Author: Noelani Parys

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“It might be hard to imagine an organ recital audience giving out a yell that a hockey crowd might envy. But so it was as PETER RICHARD CONTE finished the last bars and the packed house erupted into a standing ovation and delighted laughter. The merriment was entirely appropriate–and cumulative. From the first piece Conte riveted attention and demanded respect….Standing ovation? Better call it a flying ovation.” (The Santa Fe New Mexican)

Reverend Peter Henry

September 27, 1944 – June 20, 2021

Please pray for the repose of the soul of Reverend Peter Henry. 
Father Peter Henry died on June 20, 2021, at the age of 76. Born into a large extended Catholic family in Northern Ireland, Father Henry’s faith was strongly influenced by his parents, a priest friend of the family, priests at his high school and his two aunts who were religious sisters. 
“Faith was very unconsciously at the center of family life and convinced me in my early years that everything beautiful in my life – family life, life’s goodness, God’s goodness, joy and compassion, all such things came to me through my Catholic faith,” said Father Henry. 
It was during his final years of high school that Father Henry began to feel a call to the priesthood. In his senior year, he confided to his twin brother, Paul, that he had mailed off an application to the seminary, only to find out Paul had mailed in his own application a month prior. 
The brothers continued their journey side-by-side from their studies at All Hallows College Seminary, to their Ordination on June 16, 1968, to their first assignments to the newly-formed Diocese of Orlando. 
Father Henry served two years at St. Charles Borromeo Parish in Orlando, which was the Cathedral at that time, and then two years at St. Margaret Mary Parish in Winter Park. In 1972, he moved to Holy Name of Jesus Parish in Indialantic where he stayed for fourteen years, first as associate and then as pastor. His next assignment would be an even farther move, to Geneva, Switzerland to serve as Pastor of the Pope John XXIII Catholic Center for the English speaking community.  He served on the Presbyteral Council from 2008-2010. 
When Father Henry returned to the Diocese fourteen years ago, he was assigned as pastor of St. Ann Parish in DeBary. 
“I’m very grateful to God for my faith, my family, my vocation and for my diocese. It’s a great diocese; we’ve had a series of wonderful bishops, including and especially our Bishop John Noonan,” reflected Father Henry. “How did I get to be so fortunate?! God is so good.” 

Funeral Information:
The Funeral Mass will be livestreamed on
June 29 at 12:00 noon from St. Margaret Mary Catholic Church, Winter Park

ORLANDO | Hundreds of faithful from all over the Diocese of Orlando came to pay homage to Monsignor Fachtna Joseph Harte, June 27, rector of the Basilica of the National Shrine of Mary, Queen of the Universe for 25 years. Msgr. Harte died May 30 after a long illness.

Msgr. Harte is largely responsible for the basilica’s building and growth. The beloved Irish priest knew he wanted to serve the church at just 9 years old. His love for God and His children was evident from the dozens of photographs and letters, set on easels in the basilica’s narthex ahead of the Funeral Mass.

Father Robert Kurber, on monsignor’s 90th birthday in February 2020, wrote, “I marvel at what God has accomplished through you—the conception, the development and fulfillment of a totally new and exciting ministry. Only God knows how many people have been served and touched by your vision – thousands every week.”

Monsignor Harte arrived in the Diocese of Orlando in 1970. Over the years, he served as parochial vicar of Blessed Trinity Parish, Orlando, Epiphany Parish, Port Orange and St. Joseph Parish, Winter Haven. He also taught at Bishop Moore Catholic High School and Father Lopez Catholic High School. He was incardinated into the Diocese of Orlando on June 6, 1973.

After becoming pastor of Holy Family Parish in Orlando in 1975, the parish became the center for a tourism ministry, leading to his appointment as Director of Ministry to Tourists in 1980. Widower J. Bruce Riley, recalled the early days of Msgr. Harte’s ministry. Riley wrote to then Father Harte (1979), 18 years after Riley’s original visit to the area, the year after his wife died – leaving him with two young daughters, ages 8 and 9. Seeking to brighten his children’s life with a positive memory, Riley took his children to Disney World and stayed at the Polynesian Hotel. The family participated in Mass, in the small “Hawaiian Luau chapel” in the pavilion of the hotel, where Monsignor Harte ministered to tourists.

Riley wrote, “I remember being impressed that you inquired as to what parts of the country and what parts of the world people travelled from, that they all worshipped our Lord in a common way. Our faith had brought us together in that make-shift chapel.” He noted how he and his daughters were still in shock at the loss of a beloved wife and mother. “I wanted them to know that God was watching over us and things were going to be okay,” Riley wrote. Monsignor Harte left such an impression that the family contributed to the building and growth of the shrine from their home in Massachusetts, in gratitude for his witness of love and kindness. Riley added, “Please know that you had an influence in strengthening my faith many years ago.”

It was with that fondness that friend, fellow seminarian and priest, Father John McMullan remembered the monsignor. From their days as Trappist monks, when they joined the Bag Pipe Band in the hopes of getting extra food, to the many miracles they believed were granted by Our Lady to those who came to the Shrine, the two shared a lifetime of memories over their 65 year friendship.

Father McMullan chuckled as he recounted when Harte told mutual friend, Father Tom Dooley, his idea of building a large church to serve tourists, shortly after his appointment to the tourist ministry. Father Dooley told the monsignor, “Joe Harte, you are absolutely crazy!” Father McMullan continued, “Well, as we look around this magnificent church built to honor God’s Mother and her Divine Son, and knowing the story of thousands of visitors from all around the world who came here to worship God, and receive Holy Communion, and the thousands of people who have celebrated the Sacrament of Reconciliation here, I would say that Joe Harte was not so crazy after all.”

