The History of St. Louis Parish - 1960’s
Becoming a Community
“How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts” Psalm 84
The official founding date of St. Louis Parish was August 30, 1963. What would it have been like to be one of the 663 young St. Louis families, many of whom had been members of Epiphany parish, who were starting over in a new parish to be in the unair-conditioned auditorium of Palmetto Senior High for the first Sunday Mass on September 15, 1963? If there was some reluctance it was not for long. Once everyone encountered the warmth and enthusiasm of Fr. Fred Wass, the first Pastor, they began building community through fellowship, planning and hard work. St. Louis Community News describes Fr. Wass as a father and friend, gentle, fair and wise, yet a “comical ham” in parish variety shows.
On August 22, 1965 Bishop Coleman Carroll dedicated St. Louis’ temporary church. Parishioners had worked and waited two years for their church. News pictures in the Voice showed female parishioners wearing lace chapel veils or hats; priests, nuns and altar servers in pre-Vatican II style garb. Yet Bishop Carroll spoke of the changes taking place in the Catholic Church. He said that these changes were “intended to strengthen the faith of the individual and the faith of the Church” and that the Church “will have greater vigor, greater spirit and a greater attraction to those who are our separated brethren.” St Louis was to become a truly post-Vatican II family- orientated parish. The Associate Pastors during this period all had unique personalities. They were Frs. Norman J. Bulanda (1965-1967, Thomas Kenny (1967-1969, John (Jack) Wilcosky (1969 – 1972) and Ross A. Garnsey (1969- 1975). Fr. Kenny, known as a “bagpipe-playing priest” was said to be sincere, honest, and compassionate and always had time to spend with the community. Fr. Jack Wilcosky was named “Padre of the Year” in the Archdiocese because of his work with the CYO; Fr. Garnsay, involved in Family Counseling for Catholic Charities, founded the Alcoholics Anonymous group which still meets at St. Louis.
Fr. Wass in his eight years as founding pastor guided both the people and the initial construction projects. He oversaw the construction of the temporary church, a rectory with parish offices and a religious education building (1965) and the Family Center with six classrooms, an auditorium, a kitchen and a tiny gift shop (1969). Leroy Lightbourne came to St. Louis to care for the buildings and has stayed to become our foundation stone, not only in longevity, but also in temperament.
Earliest ministries included the Women’s Club, Men’s Club, the Christian Family Movement, CYO, CCD, Choir, and Ushers. The Parish Council was established in 1967, the first council in the Archdiocese. The St. Louis Community News was published monthly for eight years from 1969 to 1977. The Dominican Retreat House which opened in 1961 served St. Louis for its first daily masses and classrooms until the temporary church was built.
Decade of the 1970s
The 1970’s brought three new pastors to St. Louis, Fr. Matthew Morgan in October 1971, Fr. John Nevins (later to be Bishop Nevins) in September 1972 and Fr. David Russell in September 1974. Each has left a unique mark on the parish.
Fr. Morgan, as reported in the Community News, was an “excellent administrator” who believed the Religious Education Program was “futuristic because it tried to reach all the people of the parish with a large number of volunteers who teach and work on the projects”. Fr. Wilcosky, who was once his altar boy, said Fr. Morgan had “a very Irish sense of humor and an endless supply of funny stories.” During this period, the Liturgical Committee suggested that parish members compose the Prayer of the Faithful and that in order to “sharpen our listening powers, we give the missal back to the priest”, thus doing away with the missalette.
In March of 1971 the Annual Interfaith Musicale, sponsored by Temple Beth Am, involved the Choir and the Women’s Club. The seeds of interfaith relationships and ecumenism eventually evolved into an “Interfaith Day” sponsored by the Synagogue Women of Dade County, Church Women United of Greater Miami and the Miami Archdiocesan Council of Catholic Women.
