Tampa's Monsignor Higgins passes away at 87

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Monsignor Laurence Higgins was known for standing up for his congregation and community, even when his opinions went against the status quo.

"In many ways, Monsignor Higgins was unique. In some ways, speaking as a bishop, I was glad there was only one Monsignor Higgins that I had to deal with!" Bishop Robert Lynch of the Diocese of St. Petersburg laughed.

At the age of 87, Monsignor Higgins passed away Wednesday morning, leaving behind decades of accomplishments starting and ending at Tampa's St. Lawrence Catholic Church.

"He was a legendary pastor. The kind of pastor that's relatively rare these days. One who remained in his parish for decades and decade," said Father Richard Hermes, who serves as president of neighboring Jesuit High School.

Monsignor came to the Bay area back in 1958 and was tasked with turning 20 acres of cow pasture along Hillsborough and Himes Avenues into a parish. He did that and more. Over the years, he grew St. Lawrence Parish to serve thousands of people, all while befriending some of Tampa's most influential movers and shakers.

"He had a unique gift of being able to speak to anyone, whether it be a child or the Mayor or a U.S. Senator to work for a mutual understanding for everyone, no matter what their background," U.S. Congresswoman Kathy Castor said Wednesday.

Back in 2007, Monsignor Higgins retired after 49 years serving the same church, the longest tenure of any priest in the St. Petersburg Diocese. But his work never ended. Just a month before his death, he was instrumental in starting up Cristo Ray High School, a private Catholic school for low-income youth.

Wednesday morning, a lifetime of charity was finally rewarded with rest.

"When the Lord came for Larry, I'm sure that he heard the words we all long to hear, 'Well done, good and faithful servant," Bishop Lynch smiled.

Monsignor Higgin's funeral is scheduled for Wednesday, August 31st at 11:30 at St. Lawrence Parish. Visitation will be Monday and Tuesday from noon until 9 pm. All of the services are open to the public.