A Brief History of St. Mary’s Catholic Community and School
The roots of our faith are founded in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. As a Catholic community, the roots of St. Mary’s are traceable to the 16th century Spanish explorers, the priests who sailed with them, and to the 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 between 1859 and 1867, Fr. John F.R. Chambon of Jacksonville made infrequent visits to this area. 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 sacraments and later baptized two children in a nearby timber camp. His diary reports visits to Dummit’s Grove in 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, also made periodic visits.
The Catholic mission community of Rockledge, later to become St. Mary’s Parish, was first assembled in April 1881. Fr. H.F. Parkes of Wheeling, West Virginia, celebrated Mass in the home of Mr.& Mrs. Gabriel Gingras and had a class of two First Communicants.
In 1904, Fr. Michael J. Curley, later to become Archbishop of Baltimore, was the first designated pastor of the east coast missions. With the help of parishioners who conducted classes, he set up Sunday school classes here in Rockledge and at other coastal communities.
Regular scheduled religious services began in 1912. By 1917, with 20 Catholic families in the area, the first church building located on Barton Avenue was built. It was our church until 1962.
In 1930, Fr. Daniel C. Hagerty was assigned to Rockledge as the first resident priest. In 1932, Bishop Patrick Barry officially designated St. Mary’s as a parish. A succession of gifted and visionary pastors succeeded Fr. Hagerty; Frs. Michael Reynolds, George Bucko, Joseph Corde, Charles Spellman, Patrick J. O’Carroll, and in 1972, Monsignor Terence J. Farrelly. A larger church building was need, so construction began in 1961 and was opened on the Feast of the Annunciation in 1962. The present church, designed by Architect Michael Graves, was dedicated February 10th, 2002, by the Most Reverend Bishop Norrbert M. Dorsey, Bishop of the Diocese of Orlando.
The parish and the Catholic community expanded rapidly throughout World War 22, post-World War II and the NASA space exploration periods. It was during this period of growth that the school was built. In September of 1958 the school opened with 153 students enrolled in grades Kindergarten through Grade 6. Fr. Spellman served as the principal that year with a faculty of seven lay teachers. Enrollment jumped to 230 during the second year for grades Kindergarten through Grade 7. That was also the year that St. Mary’s welcomed the Sisters of Mercy from Limerick, Ireland. Since St. Mary’s was the only Catholic school in Central Brevard, children came from Titusville, Cocoa Beach and Merritt Island.