Bishop Agustin Roman, who died Wednesday night at age 83, was best known for his work among Cuban exiles and for promoting devotion to the Virgin Mary in Miami. But Catholic leaders in Broward and Palm Beach counties, too, recall the bishop's gentle, self-effacing leadership.
"It wasn't just Catholics or Cubans he cared about: It was Jewish people, Protestants, people from all cultural backgrounds," said theologian Sixto Garcia of St. Vincent de PaulRegional Seminary near Boynton Beach, which Roman visited several times a year. "Humility is the gateway to all the other virtues. Bishop Roman epitomized it."
Expelled from Cuba with 132 other priests in 1961, he later settled in Miami. He spearheaded fundraising for the Shrine of Our Lady of Charity, a rallying point for Miami's exile community. In 1987, he quietly quelled prison riots of Mariel Cuban inmates in Georgia and Louisiana.
The shrine will be the site of an all-day viewing Friday. Archbishop Thomas Wenski will say a funeral Mass for him Saturday at the Cathedral of St. Mary in Miami.
Those who knew Bishop Roman on Thursday described him as gentle, humble, fatherly.
"When I'd meet him at the Cathedral [of St. Mary] for functions, I didn't feel like I was one of a number. I was special to him," said Sister Anne Corrigan of St. Helen Catholic Church in Lauderdale Lakes. "He saw Jesus in everybody, and he was Jesus to everybody."
So self-effacing was the bishop that he didn't draw attention to or talk of himself.
When the Marian shrine hosted a simulcast of Pope Benedict XVI's visit to Cuba on March 26, he sat not in front but nine rows back. And when a reporter asked how he felt at seeing Benedict honoring Mary, Bishop Roman simply said, "I'm very happy today."
Bishop Roman said Mass at the shrine but had no parish of his own. So he often visited parishes to address confirmation classes and bless playground equipment.
"He always had insights that he shared with me," said Garcia, of the seminary. "Whenever I talked with him, I felt a breath of energy. He always spoke softly, without stridence, as if he were whispering the secrets of God."
Bishop Roman's insightfulness also guided the Rev. Bob Tywoniak of Blessed Sacrament in Oakland Park. When he was ordained three decades ago, the bishop suggested Tywoniak work with children and immigrant groups. Tywoniak went to work at the archdiocesan Catholic Charities, then at the now-closed St. Georgein Fort Lauderdale.
"Not to denigrate anyone else, but Roman was a real bishop," Tywoniak said. "He was pastoral in a fatherly way."
Throughout the four decades he knew Bishop Roman, the Rev. Thomas Foudy was struck by his kind words for everyone.
"There is a saying that every positive word you speak about others speaks a thousand words about yourself," said Foudy, of St. Coleman Church in Pompano Beach. "That applies to him."
Roman's influence reached even to West Palm Beach, home to St. Juliana Catholic Church. Members of that parish make a pilgrimage every August to the Marian shrine.
"He died doing what he loved best," said the Rev. Alfredo Hernandez, of St. Juliana. "Doing the work of God."
JDDavis@Tribune.com or 954-356-4730.
Bishop Agustin Roman's funeral
Friday: All-day public viewing of the body of Bishop Roman at the Shrine of Our Lady of Charity, 3609 S. Miami Ave., Miami.
Saturday: At 1 p.m., Archbishop Thomas Wenski will celebrate a funeral Mass at the Cathedral of St. Mary, 7525 NW 2nd Ave., Miami. Interment will follow at 3 p.m. at Our Lady of Mercy Cemetery, 11411 NW 25th St., Miami.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Bishop Agustin Roman Memorial Fund in support of the Shrine of Our Lady of Charity. Send through miamiarch.org or by mail to the Archdiocese of Miami Development Corp., Atte. Bishop Agustin Roman Memorial Fund, 9401 Biscayne Blvd., Miami Shores, FL 33138.