Under the direction of Bishop Thomas Grady, Monsignor Harte established a church in the theme park area, which became the Shrine of Mary, Queen of the Universe. Eventually the diocesan shrine achieved the designations of National Shrine and then Minor Basilica. Monsignor Harte was appointed its first rector in 1992, until his retirement in 2007.

That same year, Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Celestino Migliore visited with Monsignor Harte and later wrote, “I must say I was very much impressed and edified by your abiding pastoral zeal, and the ambiance of spirituality that permeates the Shrine.” He later addressed benefactors of the Shrine at an event thanking them for their support. He told them, “In spite of the passage of time, however, one thing that – I’m delighted to say – has not changed is Msgr. Harte’s serene, fatherly regard for his people, his indefatigable and farsighted zeal…”

True to those words, Father McMullan noted how Monsignor Harte “tripled and even quadrupled his prayer life” toward the end of his life. The two celebrated Mass the evening before his passing. Father McMullan shared that a few years ago, Monsignor Harte simply asked him to tell everyone at his funeral, “I love God. I love the Blessed Mother and I love all the people I have known. That’s ALL!”

Speaking about his Uncle Fachtna, nephew James Fitzgerald shared fond memories and closed with his uncle’s familiar prayer after Mass. “May the best day of your past, be the worst day of your future. Until we meet again, may God keep you all in the palm of His hand, and may His Blessed Mother watch over you.”

By Glenda Meekins of the Florida Catholic, June 29, 2020

The Monsignor Harte Memorial Care of the Basilica Endowment is being established in his memory to ensure that this center of worship is stewarded and maintained for years to come. Donations to build the Monsignor Harte Memorial Care of the Basilica Endowment can be made at

ORLANDO | “We have come together to bless this new organ, installed so the celebration of the liturgy may become more beautiful and solemn,” said Bishop John Noonan just prior to blessing the new Schoenstein pipe organ at the Basilica of the National Shrine of Mary, Queen of the Universe, Nov. 23. The staff spent a little more than five years working on coordinating its purchase and installation.

Monsignor Joseph Harte, the basilica’s first rector, was thrilled. “This was a fulfillment of a dream,” he said. “We had dreams to build this place and make it as spectacular for Our Lady as we could.” As he heard the violins and trumpets sound the Alleluia and Gloria, he said, “I was thinking back to the days when I was wondering if this place would ever be built. It’s the grace of God and the Mother of God.” He added gratitude to Father Paul Henry, the basilica’s current rector, for completing the project monsignor began more than two decades ago.

It is no coincidence the organ was dedicated and blessed on the Solemnity of Christ the King. “An organ is made up of all the instruments, all the voices,” noted Father Henry. “So the organ is a wonderful analogy for us… it brings together all the talents and a great outpouring of faith and prayer and glad singing to the honor of God, the celebration of Jesus, and in our case, his Mother.”

“The purpose of music in the liturgy is above all to give glory to God and to lead us to holiness,” Bishop Noonan added. “Thus the music of the organ wonderfully expresses the new song that Scripture tells us to sing to the Lord.” The bishop then proclaimed a prayer of blessing: “We your people, joyously gathered in this basilica, wish to join our voices to the universal hymn of praise. So that our song may rise more worthily to your majesty, we present this organ for your blessing: grant that its music may lead us to express our prayer and praise in melodies that are pleasing to you.”

This was the third attempt purchase and install the organ. Thanks to many benefactors, especially the Nick Caporella family, the organ became a reality. Shipments began arriving in June and continued throughout the summer. A total of 5,200 pipes make up the organ. Approximately 4,000 pipes are installed in the front chamber where the largest pipes are found, reaching 37 feet high and 18 feet in diameter. The back gallery holds more than 1,000 pipes, just above the entrance doors.

The pipes were adjusted for loudness, softness and “speech” from late August to November. The three months it took to tune the pipes’ “speech” was well worth the wait as music from prolific composers such as Perry, Handel, Widor, Rutter and more were heard throughout the liturgy, showcasing the beauty of the organ and elevating the liturgy and the voices of those assembled in honor to God.

“This is a very special place. This is something very special for God,” said Father Henry. He pointed to the purpose behind the basilica’s construction, aimed as a place of refuge for pilgrims and tourists that come to the region. “Most are light-hearted and full of joy because they are on vacation,” he said. “A lot of them who come are searching. They are looking for healing, and encouragement, and to find God.”

Quoting Musican Sacram from the Second Vatican Council (VI, 62) Bishop Noonan said, “The pipe organ is to be held in high esteem in the Latin Church, since it is its traditional instrument, the sound of which can add a wonderful splendor to the Church’s ceremonies and powerfully lift up men’s minds to God and higher things.” He added, “Those who play this pipe organ are called to enrich the sacred celebration of Mass according to the true nature of each of its parts, and to encourage the participation of the faithful. Each one of us are called to yield our voices as the pipe organ accompanies us to join with the heavens ion our praises to God.”

If you would like to hear the organ, the next concert is Christmas at the Basilica, Dec. 6, 7:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Call 407-239-6600 to reserve tickets.

By Glenda Meekins of the Florida Catholic  November 26, 2019