by Debbie Flessner
Father Michael Cannon, the new Pastor of St. Michael the Archangel Catholic Church, may have just arrived to Siesta Key in early November, but he has the same specific and immediate goals in mind as he did when he was assigned to other parishes in the past.
"My purpose when I went to any of them was to build relationships with people, to see what's happening there and to serve," he said. "I'm looking forward to letting this parish see who I am."
Who Fr. Michael is, is a man with a light Irish lilt, a hearty laugh and a longtime devotion to the Lord, which began in his hometown of Letterkenny, in County Donegal, northwest Ireland. He grew up with one sister and five brothers, one of whom had actually attended the seminary, but ended up leaving to become a nurse.
Fr. Michael says that though he had always aspired to be a priest when living in his Gaelic-speaking hometown, the Catholic church there was not quite the same as it is in America.
"The church in Ireland is very different," he said. "There is really no social dimension to the church, as there is here."
When he was 23, Michael Cannon went to seminary, and afterwards was assigned to his hometown diocese. During that time, he volunteered to work in Lima, Peru and was all set to attend an orientation for the program, when he was diagnosed with tuberculosis.
Fr. Michael said he was upset at the news that he would not be able to go to Peru, but as many people of faith believe, he trusted that God had other plans for him. As it turned out, those plans were set into motion by a man Fr. Michael had met in his hometown in 1980–Bishop John Nevins, who was then the Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Miami.
"His mother was from the same parish where I grew up, and that is where we met," Fr. Michael said. "He had stayed in contact with me over the years, and in 1989, when I got sick and had no assignment at home, he suggested I come stay with him."
By then, Bishop Nevins was the very first Bishop of the new Venice Diocese, and he assigned Fr. Michael to St. Patrick Catholic Church, in Sarasota. At the time, the beautiful building east of I-75 had not yet been built, and masses were being held in another locattion a little further west.
Fr. Michael stayed at St. Patrick for two years, while he recovered from TB, after which his Bishop at home in Ireland brought him back to his parish to work as a hospital chaplain. After another two years, Fr. Michael came back to Florida, to work at Annunciation Catholic Church in Altamonte Springs for five years.
It was there where he discovered what he believed was another way that he could help people.
"There was a kid who came in to see me–I was close to her grandmother," he said. "This poor kid had fallen into a deep depression. Her parents had asked if I could talk to her and I said to myself, 'I really need to get some training.'"
Soon after, Fr. Michael set off for Texas, where he earned a Masters degree in social work and went to work as a pediatric counselor in a San Antonio hospital. Many people he dealt with there never even knew he was a priest, and he realized after a short time that he really missed that aspect of his life. It was time to return to the priesthood, though he did feel that the training he received as a counselor was incredibly helpful in teaching him to better deal with people's problems.
That experience came in handy at his next position–a campus ministries chaplain at San Antonio University, in Texas.
In 2003, his old friend Bishop Nevins called upon him to return to the Diocese of Venice and become the administrator at the San Antonio Catholic Church, in Port Charlotte. Fr. Michael was allowed to be released from his parish in Ireland for the assignment, which led to a position at St. James Catholic Church in Lake Placid in 2008, and in November of this year, St. Michael the Archangel.
He says that though he has served in several different parishes, in seemingly dissimilar locations, they are not really that unlike each other.
"But each community has its own character," he said. "I'm a positive person–I don't see the glass half-empty, I see it half-full."
St. Michael's new Pastor says that he feels that going into someplace new and immediately instituting all kinds of changes is the biggest mistake one can make. He said he believes the St. Michael parishioners are already doing a great job with their involvement with the church, and he plans on attending many of their functions.
"That's how I can get to know people and have them get to know me," he said. "I want to go to dinners, lunches and all kinds of activities. When I was at St. James, we organized a senior prom for the seniors, with the objective of getting people back into the church. Jesus laughed and had fun, so we can, too."
That should be good news to young people living in the St. Michael parish, whom Fr. Michael also hopes to draw back into the church with activities meant just for them.
"Make sure to bring your friends," he said. "I love what I'm doing–it's really life-giving for me."
St. Michael the Archangel Catholic Church is located at 5394 Midnight Pass Road, on Siesta Key. For information, call 941-349-4174. The Christmas mass schedule is as follows: Christmas Eve, 4, 7 and 10 p.m. Christmas Day, 7 and 8:45 a.m. and 10:30 p.m. There will be no 6 pm service on Christmas Day.
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