Fr. Morgan left St. Louis in the summer of 1972, and on September 14, 1972, the parish welcomed Fr. John Nevins. Described in the Community News as a “man with a real sense of mission”, Fr. Nevins was interested in advancing ecumenism and “expanding our thinking beyond parish boundaries and including the whole surrounding area and the needs of people who live there.” As well as being pastor at St. Louis, Fr. Nevins was director of Catholic Charities for the Archdiocese. He worked to develop a Committee on Justice and Peace to have a real commitment to St. Ann’s Mission, migrant families and other social concerns.
The early seventies also brought two new Associate Pastors, Fr. James Murphy in 1972 and our own Fr. Michael Kish in 1973. Fr. Murphy believed that “liturgy was the only vehicle to build a parish community and to help people identify with the parish.” The two philosophies of outreach and concern for liturgy helped to lay the foundation for change during the next two years.
Fr. Mike, having served as chaplain of Campus Ministry at Miami-Dade Community College South Campus since 1969, brought a unique understanding of young people to St. Louis. He soon became famous for the number of marriages he performed and the number of couples he mentored. Many of his homilies returned to the theme of marriage and relationships. He was also chaplain for both the Golden Agers and the Legion of Mary. In 1981 , he was appointed Catholic Chaplain for the City of Miami Police Department which probably explains why he once owned and rode a motorcycle. He is also known for owning several generations of dogs all called Michaelito.
September 1974 marked the end of Fr. Nevins time as pastor. He would subsequently become the first Bishop of the Diocese of Venice, Florida. On September 29, 1974, the parish observed a belated celebration of their 10th anniversary, a farewell to Fr. Nevins and an introduction of Fr. David Russell as new pastor.
Fr. Russell, the flamboyant pastor of St. Maurice’s Parish in Dania Beach (known as the “stable” because the church was a renovated stable) took St. Louis by storm. Fr. Fetscher believed his priorities were “the liturgical life, preaching excellence, involvement of the broadest number of people in parish life, a strong stewardship program emphasizing all areas of Christian response and an outreach on the evangelical and social level.”
Appointing Lisa Zorovich as the new Music Director and subsequently hiring Paul Lambert and then Roger Grenier, Fr. Russell demonstrated his concern for good music. Paul and Roger’s combined talents evolved into a ministry which included live concerts, three record albums in six years and various parish missions and retreats. In time, Paul would be ordained a Deacon.
In September 1975, Fr. Russell brought Myrna Gallagher from St. Maurice to become Director of Religious Education. Myrna envisioned “continuing Christian development as an opportunity to awaken an awareness in children of the presence of God and a vehicle for expressing their love for Him, their neighbor and themselves.” When asked, Fr. Russell said, “Myrna has always been the one who makes me look good.” Another ministry which grew under Fr. Russell was “New Life”. Formerly the CYO, this ministry for high school youth emphasized a personal walk with the Lord through retreats, fellowship and service.
Also during this time, the “Come Follow Me” prayer group, the Life in the Spirit Seminars, and the first Women’s Emmaus took place. Emmaus, fashioned after the gospel reading of “A Walk to Emmaus,” was written by Myrna and Fr. Russell. A Men’s Emmaus would follow in 1986 . Both programs have spread far beyond St. Louis.
Liturgical reforms of Vatican II continued to reach parishes with the advent of Communion in the hand, and the first Eucharistic Ministers. In April 1979, Wilbur Rollins became the first parishioner of St. Louis to be ordained a Permanent Deacon. In subsequent years fourteen others would follow his lead.
Associate Pastors during this time were Frs. Manuel Rodriguez, a concert pianist, and Edwin Trimbur, a trumpet player from March to August 1975; Sean Quilter, October to December 1975, and James Fetscher, 1976 to 1980 , who became pastor in 1982.
Also during Fr. Russell’s tenure, the parish saw the mortgage-burning for the temporary Church, the Rectory, Family Center, Office and classroom facilities. Stewardship, the use of time, talent and treasure to build up the parish, began in 1977 as a “way of life” for parish members. After five years of planning the permanent Worship Space was built. It was dedicated on September 27, 1980.
