How St. Dorothy’s lost its chapel and found a home in a bar
Independent Catholic church community now calls St. Matthews Tavern on Mills Avenue home
Published: January 15, 2014
The roots of St. Dorothy’s community can be traced back 16 years to a Catholic community group called Dignity, which met at the Center, Orlando’s LGBT community center. Over the years the group shifted venues and purposes, eventually opting to ditch the exclusively “gay Catholic group” tag for that of an all-inclusive Catholic parish. According to Father Jim, it was Father Anthony Borka who actually “got St. Dorothy’s up and going” before Father Jim and his partner of 22 years moved to the area around 2008. The group spent three years holding services at the Winter Park Wedding Chapel, growing its congregation to about 50 or 60 people.
In October 2012, Borka suffered a stroke. Borka still attends every Mass at St. Matthews, and though he has yet to fully recover – speaking is difficult, he gets around with a walker – he still participates, occasionally celebrating Mass himself.
“We almost lost him three times,” Father Jim says. “The power of prayer – I don’t want to sound all religious, but thank God for the power of prayer. It took awhile for him to get where he is.”
Father Jim is a self-described heavyset man with a full head of steely gray hair and a smile as wide as his face, that, when it opens, releases a thick Boston accent and likely a quip to match. For every serious comment on the state of Catholicism and the power and philanthropy of the St. Dorothy’s community, there’s a wink and a bawdy laugh bubbling just beneath. He’s 59 – “but not on Growlr; I’m 46 on Growlr!” – and works a day job as a travel agent for Wyndham Vacation Resorts; he also moonlights at Florida Hospital Celebration Health as, well, a priest.
He began pursuing the priesthood in 1972 after becoming a professed Third Order Franciscan in 1969. Most recently, he was ordained as a priest in Winter Park in 2011. Throughout the years, he’s been a teacher and even a principal at numerous Catholic and public schools, but that didn’t always work out.
“My love has always been Catholic education, and I’ve been a teacher, a principal, and a founding principal of a school in Colorado,” he says. “And every time it was found out that I was gay, bye-bye.”
So Father Jim pursued independent Catholicism, choosing to live by the parts of the Scripture and the faith that were inclusive and progressive. Last month, St. Dorothy’s adopted two poor families for Christmas, delivering them trees and gifts. This month, the congregation will be volunteering at Second Harvest Food Bank. In the coming months, Father Jim is planning to roll out a program partnering with Orange County Public Schools and St. Matthew’s Tavern to help poor families.
“I’m going to find teachers who would be willing to teach homeless families that are living in hotels how to stretch their food-stamp dollar,” he says. “The way we’re going to do that is by teaching them about nutrition and also how to use a Crock Pot. At the end of the class, each family will be receiving a Crock Pot and also recipes that they can use.”
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