Florida Parish Remembers Founding Fathers

Andrew Reitz, OFM Around the Province

TAMPA, Fla. — When Sacred Heart Church was founded in 1860, Florida was still mission territory. The Diocese of St. Augustine was the only diocese for the entire state and the territory covered by Sacred Heart went all the way to Key West.

In the 1880s, the yellow fever took the lives of many residents in the Tampa Bay region. Among those who died were five pastors of Sacred Heart Church. They are buried in St. Louis Cemetery which is the Catholic section of the Tampa town cemetery, Oaklawn Cemetery.

As part of our 150th anniversary, our Sacred Heart Anniversary Committee decided to have Mass at the graves of five of our Founding Fathers. On Saturday morning, Nov. 6, a bright, sunny day, a group from the parish gathered to remember these five priests as well as the founding families who are buried in the cemetery.

The Diocese of St. Petersburg had just placed a memorial marker at the grave sites because most people had no knowledge that these founding fathers were buried here. With the death of these priests, Bishop Moore of St. Augustine lost a quarter of his priests to the yellow fever.

Since in November, we remember our loved ones and those who have been part of our faith communities, this was a fitting time to remember these founding fathers.

This is one of several events held this year to commemorate the parish’s anniversary. In February, the community marked the 150th anniversary with a Mass concelebrated by Provincial Minister John O’Connor, OFM. In October, Provincial Vicar Dominic Monti, OFM, presented a talk about St. Francis as part of the commemoration of the feast of St. Francis. This is our fifth year here and the number of people who came for the parish commemorations showed the interest that our community has in St. Francis and the meaning of his life and death.

— Fr. Andrew is pastor of Sacred Heart Parish, which Holy Name Province friars began staffing in 2005.