Decade of the 1980s
St Louis ushered in the 1980’s with a new Worship Space, no longer called a Church because WE the people are the “Church”. The “Church” came together to worship in its “Sanctuary”. Now, in our Liturgy, we could see each other over the Lord’s Table. In 1980, Fr. Wally McGowan, and in 1981 Fr. Roger Radloff arrived. Good friends, either one would have qualified for the Readers Digest column as “My most unforgettable character.”
Fr. Wally loved music and art and films. He liked to tell stories and to give gifts. Some of his best friends drove UPS trucks and delivered item after item gleaned from numerous catalogs. He played the piano, notably the songs of Sigmund Romberg’s “The Desert Song” for Covenant Weekend retreats. He will be remembered for his annual Christmas window which featured a running train, animals, sundry small items from his travels as well as the traditional Christmas crèche. Most of all, we remember Fr. Wally for his consistency, faithfulness, patience and love.
In contrast, Fr. Radloff, resident priest and “Diocesan Shrink” (as he referred to himself) was best known for his wisdom and intelligence. A gifted preacher, Fr. Radloff had a devoted following at his 8:00 a.m. mass – so much so, that two volumes of his homilies were later published.
In 1981, Fr. Otto Martinez S,J. arrived to provide consistency in leadership for a growing Spanish community. He added a dimension to the Spanish-speaking community that brought vibrancy and renewing faith to a multi-national community that has Spanish in common, but often not much more. The Spanish mass grew and a morning mass would be added with the faithful ministry of Fr. Pedro Cartaya, S.J. The number of Spanish ministries multiplied.
Also in 1981, the Men’s Club was rejuvenated. One of its first projects was a carnival for the needy which was to become the Festival for the Poor. The Men’s Club also spun off the Hard Hat Ministry, a group of parishioners who aided other parishes and organizations with building, painting and rewiring work.
In August 1982, after eight years as Pastor, Fr. Russell left St. Louis for an academic sabbatical at the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley, California. In the words of Fr. Fetscher,”the legacy of Fr. Russell was that he taught us all to call Jesus by His first name, and we will never be the same.”
And then came Fr. Fetscher, who would serve the families of St. Louis for the next twenty-eight years. On October 2, 1982, Archbishop Edward McCarthy installed Fr. James Fetscher as our fifth Pastor. He was a two-timer having served as an Associate Pastor from 1976 to 1980. We knew him and he knew us and he wanted the job.
One of Fr. Fetscher’s many gifts was his sense of humor. We all knew his quips (“God will get you for that”), the psychoanalysis (“I’m Irish, and therefore genetically paranoid and neurotic”), the promises (“Today’s homily will be 10-15 minutes short. . .honestly”), and the prayer, (“Pray that you hear what God wants you to hear whether I say it or not.”). We were most grateful for his gifts of leadership, openness, holiness, encouragement and enthusiasm. He was and continues to be a man of great vision and the heart and soul of St. Louis’ 50 years.
A most concrete example of Fr. Fetscher’s holiness was his establishment of Perpetual Adoration. This focus on personal prayer meant that someone was in the presence of the Lord in the Adoration Room at all times, day and night, 24 hours a day. Begun with the help of the Men’s Club, Perpetual Adoration was to become the centerpiece of St. Louis’ spirituality. The 24 hour schedule meant that the doors of our Worship Space would never be locked. They remain open to this day.
In April 1979, Wilbur Rollins became the first parishioner of St. Louis to be ordained a Permanent Deacon. Others would follow, including Miguel Parlade in 1985, Vince McInerney in 1986, Paul Lambert in 1987 and John Peremenis in 1989.
Another priority of this time became Adult Education. Bible Study groups, RCIA, and the Young Adult Ministry (the only full time one in the Archdiocese) were also formed. The same time frame saw the inauguration of what was very challenging for a Catholic parish, namely the Evangelization Training Ministry, under the powerful leadership of Jim Lamb, whose wisdom and consistency kept the wheels moving. The ministry was originally based on a Protestant program, and after sometime, they weren’t quite sure whether they should let Catholics be a part of it. But St. Louis knew that simply sharing the gospel was something we could and in fact, needed to do. That was Jim Lamb. Jim subsequently structured the Catholic Bible Fellowship which survives to this day. Jim is emblematic of SO MANY people in the history of the parish who heard the Holy Spirit and found the venue in which to let the Spirit “blow where it will.”
