As Our Lady Queen of Peace readies to celebrats its Centennial Mass on Saturday, Feb. 16, many local parishioners are reflecting on what the milestone means to them and the influence the area's first and oldest Roman Catholic church has had on their lives.
John Grey is a member of a family that has called New Port Richey home for generations. Frank I. Grey, John Grey’s grandfather, founded of F.I. Grey and Son real estate firm in 1924, and the company claims to be one of the oldest real estate firms in Florida.
John and his brother Chuck own the firm’s commercial real estate division.
John, 68, says he and his seven siblings, including now-county judge Frank Grey, attended the church. So did previous generations of his family.
Church officials say founding priest Felix Ullrich first started holding mass at a private home in West Pasco in 1913. A historic marker says early masses were held at “temporary locations.”
Between 1918 and 1919, a small-frame church was built in New Port Richey on Washington Street, three blocks north of Orange Lake, according to a post on Pasco history website Fivay.org. The church was dedicated on March 9, 1919, to Our Lady Queen of Peace, and Ullrich served as its first priest.
A hurricane ripped through New Port Richey in the fall of 1921. Winds knocked the church belfry to the ground and lifted the church from its foundation and set it down facing west, according to Fivay.org. It had faced south before.
It was decided that folks would rebuild the church, minus the belfry. They also built a rectory and parish hall.
By the time John Grey attended in his youth, mass was held at a church structure on Washington Street in downtown New Port Richey.
“That little church took care of all the Catholics” from Aripeka to the southern county line, Grey said.
He remembers the size of the congregation seemed large at the time, but everybody knew each other.
He remembers mass being entirely in Latin.
“I love the ritual of the mass and the way it was back then,” he said.
He said his family was religious. They would go to mass every Sunday. In Summers, he would stay at a stilt house in the Gulf of Mexico. But when it was time for church, he would get in a powerboat and make his way to Queen of Peace, rain or shine.
“It was just a way of life,” he said.
John Grey was an altar boy and also served on the church’s building committee. The church moved to its current location on High Street in New Port Richey in the 1960s.
Grey said he currently doesn’t attend Our Lady Queen of Peace as much as he should but he plans on attending some of the church’s centennial festivities
He said the church had a positive impact in the lives of a lot of people he knows.
He also pointed to a visible sign of the church’s impact on the community. The parish hall for the Washington Street church campus was moved to across the street from Sims Park.
It’s now called Peace Hall and is owned by the city and used as a gathering place.
“I think it was real important to save that little bit of history,” he said.
Pasco County Administrator John Gallagher and several other notable locals, including the Little family for whom Little Road is named, attended Our Lady Queen of Peace.
Gallagher was also an altar boy and attended around the same time as John Grey.
He accepted on behalf of the church Tuesday, Feb. 5, a resolution from the Pasco County Commission commemorating Our Lady Queen of Peace’s 100-year anniversary.
The church had been his home parish since his family moved here in 1950, he told the commission.
"I've known about every priest there except Father Ullrich,” he said. He thanked the board for recognizing the milestone.
"The church has been good to our family," he said.
About the Centennial Mass
Date: Feb. 16
Time: 4 p.m.
Location: 5340 High St., New Port Richey
Mass said by Bishop of the Diocese of St. Petersburg Robert Lynch. The ceremony will include a procession, Mass and reception. The mass will be said in the church, but since a high number of attendees are anticipated it will be broadcast simultaneously at the Parish Hall on the church campus.
Sherri Lonon contributed to this report.