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Fr. Tatman: "We're Off to a Wonderful Start"

It was not a typical parish appointment, and not a typical parish. When Fr. Robert Tatman walked down the in the procession ahead of Bishop Frank Dewane aisle at the dedication of the Ave Maria Oratory a year ago, only a handful of the people crowded into the 1,100-seat church realized that he had been appointed the pastor. "Everyone's going to be really surprised," he remembers thinking.

tatmansaintsThe community all knows him now, though. A year later, Fr. Tatman says he has grown more comfortable in the community and that his experience as administrator of the Quasi-Parish of the Ave Maria Oratory has "invigorated me spiritually."

University President Nick Healy, like the other parishioners in Ave Maria, has gotten to know Fr. Tatman over the last year and praises his handling of an "unusual and challenging situation with a university and a town, and diverse interests."

"We especially appreciate his patient and kindly interest in the sacramental life," Mr. Healy said.

One of his principal responsibilities is overseeing all of the liturgies in the oratory, and Fr. Tatman is grateful for the strong support he feels from the community and the students at Ave Maria. "It's been a big change for me spiritually," he said, "being around all this youth, zeal and energy. It's beautiful for me."

Fr. Tatman came to his vocation later in life and has been a priest for just five years. He felt the strong call to religious life at age 33, when he joined the Cistercians of the Strict Observance in Berryville, VA. He became a professed monk, but then felt called to be more active as "there is no outside ministry in a Trappist monastery."

Since he has family in southwest Florida, he met with Bishop Nevins about studying for the priesthood in the area, "and Bishop Nevins welcomed me." Prior to being assigned to Ave Maria, he was parochial vicar at St. John the Evangelist Parish in Naples. Life in Ave Maria is different from the average parish, he said, given things like the "amount of prayer, levels of mass attendance and frequency of confession."

"It inspired me from day one," he said.

tatmanknightsOnce appointed, there was much to do, and Fr. Tatman looks back with pride on many accomplishments in his first year. A religious education program was established with 92 students from first grade to high school, and all of these students will be confirmed this May. A Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults program [RCIA] has been educating eight university students who, although baptized, have yet to come into full communion with the Catholic Church. They will be welcomed into the Church at the Easter Vigil Mass - the first Easter celebrated in the Oratory. A Respect Life Committee was established along with a chapter of the Knights of Columbus.

Fr. Tatman also firmly established the celebration of the Latin form of the mass every Sunday at 12:30 p.m. and twice during the week. He had to learn this Extraordinary Form of the Mass, as it is known, which he believes has helped him in many ways. "It has not just benefited the community," he said, "but it increased my own involvement and understanding of the Mass. I think it shows in all my Masses as well."

During the academic year, when students are available to sing, this rite is celebrated as a High Mass, the only one in the area. "It's our fastest-growing Mass," he said.

In the coming year, Fr. Tatman is looking to establish more programs that can help the community. He will also minister to the nearby Hendry County Correctional Center, where he'll celebrate Mass and hear confessions.

Although his official biography from the Diocese of Venice notes that "golf is his favorite hobby," Fr. Tatman hasn't had a great deal of time for the game in the last year and doesn't expect that will change in the coming year. Although his residence, owned by the diocese, is in the Del Webb community with its prominently featured golf course, he says he's managed only a few rounds in the last year.

Overall, Fr. Tatman says, "we're off to a wonderful start. I look forward to continued growth in the next year."

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