March 1983 saw the beginning of the Haitian Outreach when St. Louis started to help the Diocese of Port-de-Paix through the work of Amor-en-Accion.*
The 80’s also saw the development of the Charismatic Renewal Movement within the parish. The Life-in-the-Spirit seminars were often a powerful means of renewing people in the practice of their faith.
The Hispanic community began to form itself into a “parish within a parish” In 1985 a Latin Parish Council was formed with Fr. Otto and its officers helping the Hispanic community discover its own identity. Later this council would merge with the English-speaking council into the present Pastoral Council which strives to represent all the parishioners.
The parish also experienced a growth of Interfaith relations. Living room dialogue groups were established between members of St. Louis and Temple Bet Briera. For over 35 years an annual Thanksgiving service has been held with Temple Beth Am, Pinecrest Presbyterian Church, Kendall United Methodist Church and St. Louis. In February 1988, Temple Bet Shira, our neighbor on 120th St. was vandalized. As a sign of solidarity, St. Louis erected the Star of David on the 120th St. side of the Worship Space to remain throughout Lent. (At Easter the Star was there and a visitor drove in and asked one of the policemen who were helping with traffic if this was a Catholic Church. He said yes and she said “I don’t think so. The Star of David is out front.” The policeman said, “Lady, it’s Catholic. That’s what it says on the checks they pay me.”)
In 1986, the parish undertook an additional building project. A new library, a larger Book and Gift Center, a choir/lecture hall, a nursery and 10 new classrooms were added. The aging Family Center was expanded and renovated with a new kitchen. The parish formally celebrated twenty-five years with a Silver Jubilee mass at the James L. Knight Convention Center on November 19, 1988. Nearly 4,500 people attended the only Mass that weekend with the assistance of the new Metro-Rail which stayed operating late that night for the first time to facilitate the event.
*On May 10, 1983, the parish was in the middle of adding needed new parking . That evening there was a parish council meeting and in addition a group representing Amor-en-Accion had come to thank the Men’s Club for their contribution out of the first Festival for the Poor. They were waiting in an adjoining room while the pastor was reporting on the construction. One item in the construction was what seemed like a crazy expenditure of $44,000 for the sole purpose of digging a huge hole and then filling it with rocks because the county drainage codes said we had to drain all of the water that God saw fit to rain upon our property. Later the people from Amor-en-Accion came in and thanked us for the modest help we gave them. We asked them about their hopes for the future. They described a nutrition program for children in 16 small rural schools. They were hoping they could get sponsors for the schools. When asked what they anticipated the cost of the program would be, they had to stop and do some addition and then announced “$44,000.” There was only a stunned silence in the room. Then the pastor said, “We can do that.” There was a barely discernible but clear nod around the table, no vote, no discussion, simply a nod, and that is how St. Louis’ 30+ year involvement with outreach to Haiti began. It was from that event that the parish came to the point of making an effort to devote 10% of the offertory collection to outreach projects – a true Stewardship tithe.
Decade of the 1990s
A journey through past bulletins brings backs old memories and kindles new ideas.
One bulletin from the early 1990’s simply stated “He’s back!” to herald the return of Fr. Jim from a 14 week sojourn at the North American College in Rome. His Holy Week letter, an extended “Midnight Musings”, shared some of the benefits of his sabbatical. It concentrated on four major themes: The Week of Weeks in a world of worry; … and in a community of contradictions; …and finding the good that banishes weakness; ….and claims the victory of Jesus over sin, death and mediocrity. Now we would add “brilliant” to his list of accomplishments.
On a lighter level, the parish held a “Fifties Style” Variety Show, Humanities hosted an Easter Egg Hunt and Christmas Project, and in the fall a “Fine Art Exhibition” Frs. Kish and Radloff celebrated their Silver Jubilee on June 2, 1990. In 1991, the Festival moved to February and Fr. Jim accepted his brother Pete’s challenge to lose 30 lbs. by the Festival date. The results of the challenge were not noted. (Editor’s Note: Fr. Fetscher WON!!)
