedy.
Miami Archbishop Coleman Francis Carroll was a powerful, hard-line Roman Catholic traditionalist, civil rights warrior and champion of Florida’s Cuban refugee community. He came from Pittsburgh, a tough-as-nails prelate in the pre-Vatican II mold. Archbishop Carroll’s wishes were everyone else’s commands. His years in Miami were turbulent ones: Black Americans struggled for civil rights; the Vietnam War shook and almost tore the country apart; Vatican II "opened the windows" and a storm of change engulfed the Catholic Church; and South Florida struggled to cope as hundreds of thousands of Cuban refugees began washing up on its shores, fleeing Castro’s Communist dictatorship 90 miles south. The Church, the Country and South Florida would never be the same. As Florida’s highest-ranking Catholic prelate, Carroll combined strong support for racial justice and the welfare of Cuban refugees with vociferous opposition to liberalization of the Church. He lobbied vigorously against the repeal of the no-meat-on-Fridays rule and was in the forefront of the successful battle to defeat Dade County’s gay rights ordinance in 1977. For all of his conservatism and external toughness, Carroll had a compassionate heart. He was friend to the homeless, and stopped frequently at downtown Miami’s Camillus House to chat and serve meals. Through the Catholic Service Bureau (now Catholic Charities), a social service network which still rivals the State’s in scope, he built homes for the elderly and unwed mothers, opened rehabilitation centers for drug addicts and alcoholics, cared for orphans, ministered to widows and refugees, educated the mentally handicapped, and provided emergency help to those who were down and out.
Coleman Francis Carroll was born on February 9, 1905 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the second of three children of William Carroll and Margaret (Hogan) Carroll. His parents were both born in Ireland. His father, who worked as a railroad brakeman and clerk for Carnegie Steel Company, died in 1922 when Coleman was only 17. He attended Holy Rosary elementary and high schools at Homewood, and later graduated from Duquesne University in 1926. His theological studies were undertaken at St. Vincent Seminary at Latrobe. Coleman was ordained as a priest for the Diocese of Pittsburg in 1930, and spent 23 years as a parish priest before being named auxiliary bishop of his home diocese. His two brothers also joined the priesthood: his older brother, Howard Joseph Carroll, served as Bishop of Altoona-Johnstown; and his younger brother, Walter Sharp Carroll, worked in the Vatican Secretariat of State. On August 25, 1953, Carroll was appointed Auxiliary Bishop of Pittsburgh and Titular Bishop of Pitanae by Pope Pius XII. His consecration was attended by over 2,000 people, including Pennsylvania’s first Catholic governor, David L. Lawrence.
On August 13, 1958, Carroll was named the first Bishop of the newly-created Diocese of Miami in Florida. When Bishop Carroll took charge of the Miami Diocese, his flock numbered fewer than 200,000 Catholics spread over 16 counties, covering exactly half of the state. When he died in office 19 years later, the sleepy southern diocese had turned into a booming, bustling, metropolitan See with more than 700,000 Catholics in eight counties, covering approximately one quarter of the state.
To his credit, Bishop Carroll did not merely preside over this metamorphosis. He was the temperamental architect, the exacting engineer and the restless builder who erected the physical structure of today’s Archdiocese of Miami. To chronicle it all, to make his voice heard and to bind the far-flung people of his diocese, Carroll founded a weekly newspaper, "The Voice." It published its first edition, including a section in Spanish, known as "La Voz," on March 20, 1958. Staffers recall that it was indeed the bishop’s paper. He frequently visited the office unannounced, to criticize as well as suggest stories, and often demanded, just hours before the printing deadline, that the whole front page be changed. St. John Vianney College Seminary in Miami was dedicated just thirteen months after Carroll’s installation. The major seminary of St. Vincent de Paul in Boynton Beach, which now serves every diocese in Florida, opened its doors just four years later, in 1963.
But perhaps most important for the diocese, and South Florida as well, was the swift and wholehearted way in which Carroll welcomed Cuban exiles in the early 1960’s. Typical was his reaction to the plight of unaccompanied children who were being smuggled out of Cuba in the early years of Fidel Castro’s regime. Msgr. Bryan O. Wash, who then headed the Catholic Charities programs of the diocese, had agreed to help resettle about 200 of the estimated 7,000 refugee children, without first asking Carroll’s permission. When Carroll found out, he was furious: "Who do you think you are?" he scolded, "I am the bishop here! We’ll take all 7,000 of them." Eventually, the number of children smuggled out by Operation Pedro Pan (Peter Pan) as the secret program became known, reached 14,000. The Catholic Church in South Florida waited for them at the airport, and used its own resources to house and feed them for more than a year, until the federal government acknowledged its responsibilities. Afterward, the Church continued to care for the children in group or foster homes until their parents could join them.
In September of 1961, the first large gathering of Cuban exiles took place at a mass in honor of their homeland’s patroness, Our Lady of Charity of Cobre. The wounds of exile were painfully raw when about 15,000 came together that evening in what was then Bobby Maduro Baseball Stadium. At the end of the Mass, which was celebrated in Spanish, Bishop Carroll stood up to greet his new flock. He had practiced a few words for the occasion. "Buenas noches", he said haltingly. At first the crowd reacted with a stunned silence, recalled the late Father Donald Connolly, the bishop’s personal secretary at the time, "Then the whole crowd, as one, realized that this foreign bishop in a foreign land was reaching out to them. They began to scream, then they raised white handkerchiefs, and then they applauded louder than a 747 jet. They just could not stop, and he [Carroll] began to cry." The Mass in honor of Our Lady of Charity became an annual tradition, eventually moving to Miami Marine Stadium and now to the American Airlines Arena.
