Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church
By Perry Gavagni, Fall 2015
Roman Catholicism is one of the oldest religions in the world. The history of the religion can be traced back to the first century AD, during the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. The Catholic Church identifies itself as the continuation of the community of Christians first established by Jesus himself. After Jesus’s death and resurrection, the successors of his Apostles, otherwise known as bishops, along with the Bishop of Rome, otherwise known as the Pope, continued to teach and spread Catholicism throughout the world. In today’s world, the Roman Catholic Church recognizes almost 1.2 billion followers in many different regions of the world, and this number is what makes Catholicism the most followed faith in a world full of many different religions.
Although there are thousands and thousands of Catholic Churches throughout the United States, the church that I was able to research and visit has a history behind it that makes it uniquely different /from the rest of them. Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church can be considered the parent to the rest of the Catholic churches in the Tallahassee area because before the 1960’s, it was the only Catholic Church located within Tallahassee. However, none of this could have even started if it were not for the first Catholics in the area. According to Blessed Sacrament, twelve priests came to the Panhandle region of Florida with Spanish explorer Hernando Desoto in the year 1539. Many historians and people within the church have reported that the first Christmas mass in the land that would become the United States occurred right here in our own capital city during that very same year. However, as Britain began to colonize within the United States, they began to clash with the Spanish explorers who were already living here. When the British were finally successful in their efforts to drive the Spaniards out of Florida, the years of war and diseases that plagued the area diminished the number of Catholics throughout the state. One year after the British took control of Florida, there were only eight Catholics that could be identified in the entire state. Even after the revolutionary war that created the United States, it would take an extended period of time until there was a rebound of Catholicism in the Tallahassee area.
Catholics in the Tallahassee region had small numbers up until French settlers began moving to the area. These settlers began to come to the Tallahassee area in the 1820’s, as the Lafayette Land Grant drew them in. These French settlers were also Catholics, and this influx helped to establish an entire community. This movement led to the construction of the first location of Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church in 1892, on the corner of Carolina and North Monroe Street. By the 1920’s, there were over 60 Catholic families in the Tallahassee area. The growing number of Catholics in the area led to the destruction of the original church, and the construction of the new Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church at its current location off of Miccosukee Road in 1952. The new church building provided seats for well over 500 people, and in 1982, they converted this building into the church’s Parish Hall. The church building that holds mass to this day is much larger and more modern than the old building that has been converted into the Parish Hall.
Blessed Sacrament, along with all of the Catholic churches in the nation, is overseen by a Diocese that covers a certain area and each Diocese has a bishop that oversees the churches within it. From 1870 until 1976, the Diocese of St. Augustine oversaw Blessed Sacrament. The first bishop was Augustin Verot. What is interesting, is that he was very involved in the expansion and growth of Catholicism, especially in Florida. He idolized the state for its warm climate, and encouraged many to spread God’s message. Another important Bishop in the Diocese of St. Augustine, and in the growth of both Florida and Catholicism, was Joseph Patrick Hurley. Born in Ohio, Bishop Hurley served the Diocese for over 27 years and helped guide Florida Catholics through World War II. Hurley had a positive outlook for Catholicism in Florida, and helped to ensure the religion’s success by purchasing land that would be used for parishes. His outlook and plans to ensure growth allowed the Catholic population to grow tremendously throughout the 1960’s and 1970’s. However, Blessed Sacrament Church is now under the guidance of the Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee. The Diocese was founded in 1975, and the first Bishop was Henry R. Gracida. The Diocese is known as a “dual see” diocese because there are two centers, Pensacola and Tallahassee, which the Bishop uses to look over the region.
As I previously said, there were over 60 Catholic families in the Tallahassee area in the 1920’s, and by the time Blessed Sacrament opened its doors of their new location, they needed to accommodate for the education of the Catholic families that they were serving. With that being said, the church constructed the school as a one-building attachment to the main church building in 1952. In its first year of operation, Blessed Sacrament School taught 102 students between first and fourth grade. The Diocese of St. Augustine oversaw the church-run school until 1975, when the Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee was created. The Diocese is the organization that guides the school, along with the Principal, School Advisory Board, and Pastor of Blessed Sacrament. The church is known today as Trinity Catholic School, and it enrolls over 500 students between Pre-K and 8th grade. Since it is still the only Catholic elementary school within the Tallahassee area, it remains under the ministry of Blessed Sacrament.
Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church was the first Catholic Church in the Tallahassee area, and it currently serves as the mother parish to the rest of the parishes within the area. Blessed Sacrament has taken its own time and hard work to help establish other parishes throughout the Tallahassee area, including the Co-Cathedral of Saint Thomas More and Good Shepherd Catholic Church. The church has a variety of adult and youth programs that are active in the Tallahassee community, and the Trinity Catholic School continues to receive high honors. Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church continues to serve Catholics in the Tallahassee area, and the work that has made the church what it is today is totally unprecedented.