SARASOTA | There is a group of dedicated pastoral workers who ensure that the sacraments are maintained and a connection to the faith is never lost for the segment of the Catholic population that has unique pastoral needs — travelling workers.
Each year these pastoral workers — under the direction of U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Secretariat of Cultural Diversity’s Subcommittee on the Pastoral Care of Migrants, Refugees and Travelers (PCMRT) — gather in Sarasota in early January to review the past year and plan for the coming year.
Included in this gathering are circus workers and performers, which is why the gathering is centered on St. Martha Parish in downtown Sarasota, which has the distinction of being designated the “National Circus Parish.” In addition, Bishop Frank J. Dewane is the Episcopal Adviser for the PCMRT and was the celebrant for Mass on Jan. 8, the Feast of the Epiphany of the Lord.
The Mass served as a closing Mass for the gathering as well as a blessing and formal send-off to the pastoral workers as they scatter across the country for a new year of travel and service on behalf of the Church.
During the Mass, Bishop Dewane noted the vital work of the PCMRT, ensuring that faithful Catholics in these professions have a continual connection to their faith. The priests who are part of the ministry celebrate Mass, perform Baptisms, funerals, marriages and everything else a parish priest might do, all while in a different city each week. The PCMRT works to have a priest (or other spiritual support) with the circus and other travelling sports and entertainment, so as to have someone available for their pastoral needs through the year.
“It is appropriate to honor the traveling people and their pastoral workers who have dedicated their lives to this important ministry,” Bishop Dewane said.
Father Jerry Hogan, the National Circus Chaplain, noted how important the ministry is for people who are on the road 10 or more months of the year. Father Hogan noted that the travelling performers live a life where being members of a parish is just not possible. They are also people of deep faith, so having this connection to the Church is important.
The connection the circus has to Sarasota, and specifically to St. Martha Parish, dates back to the late 1920s when Sarasota became the winter quarters for the Ringling Brothers Circus. Winter performances helped raise the money to build the current church, which stands at the corner of Fruitville Road and Orange Street. Several of the stained-glass windows are dedicated to circus performers and the Ringling family. A historical marker adjacent to the church recounts this history. n