Monsignor Laurence Higgins remembered

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Wednesday afternoon, over 1,000 people packed into St. Lawrence Catholic Church to remember Monsignor Laurence Higgins. The Bay Area faith-community icon passed away last week at the age of 87.

He knew how to captivate a crowd, and drive home his message of faith and family.

"It was like he was calling us into a huddle. He would speak directly, passionately, and not long, and then he'd literally break the huddle with 'Let's do it!" laughed St. Lawrence Catholic Church's current pastor, Monsignor Michael Muhr.

Wednesday, despite torrential rains, people packed into the church Monsignor Higgins built when he arrived in Tampa at the age of 29. Back then, he was given the tough task of turning a cow pasture into a parish. His one-of-a-kind personality made the mission a success.

"He had charm, charisma, wit, and he had the looks. A twinkle in his eye, combined with a mischievous grin," recalled Monsignor Higgins' nephew, Martin Gourley. 

Monsignor Higgins stayed on as St. Lawrence Catholic Church's pastor for a record 49 years. But his service went beyond the pulpit. He was known as an advisor and friend to some of Tampa's biggest names, including former Bucs head coach Tony Dungy.

"He said, 'You may consider giving the ball to young Alstott a little more. He's a fine boy, he's a fine boy.' I remember thinking, is he telling me that because he's a fine boy or because we've got a better chance to win?" smiled Dungy, during his eulogy.

Laughs aside, Dungy says the monsignor's heart was in helping. He was heavily involved in a number of Bay area charities.

"All those places, he was there. And he was there gladly. He was there reaching out and being that person that was just the Lord's representative," Dungy said.

Leaders say that's what he'll be remembered for.

"He will not be forgotten because you're remembered for your deeds, not for your lifespan," former Florida Governor Bob Martinez said Wednesday.

Monsignor Higgins was laid to rest Wednesday afternoon at the Garden of Memories Cemetery, just about seven miles away from his church home of St. Lawrence Parish.