In his guises as a physician, humanitarian, missionary and religious leader, Bryan Thatcher has won many accolades.
However, this was the first time he accepted an award while sporting Western jeans and a cowboy hat.
At the Western-themed Greater Riverview Chamber of Commerce annual dinner Jan. 18, Thatcher was named Citizen of the Year by last year's award recipient Barbara Jones, community service deputy for the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office.
Thatcher, a member of the chamber's board and owner of Thatcher Properites in Riverview, was among seven chamber members honored at the Friday evening affair held at the International Independent Showman's Association.
A medical doctor by training, Thatcher, who lives in Bloomingdale West with his wife, Susan, and their seven children, took an abrupt departure from his career path in medicine after he was introduced to the "Diary of St. Faustina."
Born in 1938 in Poland, Sister Faustina was a mystic and visionary who wrote her diary after having a number of visions of Jesus. After one such vision, she directed an artist to recreate an image of Jesus wearing a white garment with rays of white and red light emanating from his heart. That image, along with Faustina's Divine Mercy chaplet, eventually became the focus of The Divine Mercy devotion, a prayer recited by more than 100 million Catholics.
In 1994, Thatcher formed a group at Nativity Catholic Church dedicated to studying and reciting the Divine Mercy chaplet.
Shortly after, Thatcher heard about the Eucharistic miracle of Betania, Venezuela, also known as the Bleeding Host Miracle. In 1991, during the Feast of the Immaculate Conception in honor of the Virgin Mary, the consecrated host, the body of Christ, began to bleed human blood during a Mass at a church in Betania.
Intrigued by the phenomenon, Thatcher began studying other incidences of bleeding hosts, even traveling across Italy to several sites where Eucharistic miracles had occurred.
This led Thatcher to found the Eucharistic Apostles of The Divine Mercy in 1996, a lay outreach ministry of the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception. The ministry combines the Chaplet of The Divine Mercy with Eucharistic Adoration.
Since then, the nonprofit ministry has spread the message of The Divine Mercy to communities around the world.
Following invitations to speak about The Divine Mercy in Western Samoa and Ghana, Thatcher expanded the ministry to include an outreach program to provide donated medical supplies, sewing machines, religious items and clothing to the poor in third-world countries. In addition, the ministry built a trade school and home for the disabled in Ghana.
Since then, the ministry has sent shipments of supplies to more than 35 countries including Poland, the Ukraine, Lithuania, Liberia, Tanzania, Uganda, Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Nicaragua, Indonesia, Namibia, Togo and Papua New Guinea. To date, the ministry has shipped more than $25 million worth of supplies.
In addition, more than 3,000 Apostles of The Divine Mercy groups have been formed in the United States.
Thatcher is now concentrating on building a hospital in the Philippines.
When he isn't speaking at conferences around the world or writing books on The Divine Mercy, Thatcher heads a property management firm that owns Park Place and Boardwalk of Riverview office complexes. He also serves on the board of the Brandon Area Youth Soccer League.