Long after his sister Clarice had gone to bed, young William “Thomas” Larkin would still be kneeling in prayer. It was one result of his upbringing by devout parents and grandparents, who attended Mass every day.
“He always prayed a lot,” said Clarice Larkin, sister of the future Bishop Thomas Larkin of the Diocese of St. Petersburg, Fla.
Bishop Larkin, who headed the St. Petersburg Diocese for nine years, died Nov. 4, 2006, after a long illness. He was 83.
Born in Mount Morris on March 31, 1923, Bishop Larkin received his call to the priesthood while walking home from school. A local nun stopped him one day and asked whether he would be interested in becoming a priest.
He told the nun he might be interested, but little did he know that his eventual vocation would take him far from the Village of Mount Morris to the Vatican, where his close friend Pope John Paul II would ordain him a bishop during a ceremony in Rome on May 27, 1979.
Bishop Larkin attended St. Andrew and St. Bernard’s seminaries in Rochester and was ordained on May 15, 1947, in Syracuse by Bishop Walter Andrew Foery. The new priest had chosen to serve in the Diocese of St. Augustine, Fla., where he had been told there was a need for priests, his sister said.
“He was genial, very concerned and a very loving person,” said Father John Walsh of Webster, who was in seminary at St. Andrew when Bishop Larkin began there. “He was not cold at all or strict. He liked people, and he was very well liked himself.”
Bishop Larkin served at St. Paul Catholic Church in Daytona Beach, Fla., before heading to Rome in 1947 to study at Angelicum University. While studying for his degree in sacred theology, he lived at the Belgian College in Rome, where he met the future Pope John Paul II, who was in his second year of a doctoral program at the seminary.
“They used to walk to school together every day, and he would teach the pope English along the way,” Clarice Larkin said.
After he received his degree, Bishop Larkin served at parishes in North Miami, Jacksonville and Clearwater, Fla. When the Diocese of St. Petersburg was created in 1968, he served as a vicar general and judicial vicar of the Marriage Tribunal. Following the unexpected death of St. Petersburg Bishop Charles B. McLaughlin in December 1978, he served as interim diocesan administrator until he was installed as bishop on June 28, 1979.
He was ordained a bishop on the same day as Bishop Matthew H. Clark, and they renewed their friendship each July when Bishop Larkin visited Mount Morris, family members said.
“He was a down-to-earth guy — a small-town guy — who made good and never forgot his roots,” said his cousin, Margaret Beuerlein Bartolotti of Webster.
During his tenure as Bishop of St. Petersburg, Bishop Larkin founded 15 new parishes, three new schools and created a diocesan radio station. After nine years as bishop, he retired on Nov. 29, 1988.
“In the almost 10 years he led our diocese, he oversaw a church no longer missionary, but growing and expanding in unprecedented numbers and ways,” said St. Petersburg Bishop Robert N. Lynch in a homily given at Bishop Larkin’s funeral Mass Nov. 11 at St. Patrick Church in Mount Morris. “He began many new parishes and schools. He ordained 31 priests in 10 years — a number that I have been unable to touch or equal. But Bishop Larkin was never totally comfortable with the demands of the office of bishop. He was ever the pastor of souls.”
Bishop Larkin was buried in St. Patrick’s Cemetery. Memorials may be made to the Priests’ Seminarian Fund, c/o Bishop’s Office, Diocese of St. Petersburg, P.O. Box 40200, St. Petersburg, Fla., 33743-0200.