Monsignor Lacerra, Hurricanes Chaplain; Spiritual Leader Is Mourned by Hundreds

By Jose Dante Parra Herrera
Sun Sentinel
August 05, 2000

For almost 1 1/2 hours on Friday, South Florida's diverse communities gathered to laugh and to weep, to remember and to sing.

Monsignor Gerard T. LaCerra, one of its spiritual leaders for more than 30 years and chaplain of the University of Miami Hurricanes football team, had passed away, leaving smiles and a legacy hundreds came to honor.

At Friday's service at St. Timothy's Catholic Church in Kendall, it was standing room only. Blacks and whites, Spanish-speakers and English-speakers, burly college football players and skinny junior high students. All sang and remembered the bearded priest who had beaten heart disease once and who bled orange and green for his team.

The Rev. Timothy Murphy, Monsignor LaCerra's best friend, turned to the Hurricanes' coach, Butch Davis, during the eulogy and told him half-jokingly that his next game against Florida State University was a sure win.

"You can count with a (new) weapon in heaven," Murphy said. "We have lost a great friend, but we gained a great advocate."

Monsignor LaCerra, 57, was born in Chicago to an Italian father and a French-Irish mother but moved to Fort Lauderdale before he turned 4. He graduated from Central Catholic High School and completed his seminary studies at St. John Vianney College Seminary in Miami and St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary in Boynton Beach. He was ordained in 1969. Monsignor LaCerra was a former chairman of the Dade Interfaith Sponsoring Committee and a chaplain of the Miami-Dade Sierra Club.

For Murphy and other friends, Monsignor LaCerra was also a man who claimed to be 5-foot-9 even though he was not and who bought in-line skates so he could go on a field trip with first-graders.

Murphy and church dignitaries such as Miami Archbishop John C. Favalora and his predecessor, Archbishop Edward McCarthy, remembered Monsignor LaCerra as a man for whom the day's 24 hours were not enough. When he was not saying Masses, he was checking on parishioners at the hospital or directing his parish's renovation.

"He was a fun-loving man who enjoyed life immensely," said Jim Allen, 67, whom Monsignor LaCerra visited often after heart surgery. "He was one of a kind."

Monsignor LaCerra was not unfamiliar with hospitals. Murphy said Monsignor LaCerra, a former high school football player, underwent a heart transplant nine years ago and came to grips with death then. Murphy quoted Monsignor LaCerra during the service:

"Once I gave myself permission to die, an extraordinary thing happened. I experienced a sense of peace I did not know before."

Monsignor LaCerra died from a heart attack on his way to the Holy Land on July 25. Elizabeth Babun-Matos, a parishioner, said that as the plane headed to Tel-Aviv, Monsignor LaCerra came back from the bathroom and sat next to his sister Arlene Gallie and told her he was not feeling well, then closed his eyes forever.

Monsignor LaCerra is also survived by his brother, Donald LaCerra, and nieces and nephews.


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