St. Mary's Parish History
The roots of our faith are found in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. As a Catholic community, the roots of St. Mary's Parish are traceable to the 16th century Spanish explorers and the priests who sailed with them, and early governors of the Spanish colonies in Florida. For over 200 years, priests from the coastal colonies occasionally visited the Rockledge area.
From the mid 1500's, and into the 1800's, efforts to convert mostly hostile Indians of the Sorruque and Ais tribes met with measured success. Before 1800, the Catholic population of Florida was centered around the St. Augustine area. Records indicate that Fr. John F. R. Chambon of Jacksonville made infrequent visits to this area between 1859 and 1867. Later his successor Fr. Henry P. Clavreul traveled mostly by sailboat to visit the coastal missions. He celebrated Mass at Mosquito Lagoon on February 8, 1874, where "two people received the Sacrament" and later baptized two children in a nearby timber camp. His diary reports visits to Dummit's Grove, Merritt Island and to Titusville.
In 1876, Fr. Felix Ghione of Palatka was placed in charge of all Catholics in Brevard, Volusia, Putnam, Orange and Marion Counties. Fr. John O'Boyle, pastor of St. Paul's in Daytona Beach, made periodic visits to this area between the 1800's and the turn of the century.
The Catholic mission community at Rockledge, later to become St. Mary's Parish was first assembled in April, 1881. Mass was celebrated by itinerant priests in several private homes.
In 1904, Fr. Michael J. Curley, later to become Archbishop of Baltimore, was the first designated pastor of east coast missions. With the help of parishioners who conducted classes, he set up Sunday school classes here in Rockledge and at other coastal locations.
Regular scheduled religious services began in 1912. By 1917, with 20 Catholic families in the area, the first church building was built. It was our parish church complete with an organ gallery and seating for 150 people until 1962. It is still in excellent condition and currently serves as a meeting place for our choir to practice at 56 Barton Avenue.
In 1930, Fr. Daniel C. Hegarty was assigned to Rockledge as the first resident priest. In 1932, Bishop Patrick Barry officially designated St. Mary's as a parish.
The parish and the Catholic community expanded rapidly throughout the World War II, post World War II and NASA space expansion periods.
Construction of our present church began in 1961. Its opening was commemorated in ceremonies on the Feast of the Annunciation in 1962.
A succession of gifted and visionary pastors succeeded Fr. Hegarty: Frs. Michael Reynolds, George Bucko, Joseph Corde, Charles W. Spellman, Patrick J. O'Carroll and, in 1972, our Pastor Emeritus Monsignor Terence J. Farrelly.
Our pastor, Fr. Nicholas King, recently said, "It was they who had the foresight, who developed and implemented the plans, purchased properties, built and started our school, thankfully welcomed the arrival of the first sisters from St. Mary's Convent in Limerick, Ireland, built our 500 seat church and St. Mary's Convent and later transformed St. Mary's Church into a thing of beauty and dignity. The community of St. Mary's is eternally indebted to the early parishioners for their perserving faith, endurance and sacrifices, and to the pastors who each, in his own way, built on the inspired work of his predecessors."
St. Mary's sanctuary with the Risen Christ is symbolic of our faith. It, too, is a reflection of more than 200 years of Catholic worship in what is now St. Mary's community.