Two longtime priests from the Jacksonville area have received honorary degrees from Pope Francis that date back to the 14th century.
Bishop Felipe Estevez of the Diocese of St. Augustine recently announced that the Revs. Michael Houle and James Boddie Jr. “have been given the papal honor … chaplain to His Holiness” and the title of monsignor.
The title is given to a priest who, according to the diocese, “has distinguished himself by longstanding extraordinary service to the Church”. “It is an honorary title and does not affect the duties of the priest or the service mandate.”
“As St. Paul once said, ‘The recognition of every good deed by one of our brothers strengthens the body of Christ,'” said Estevez. “This local church is pleased about the recognition by the Holy Father of two exemplary priests who have worked so hard for the people of God.”
Estevez will celebrate the monsignor announcement at Boddies Parish, Christ the King Catholic Church, Jacksonville, Mass on June 20 at 9:00 am and Houle’s Parish, St. Paul’s Catholic Church in Jacksonville Beach, Mass on June 27th at 10:00 am.
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Estevez had “submitted the names … to the Holy Father for consideration,” said St. Augustine Diocese spokeswoman Kathleen Bagg. “The honorary title of monsignor is not given voluntarily or even frequently.”
In 2014, the Pope decreed that only diocesan priests over 65 years of age can receive the title, “so that fewer priests receive this honor,” she said.
Houle, 68, is pastor of St. Pauls and episcopal vicar for development and finance for the diocese. He was President of Bishop Kenny High School in Jacksonville for 26 years, where he graduated in 1971.
He has worked with four bishops, including Estevez.
“This is certainly a great honor and I am humble with this announcement,” he said. “In my 42 years as a priest, I have been fortunate to serve the diocese in various capacities and in several parishes.”
Houle was ordained in 1979 in his native St. Patrick’s ward in Jacksonville and has served as pastor in the Parishes of the Assumption and Holy Family, interim pastor in Mary, Queen of Heaven, and Blessed Trinity Parishes, and pastor in the Holy Rosary Parish.
He attended Holy Rosary Catholic School for first through sixth grades and St. Patrick Catholic School for seventh and eighth grades before visiting Bishop Kenny.
Boddie, 71, is a pastor at Christ the King and the first African American priest to be ordained for the Diocese of St. Augustine and the first from a Florida diocese to enter a Florida seminary.
“I always wanted to be a priest, celebrate the Eucharist and be with God’s people,” he said. “I never thought that after all these years I would be named Monsignor. I feel very honored by this title and I am grateful to Bishop Estevez for his support and trust in my service as a priest of the diocese.”
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Boddie was ordained a priest in his hometown of St. Pius V in Jacksonville in 1978, where he was later appointed a pastor. He has also served as pastor of the Sacred Heart Parish in Green Cove Springs and assistant pastor of St. Paul Parish in Jacksonville and St. Catherine of Siena Parish in Orange Park.
He attended St. Pius V Catholic School for six years, Susie E. Talbert School for three years, and graduated from Bishop Kenny in 1970.
According to Bagg, parishioners will now address Houle and Boddie as a monsignor rather than a father. The priests have ordered new robes to wear during liturgical ceremonies, symbolizing their new titles, she said.
“A monsignor has certain privileges in terms of ecclesiastical clothing and robes,” she said. “The title does not place them higher than other diocesan priests. The designation means that these men have rendered excellent service to the local diocese.”
Her new robes will be a black cassock with fuchsia piping and buttons and a fuchsia sash, according to canon lawyer and licensed attorney Benedict Nguyen, Chancellor of the Diocese of La Crosse, Wisconsin. They also receive a diploma from the Vatican State Secretariat, which designates the new title and recognizes their services.
“Historically, the monsignor dates back to the 14th century when the papal court served for a time in Avignon, France,” wrote Nguyen in a document about the monsignor honors. “At that time, bishops were referred to as ‘mon seigneur’, French for ‘my lord’. Priests who worked in … the administrative and judicial offices of the Pope were also known as “monsignors” and were allowed to wear some of the insignia of a bishop. “
There are three series of monsignor titles, the lowest of which is the chaplains of His Holiness, given to Houle and Boddie. Higher ranks of honor are for higher priests in the papal hierarchy.
By 1969, priests who were given the title of chaplain to His Holiness Monsignor had to surrender it after the death and funeral of the “conference priest,” said Nguyen. “Today all monsignors retain their titles after the death and funeral of a pope,” he wrote.
The Diocese of St. Augustine comprises 17 counties in North Florida and serves approximately 150,000 registered Catholics in 67 parishes, missions and chapels. The diocese has 186 priests, including nine monsignors.
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