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Church celebrates 50 years of service

Parishioners mark the occasion by honoring the church's legacy and planning its future.

Published September 27, 2006

ST. PETERSBURG - Two years after it was founded to meet the needs of growing numbers of residents in northern St. Petersburg neighborhoods, Holy Family Church burgeoned into a congregation of 1,200 families. That was several decades ago.

Sunday morning the church at 200 78th Ave. NE marked its 50th anniversary with a Mass celebrated by Bishop Robert N. Lynch and a procession showcasing each of its 44 ministries.

It was a time to remember the past and look forward to the future, organizers of the ongoing celebration say.

But when the celebrations are over, it will be time to assess the sprawling campus to determine what comes next in terms of renovation or additions, the Rev. John G. Tapp, Holy Family's pastor, said.

"That comes under the umbrella of us reflecting on what legacy we're going to leave for future generations," the priest said. "We're the beneficiaries of what others have done for us, and we need to think about what we will do for others."

Tapp, who has been at the church for a little more than three years, added that he wants to build on the parish's past of praying, teaching and service.

The church, an outgrowth of St. Paul's, had its first Mass at Northeast High School on Feb. 5, 1956.

By 1982, its first church building had become too small for the thriving congregation. The Rev. Jerome Diffley started a building campaign that resulted in the present sanctuary.

Bruce Evensen, 59, has experienced quite a bit of Holy Family's half century. He attended seventh and eighth grades at Holy Family School and was an altar boy at the church. His three daughters also were part of the school and church.

Gloria Nelson's late husband, Peter B. Nelson, was the architect who designed the present church. A parishioner since 1970, each one of her six children attended Holy Family School.

"The parish is definitely a family," she said by telephone from New York on Monday.

She added that she had been moved by Sunday's Mass and found last Saturday night's gala dinner and dance heartwarming.

"There were hugs and smiles and laughing all night long. I am so much convinced that Holy Family is so much part of my life," said Nelson, 71, who is president of the church's Council of Catholic Women, on the stewardship committee, a reader at Mass and was on the history committee of the anniversary planning group.

"I just don't do windows," she joked.

These days the church has about 1,900 families and 4,500 members, said Tapp. Holy Family School, which offers classes from kindergarten to eighth grade, has 218 students. Its early childhood center has 62 students.

The diverse cultures of Holy Family parishioners will be showcased at its sixth annual International Food Festival on Oct. 29. Veronica Dunn, one of the organizers, said the festival has become a day for parishioners to share their many cultures, which include French, Greek, Guatemalan, Polish, German, Irish and Cuban, with the church and community. The day starts with Mass in the church and a time of traditional dress, food, music and games in the parish hall.

Chris Vivian, 43, who has sung in the choir for about 10 years, said she and her husband, Bob, chose Holy Family as their parish after moving from Orlando.

"We were looking for a church that had a variety of activities and we were looking for a community where we felt the service and people were welcoming," said Vivian, who has two sons, David and Kenny.

Parish council president Bob Metz also was moved by Sunday's celebratory service.

"The Mass was very spiritual. The liturgical part of it was very uplifting to people," he said. "There was joy in the parish, a joy in the church. We honored the people that came before us. It was a lot about who we were, who we are and who we want to be in the future."

[Last modified September 26, 2006, 19:25:21]

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