The Rev. J. Patrick Boyhan came to Marco Island a little over six years ago. At first he called himself the "eating-est priest," due to his involvement with the community, through San Marco Catholic Church and other organizations that he served, or supported.
He became Father Pat to all who knew him, whether it was his or other congregations and the public.
When he announced Sunday, March 4, he had been assigned to a parish in Fort Myers, parishioners and the community were surprised, some shocked.
Boyhan begins his new duties at Blessed Pope John XXIII Catholic Church near the Southwest Florida International Airport on Thursday.
Parishioner Judy Perez says, "Father Pat has served his parishioners well and has been involved in interfaith actions to best serve everyone. He also has been involved in many community fundraisers, raising thousands and thousands of dollars. But most important when people go to his Mass he gives them the message they need for the week.
"He kind of describes it as 'I feed the people.' When he speaks it is like talking to him personally. He has brought a lot of people back to the church. He is just the best and is going to be missed."
Mike and Marianne Martin count themselves among those who came back to the church.
"We hadn't been involved with the Catholic church for more than a decade when we came to Marco Island," Mike Martin says. "We actually decided to let out daughter Abigail (10) make the decision."
The Martins are friends with Theresa Mengelkoch who works at San Marco Catholic Church. The family met Boyhan through Mengelkoch and attended his services.
"Abigail actually shopped around, checking out the churches on the island. We went to a lot of services, we didn't want to force her. She decided on Father Pat and the Catholic church.
Abigail sent a note to Boyhan saying, "You are the person I feel most comfortable with."
The Martins say Boyhan has made a difference for them and others.
"He doesn't pull any punches, yet he does it in such a way that you really have to respect him," Mike Martin says. "He has made a difference because the guy is just real."
John Esposito recalls how Boyhan said Mass for he and wife Jean's 40th anniversary.
"He did it in grand style," Esposito says. "When he says Mass and gives his sermon he is an incredible speaker. He's also short," Esposito says with a laugh. "He has been our high point of our experience with San Marco."
Jim Doherty says, "I can't say enough good things about him. When my wife, Mary Frances, was dying he came over to the house to sit and talk with her. He even flew up to Philadelphia for her funeral."
Parishioner and friend Lori Curran says, "We love him dearly. When friends had a dinner for him a cake was made in his honor. It said, 'ready, set, don't go.' "
Parishioners Richard and Joyce Kaelin wrote to Boyhan, saying, "I am sure you are aware that most of the parishioners are devastated that you are leaving, as well as are many people of the community. We feel truly blessed to have had you at San Marco Parish for these past years. You have made a real difference here in the spiritual lives of so many of us."
Marco Island Chief of Police Roger Reinke remembers meeting Boyhan.
"I remember the first time I met Father Pat was at a convention of public defenders from around the state of Florida," he says. "He actually made them laugh. I knew immediately he was something special. Father Pat has been an avid supporter of public safety on the Island and a board member for the Police Foundation. I personally want to thank him for his support and prayers. The men and women of the Marco Island Police Department hold him in high regard and wish him the best."
Dottie Weiner jokingly says she was converted from Judaism to Catholicism because of Boyhan.
"When I think of Father Pat it is about how ecumenically thoughtful he has been, supporting all different religions and how wonderfully community-minded he has been," she says.
Friends Tony and Cheryl Ferrara, Weiner and Boyhan went to Haiti at Christmas time 2003 in support of a children's hospital and an orphanage.
Organized by Cheryl Ferrara, in conjunction with donations from the two Island Rotary clubs, parishioners and others, they brought clothes and educational toys to 500 orphans and brought toys to 95 children in the hospital.
"Father Pat understood the need through his missionary work," Ferrara says. "He is not only our friend, but to many people of the church. He listens and helps them through good and bad times."
Boyhan was ordained in September, 1977, first assigned to the Holy Apostles Seminary in Cromwell, Conn., part of the Society of the Missionaries of the Holy Apostles. He served as vice president and business manager before transferring to Rome in 1984 where he undertook pontifical studies, receiving his Theology License in Spirituality in 1986. He served as general superior at his community's General house in Montreal Canada, being involved in mission work in Peru, Columbia, Venezuela and Brazil.
"As my term was ending I visited Father Joe Gomolski at San Marco," Boyhan recalls of his first visit to Marco Island. "I met Father (Eugene) McCarthy (former pastor), who said he would take me if I wanted a change. The idea of being a parish priest, getting away from the paper work and back to the people, was what I was ordained for in the first place."
San Marco pastor, the Rev. Tim Navin, says, "Father Pat's leaving is a loss for San Marco and Marco Island as he has been in the center of this parish and community life."
When asked about his legacy, Boyhan continues the same thoughts he had when he celebrated his 25 years of priesthood here in 2002.
"I would like people to say, 'He was a good priest.' When I started, I worried about being a good priest, being smart enough, holy enough, maybe even sane enough. Being thought of as a good priest will be fine with me."
Maybe he is meant for more.
When second-grader Jack Remaks, 8, was asked the name of the Pope in religious education, he answered, "Father Pat."