In 1968, due to the tremendous influx of new residents from the northern United States as well as the Caribbean, and also in recognition of Carroll’s dynamic leadership, the 10-year-old Diocese of Miami was made an Archdiocese and named Metropolitan See for all of Florida. Bishop Carroll then became the Archbishop and Metropolitan.
As the Archdiocese of Miami had grown, Archbishop Carroll had grown old rearing it. He died on July 26, 1977, at the age of 72 and was buried three days later in the priests’ section of Our Lady of Mercy Cemetery in Miami. In 1998, Archbishop Coleman F. Carroll High School was founded and named in his honor.
During his 47-year ministry, mega-church pastor and televangelist Reverand Dr. D. James Kennedy built a major presence in Florida around his 10,000-member Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, including the Knox Theological Seminary, Westminster Academy (a K-12 school), Coral Ridge Ministries (a radio and television outlet), and the politically conservative Center for Reclaiming America for Christ. He was also a founding board member of the Moral Majority national political movement and opened the Center for Christian Statesmanship in Washington, DC to equip evangelicals on Capitol Hill to be more effective in influencing government policy. He was also instrumental in establishing the Alliance Defense Fund, an active Christian response to secular civil liberties groups. He was the author of more than 50 books. Other evangelical leaders say that his most lasting impact was Evangelism Explosion, a curriculum that shows laymen how to evangelize in everyday settings and is used in 12,000 churches.
Dennis James Kennedy was born in Augusta, Ga., on Nov. 3, 1930. Six years later, his family moved to Chicago. His father was a glass salesman who later moved his family to Tampa, Florida. Kennedy graduated from Henry B. Plant High School in 1948, and then began studying English at the University of Tampa. After two years, he dropped out of college and began working as a dance instructor at the Arthur Murray Dance Studio in Tampa, winning first prize in a nation-wide dance contest. On August 25, 1956, he married Anne Lewis, whom he met while giving dance lessons at Arthur Murray. They had one daughter, Jennifer, born in 1962.
In Kennedy’s often-repeated account, while he was listening to a radio program, the radio preacher asked the question: “Suppose you were to die today and stand before God, and he were to ask you, ‘What right do you have to enter into my heaven?’…What would you say?”, and that question inspired Kennedy to become a minister. He resumed his studies at the University of Tampa, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in 1958, and began preaching at the small Bethel Presbyterian Church in nearby Clearwater, Florida. The following year, Kennedy entered Columbia Theological Seminary, receiving a Master of Divinity degree. After his ordination in 1959, Kennedy became the founding pastor of tiny Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale.
Beginning in 1959, with only 45 persons attending a typical Sunday service, Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church under Kennedy’s direction became the fastest-growing Presbyterian church in the U.S., had 1,366 members by 1968, and by the 1980s had grown to almost 10,000 members. The present church building, seating 2,800 persons and surmounted by a 300-foot tower that dominates the northeast Fort Lauderdale skyline, was dedicated in February, 1974 by famed evangelist Billy Graham.
In 1978, Rev. Kennedy began the weekly Coral Ridge Hour on national television, which at its peak had a weekly audience of 3.5 million viewers in 200 countries, and was aired on more than 600 stations and four cable networks. Also in 1978, Coral Ridge joined the Presbyterian Church in America, the conservative branch of Presbyterianism in the United States. Around that time, conservative Christian leaders were growing increasingly unhappy with the tenure of President Jimmy Carter, in part because he had failed to champion social causes important to them. Kennedy worked with other evangelicals to articulate the core beliefs of what would become the "Religious Right." In 1979, he earned a doctorate in religious education from New York University. Kennedy said that he earned a Ph D. "to dispel the idea there is an inconsistency between evangelism and education…evangelical ministers need to be thoroughly educated and equipped to meet on equal terms anyone with whom they come in contact".
During the 1980s and 1990s, Kennedy was a prominent and often divisive voice in the religious and political discourse of Florida and the Nation. During his tenure, Coral Ridge Ministries grew to a $37-million-a-year non-profit corporation. In 2006, the National Religious Broadcasters association inducted Kennedy into its Hall of Fame.
On the evening of December 28, 2006, Kennedy experienced a heart attack at his Ft. Lauderdale home. Despite several months of rehabilitation and convalescence, he was unable to resume preaching, and his retirement was announced on Sunday, August 26, 2007. Kennedy died in his sleep at home in the early morning hours of September 5, 2007. The White House issued a statement the following day, saying that President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush were "deeply saddened" by Kennedy’s death, calling the Florida-based televangelist and author "a man of great vision, faith, and integrity … Dr. Kennedy’s message of love and hope inspired millions through the institutions he founded…". He was buried at Lauderdale Memorial Park Cemetery in Ft. Lauderdale. Kennedy is survived by his wife, Anne, and his daughter, Jennifer Kennedy Cassidy. In April 2009, Kennedy was succeeded as pastor of the church and its ministries by W. Tullian Tchividjian, a grandson of Billy Graham.