Sunday, June 1, 2014

Four families grow into a parish

Florida has a deep-rooted Catholic history that dates to the 1500s. But much of the peninsula was mission territory in the late 1800s. My parish, St. Peter Catholic Church, was no exception. In the early 1880s, it was a mission of the church in Palatka, a riverfront city almost 60 miles away. That was a daunting distance in days when roads were sandy ruts and horsepower had four legs.

A wonderful parish history in the St. Peter's archives tells the story of the earliest Catholic settlers. The typed document is an example of the locally written parish histories stored in offices and archives of faith communities everywhere. They are rich sources of local histories and deserve digital preservation and wider dissemination.

"Mrs. Charles Paiva, Historian," wrote the St. Peter Church parish history. She credits a Miss Emily Brady "who kept track of church history as it happened." Please leave a comment if you know Mrs. Paiva's first name. I'd love to add it here.

(Photo courtesy St. Peter Catholic Church)
The first Catholic Church in DeLand could seat 60 people.

The history relates how Fr. Willliam J. Kenny said the first Mass in DeLand on June 7, 1883, in the Kilkoff home, which still stands on West New York Avenue. Four families were in attendance - Kilkoff, Dreka, Ziegler and Fisher.  Less than a year later, a small Catholic church was constructed near the center of town. On April 19, 1884, Fr. Kenny offered Mass in the new chapel, pictured on this page. The next day, April 20, Right Rev. John Moore, bishop of St. Augustine, dedicated the parish "to the service of God under the patronage of St. Peter."

An interesting detail emerges from the chronicle about that long-ago day, and it bears hearing in our modern era of religious strife and intolerance. "Members spoke of it as a joyous occasion and spoke of generous help given by non-Catholic friends," writes Mrs. Paiva. The organ was a portable melodeon on loan from a local Methodist. And, "... members of other faiths" - formed the choir that sang the High Mass. Remember, it was all in Latin then. 

A year later, the parish had 13 families. Today, it has about 3,000 families. The first little chapel accommodated 60 people. Over the years it was enlarged, and finally replaced. The current church, on the same property, was built in the 1960s. 

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