In response to the First Gulf War, we undertook a massive program of prayer for peace in the Middle East listing by name hundreds of brothers and sisters affected by the conflict. Margaret Robinson initiated an Employment Project to help those looking for work, and St Louis hosted the “Church of the Handicapped”.
On Father’s Day 1991, the Vocations Commission, started in 1989, asked us to “Adopt a Priest or Deacon”. 172 people signed up and adopted nuns, brothers and seminarians as well. Our gifted Fr. Roger Radloff, having been diagnosed with cancer in 1988, died in April 1991. He will be long remembered for his splendid homilies every Sunday at the 8:00 a.m. mass. On January 4, 1992, Al Renuart and Bill Diehl were ordained to the Permanent Diaconate and began their ministry to St. Louis. In time both would bring their ministries to western North Carolina and northern Georgia, with a touch of St. Louis (the parish) thrown in.
In February 1992, the first Covenant Weekend was held at St. Louis with 32 couples in attendance. The Covenant was written by Bob and Irene Tomonto and Myrna Gallagher at the request of Bishop Agustin Roman to ”help young married couples return to the church.” The weekend had been piloted at St. John Neumann Parish and proved successful for all married couples. The Spanish weekend “La Vivencia Del Convenio” translated from the original by Oskar and Blanca Ruiz, was piloted at St. Louis in 1995. Both versions have been held extensively throughout the U.S. and beyond.
In March of 1992, Bread for the World, a national organization created to affect legislation on world hunger issues, conducted its first letter writing campaign at St. Louis. In June Deacon Julio Solano arrived; in July Deacon Paul Lambert left and returned home to Rhode Island and a new ministry at St. John Vianney Parish in Cumberland. Deacon Julio would be ordained to the priesthood on April 16, 1993. And then came Hurricane Andrew! August 24, 1992, a date etched in the memory of all South Floridians affected the parish to such an extent that there were no bulletins between August 23, and November 1992.Amid the panic of broken homes and shattered and scattered lives, parishioners came together to help, to house, to clean-up and in many cases to say good-bye to their friends and neighbors. The main sanctuary was closed; masses were held in the Family Center, but a small miracle had air-conditioning on after only one weekend. St. Louis had become a Red Cross Relief Center for more than six weeks that might have accounted for power to the building before the neighborhood by nearly four weeks. (Good deeds do count sometimes.) Despite the chaos, St. Louis Pre-School opened its doors in September and three new Deacon Candidates, John Green, Tom Hanlon and Bob Tomonto began their training that August. The kids grew into a “Covenant School” and the men grew into extraordinary servants, ordained to the Permanent Diaconate on December 10, 1994. They had literally braved wind and water to serve the Lord. Deacon Bob Tomonto would pass away in May, 2009.
In 1993, the Archdiocese began broadcasting on WKAT, twelve hours a day. In January 1996 English Language Radio Peace came to St. Louis as ”The Winding Road” began broadcasting on 790 AM from 5 to 6 PM weekdays. Scott Kaldahl, the knowledgeable host, and Phil Carlton, the eloquent announcer, became local celebrities as they interviewed priests, parishioners and radio guests many of whom were from the parish. Ministries at the time demonstrated the depth and diversity of the people. Besides traditional ministries necessary for good liturgy, these included Discipleship Training, the Handbell Ministry, NFP training, Detention Ministry, the Disciples in Motion, Homeless Outreach Ministry, Child Birth classes, and Effective Fathering Seminars. The parish hosted the International School of Evangelization, and revised the Bethany Support Ministry for those touched by grief by the death of a loved one. Through the Marriage Ministry, trained couples counseled others seeking advice and help. The men of the parish began their Friday Morning Prayer Muffin in 1991. The ladies would subsequently follow with a Thursday Morning Prayer Muffin.
