Officially, he’s the Rev. Monsignor Ronald Aubin.
Around Our Lady of the Rosary Catholic Church, in Land O’ Lakes, though, he’s better known as Father Ron.
Aubin, who has been at the church for 27 years, has led the parish through two relocations, construction projects, rapid growth, the Great Recession and the COVID-19 pandemic — and those are just some of the high-profile events.
There also are the more intimate — and more regular rituals — of being a parish pastor.
The First Communions he’s distributed.
The homilies he’s delivered.
The marriages and funerals he’s officiated.
And, the visits he’s made to nursing homes, hospitals and to the jail, to offer words of comfort and spiritual guidance to others, in a time of need.
Aubin was ordained to the priesthood on April 23, 1981, making this year his 40th as a priest.
He arrived at Our Lady of the Rosary on July 1, 1994, when the church was still located on the southwest corner of U.S. 41 and State Road 54.
Both of those roads were two lanes at the time, and there were very few stoplights, the pastor recalled.
“There are two churches there now. One on the north side of the highway and one on the south side of the highway. Both were ours. Except the one on the north side of the street used to be on the south side of the street.
“When they widened the intersection there — widened (U.S.) 41 to four lanes, did the whole intersection, they were going to chop off the (smaller) church,” Aubin said. Instead, the building was sold to the Episcopal Church, which paid $1, and moved it across the street.
Our Lady of the Rosary had already relocated into the larger building at the intersection, which would later become home to Keystone Community Church.
Our Lady of the Rosary moved to its current campus at 2348 Collier Parkway, on Nov. 27, 1999.
The new construction at the site began with a church and an office, and over time, has included classrooms, an early childhood center and, most recently, a youth center.
“Everything on this property was done during my years here — thanks to the efforts of a good number of people,” the pastor said.
Aubin has already experienced some moments of personal joy. Some of the brightest moments came when three parishioners — Israel Hernandez, Kyle Smith and Bill Wilson — were ordained to the priesthood, the church leader said.
Over the years, the church also built some strong, longstanding ministries.
Its scouting program, which includes Troop 33 and Troop 34 — boasted 11 Eagle Scouts in a single ceremony two years ago.
Its Knights of Columbus Council 8104 is known for the legendary fish fry it hosts each Friday during Lent.
And, its food pantry operated by St. Vincent de Paul is a regular source of help for those in need.
Its membership also has grown considerably, too, through the years.
When Aubin arrived at the parish, it had 830-some families; now, it has well over 3,000.
It had a greater membership at its peak, but then the Great Recession hit, forcing young families to move, to seek employment, the pastor said.
“When you’re parents raising babies, you can’t sit back and wait for something to happen. You’ve got to go and find a job. There are some neighborhoods, I am told, that half of the houses were sold, in this area,” Aubin.
The Recession was challenging — but COVID-19 essentially shut everything down.
“There was just zero contact,” Aubin said.
“They couldn’t come here. We couldn’t go there.
“We couldn’t even go to the hospitals to visit people. We couldn’t go to the jail, the nursing homes — any of those places,” he said.
The parish adapted. Staffers with technical know-how stepped up to begin live-streaming Masses in Spanish and English.
Staff reached out to parishioners to send in large photos of themselves that could be attached to chairs, so priests could look at the faces while saying the Mass.
The parish followed guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and from the Diocese of St. Petersburg, in re-establishing in-person services.
Still, as the country reopens, Aubin expects that some who stopped attending during the pandemic, won’t return.
The trend toward disengagement began about a dozen years ago, Aubin said.
Before the Great Recession, the church had about 1,200 kids in its various programs, he said. Pre-COVID, they were down to 800. During COVID-19, the programs were virtually non-existent.
“I was at a meeting yesterday and other pastors were voicing the same concern. We really have to try to reach out to our young families,” Aubin said.
That disengagement is not something that Aubin — who attended Catholic schools and joined the seminary at age 16 — personally understands.
God, he says, has been “the ‘be all, end all,’ of my life.
“I can’t imagine this present world or the world to come without him. So, I want to share that gift with others,” Aubin said.
The pastor does understand, however, that reaching young people today is much different that it was during his youth.
Fortunately, Aubin expects the new leadership at Our Lady of the Rosary to bring fresh ideas and new energy.
The Rev. Justin Paskert, who will be the new pastor, is coming to the parish from his role as chaplain for the Catholic Student Center at the University of South Florida.
“I’m excited for the parish,” Aubin said.
“I love this place. There’s a certain sadness in leaving, but there’s also joy in knowing that it’s going into good hands. Father Justin will revive it and get it moving again.”
Aubin’s final Masses are this weekend, on June 26 and June 27.
His message will focus on his mantra through the years at the parish, based on a poem called “Just Pedal.”
In essence, it’s about keeping the faith and carrying on, even when the future is not always clear.
“Just pedal. Embrace the change,” Aubin said. “You just have to keep on moving. If you’re not changing, you’re dying.”
Published June 23, 2021
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