Father Robert Tabbert Celebrates 40 Years of Priesthood
For many parishioners, our pastor, Robert Tabbert is simply Father Bob. He likes it that way. Approachable. Knowledgeable. Friendly. Encouraging. Born and raised in Chicago in 1953 and now leading the thousands who call St. John XXIII their parish home in Ft. Myers, Florida, Father Bob is celebrating a pastoral milestone. On May 19th, Fr. Robert Tabbert commemorates his 40th anniversary of ordained life in the priesthood. We celebrate it this weekend. It is a praise-worthy achievement given a life so dedicated to serving the Lord and the many men and women whose lives he has touched over the years.
Father Bob began his life in Illinois as one of four children of devoutly Catholic parents, Bernadette and Robert Tabbert. “I have two older sisters and a younger brother. My earliest memories recall my parent’s active involvement in the church. We attended Mass every Sunday.” As a young boy, Bob Tabbert attended St. Theresa Elementary School. He went onto St. Thomas of Villanova and St. Viator High School in Arlington Heights, Illinois. It was during these influential high school years that Bob began to seriously reflect upon his call to the priesthood. “One of my greatest influences was Maryknoll, a non-profit missionary society that helps the poor and oppressed in Africa, Asia and Latin America.” Maryknoll is a family of ministers who through active witness to Jesus Christ, work in partnership with those they serve to be a model of compassion and mercy while promoting a global vision of empowerment, community, justice and peace.DOWNLOAD THE BULLETIN
“Maryknoll had a special program in Glen Oak, Illinois for juniors and seniors in high school,” says Father Bob. “I was introduced at that time to the concept of the Third World. Priests would talk to us about the call and I started to believe this path would be right for me.”
After high school graduation, Father Bob spent time visiting Florida with his parents. “We toured the St. John Vianney College Seminary in Miami and I knew that I wanted to attend. I was accepted in 1971 and began my pastoral application.” Becoming a priest isn’t simply earning a college degree. It is an eight- year journey that Father Bob likens to the courtship experienced between a man and woman dating. “You begin by talking and getting to know one another, which can lead to an engagement and eventually a commitment. The seminary experience is very much like courtship. You get to know each other, find out what you like and what you don’t and then you deal with the bumps along the road.” For Bob, these years in the seminary were a time of great discernment. “Ultimately, I said “Yes,” this is what God is calling me to do.”
Upon completion of the two- year training program, Father Bob went onto the St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary in Boynton Beach, Florida. He studied at their School of Theology for six years culminating with his ordination into the priesthood in 1979. “This was such a wonderful day,” recalls Father Bob. “I remember celebrating my first Mass at St. Andrews Catholic Church in Cape Coral. It was an incredible moment and remains a highlight for me. I was surrounded by family, priests, relatives and friends. After the eight year seminary experience, it was truly joyful.”
During his early years as a priest, Father Bob served in parishes along Florida’s West Coast. Working full-time as a recruiter, counseling men that expressed an interest in the priesthood, Father Bob spent a lot of time on the road. “Eventually, I became the Director of Vocations for the Dioceses of St. Petersburg and Venice. I served at St. Martha’s Parish in Sarasota for 3 ½ years and then was reassigned to St. Jude Cathedral,” recalls Father Bob. “I enjoyed journeying with these men and helping them along the seminary process.” He carried on this work until 1983 when the Diocese of Venice became its own entity, apart from the Diocese of St. Petersburg. “When this happened, I continued my recruiting work while in residence at the Cathedral of the Epiphany in Venice.” Eventually I was reassigned as an associate pastor at St. Ann’s Parish in Naples.” Father Bob spent three years there and then got the call to lead parishioners at St. Peter the Apostle, also in Naples. “This was another great experience for me, as St. Peter the Apostle is a trilingual cultural parish. It was quite a challenge to blend the Hispanic and Haitian communities, but certainly an enjoyable one.” During the five years Father Bob spent at St. Peter’s, he was actively involved in a capital fund drive for a new church building. “I so enjoyed this campaign,” says Father Bob. “To begin a grass roots effort which culminates in the creation of beautiful facilities so desperately needed is truly the work of God.”
After St. Peter’s, the Diocese asked Father Bob to return to St. Ann’s, this time as Pastor, where he led the Church for 11 years. Through hard work and dedication, Father Bob initiated yet another capital fund drive. “We were able to complete a primary and middle school and also build a parish life center, chapel and residence for the clergy.”
In May of 2007, Father Bob got the call to lead Blessed Pope John XXIII in Ft. Myers, a large and growing community he described as warm and welcoming. “The people of Blessed Pope John XXIII were wonderful – supportive, engaging and actively involved in the many ministries the parish offered. I was impressed with the witness the people of this parish gave to their faith.” The call to volunteerism was truly inclusive.
When our patron was canonized a saint, our parish name changed, too. St. John XXIII has continued to grow in leaps and bounds.
Father Bob saw that an affordable housing complex become a reality and the Villas were built on location for seniors living with a fixed income. “To have a place where these people who have done so much for our country and our faith now have a decent and respectful place to live and sleep gives me great joy.”
While enjoying the time shepherding his flock at St. John XXIII, Fr. Bob embarked on yet another building campaign- the construction and recent completion of the Parish Life Center and Adoration Chapel. The Faith Formation programs and Adult Education meetings now have a functional place to gather. The main hall can host a variety of celebrations and gatherings. The St. Luke Adoration chapel has become a place of personal prayer before the Blessed Sacrament for many parishioners. We could not have done this without the generous contributions and prayers of you, the parishioners.
“Forty years has passed so quickly. It is my connection with you, my parishioners, and to our God that keeps the flame alive and well.” God bless you all!