In 1994, the St. Louis Pre-School expanded to Kindergarten and in 1997 to a first grade beginning the process that would eventually lead to a full eight-year school – St. Louis Covenant School. Planning for a new school building began. At the ground breaking, little bags of dirt were distributed to be returned at the dedication of the new school in 2001. The bulletin urged parishioners to “Bring Back the Dirt” to be used in plantings and around the new flag pole.
And it wasn’t all work. For fun our Vacation Bible School became “Camp Holyland”; the Morning Glories continued to bowl, and the Festival of the Poor continued to grow. A cookbook, “A Taste of St. Louis” was published. Young men from St. Louis entered the seminary. These included Steve Dankoski, Jaime Acevedo, Chuck Powers and Paul Kane. Chuck Powers was ordained in 1997 following the ordination of Joe Fishwick in 1975, Frank Kudlo in 1988 and Paul Kane in 1996. Fr. Jaime Acevedo would be ordained in May 1999 and served in the parish for several years before becoming a pastor. In June 1996 , Fr. Jeff McCormick become our Associate Pastor. He also left St. Louis in 1999 and in time become a pastor in Broward, and Fr. John Peloso arrived with scuba gear and golf clubs in tow.
The 90’s also brought us two new deacons. Alex Lam was ordained in 1997 and brought us many celebrations with the Chinese Apostolate including Chinese New Year complete with dragon; Bob Yglesias was ordained in 1998 and specialized in Life in the Spirit, Prison ministry and the Spanish community.
In 1999, on the feast of Corpus Christi, a new ministry began. The St. Louis Vocation Chalice, conceived by Miriam Columbro as an outgrowth of the Vocations Commission, would begin travel from home to home as a sign of total parish commitment to praying for vocations. Fourteen years later, this ministry has spread across the archdiocese and to other countries. Hurricane Andrew began the 90’s and also marked a time when St. Louis began to mature. By the end of the decade as the millennium approached, the real challenge to the parish was trying to see the difference between “mission”, that is “What are we being called to do?”, and “maintenance,” “How do we keep what we’ve got?” The danger with the latter was resting on laurels and not being open to the movement of the Spirit to new challenges.
Decade of the 2000s
The 2000’s, a new millennium, began with the traditional New Year’s Midnight Mass, only instead of counting down to midnight, we “counted down” the coming of a new century by repeating the name of Jesus, calling on Him to bless the year to come. Since 1998, with “Mission 2000” followed by “Renew 2000” we had been preparing our hearts for this moment. The new century would begin with “Vision 2000” and “Jubilee 2000”, programs to share the covenant, renew our financial commitments, and celebrate the birth of Jesus.
A new century marked a new beginning for the Parish Council. Now it would be a unified council with both English and Spanish speaking members serving and leading together.
On January 23, 2001 for Fr. Wally’s birthday, Fr. Jim noted “If my memory serves me, Fr. Wally was born in the second year of Calvin Coolidge’s first term.” In June of the following year, the parish celebrated Fr. Wally’s fortieth anniversary to the priesthood with a movie-themed party featuring Fr. Wally as ”Laurence of Arabia” among other images.
In August, 2001 the new St. Louis Covenant School building was dedicated. In 2003, Kevin Robson, created a new mural, “Jesus and the Children.” This 12 X 18 mural was enamel painting on porcelain tile and was displayed on the eastern wall of the school. The St. Louis Covenant School graduated its first class in May, 2005. Many of the graduates had attended since pre-school. Chris Mathisen was the founding principal and has continued in this role to the present.
Then Tuesday 9/11 happened and the parish came together for mass and spontaneous prayer. Fr. Jim did not ask “Why did God let this happen?” He told us it happened “ because God made us free, and humankind can choose evil. Evil is real and again we saw its face.”
In November, 2001, Jeff Reyes was ordained to the diaconate. He would continue to serve in the Homeless Ministry as well as minister to the people of St. Joachim’s Parish. In April, 2002, Fr. Otto Martinez left St. Louis for semi-retirement at the Jesuit provincial house in the Dominican Republic , and Fr. Pedro Cartaya, a Jesuit scholar, came to replace him. Fr. Jim introduced Fr. Cartaya as “one of those people whose name provokes a smile when you hear it and think about it.”