West Pasco’s oldest Roman Catholic church celebrates a historic anniversary this week and throughout the year.
Our Lady Queen of Peace is remembering 100 years since the founding priest brought the Catholic ministry to West Pasco with a Centennial Mass on Saturday, Feb. 16 said by Bishop of the Diocese of St. Petersburg Robert Lynch.
Our Lady was the first Roman Catholic church in West Pasco.
“One hundred years have proven that Queen of Peace is a source of spiritual nourishment,” said Rev. Sebastian Earthedath, priest at Our Lady Queen of Peace.
The first Mass that founding priest Rev. Felix Ullrich performed in the area was at a private New Port Richey home in 1913, according to church officials. A historic marker says the early masses were held at "temporary locations."
Ullrich continued to make trips from St. Leo Abbey in east Pasco to say the church's early masses on a weekly basis.
In those early days, three families attended the masses, church officials say.
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.
By 1920, seven Catholic families lived in town.
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.
“Father Felix was in the sacristy at the time and miraculously was unharmed. Glen Dill reported in the Suncoast News, ‘When Father Felix came out of the church to assess the damage, he remarked - 'Well, if that’s the way God wants it, we'll just have to leave it that way',” according to Fivay.org.
It was decided that folks would rebuild the church, minus the belfry. They also built a rectory and parish hall.
After Ullrich’s death in 1953, a shrine to Our Lady of Fatima was erected in his memory.
The church population grew. In the 1960s, Catholic Masses were held in the Washington Street Church, but the Cinema Theatre, now the Richey Suncoast Theatre, was rented out and three Masses were also held there each Sunday.
The ground was broken for the current location of Our Lady Queen of Peace in 1966. The first mass there was celebrated later that year. There are other parish facilities on or near the campus, including a parish hall, offices and rectory.
The Parish Hall of the Washington Street church is now called Peace Hall, and is located across from Sims Park. It was moved to that location in 2001.
It is now owned by the city and used as a gathering place.
Now, Our Lady serves 2,000 families. It offers several Masses, including Spanish language and teen Masses.
Earthedath started his tenure at Our Lady in 2009. He has instituted social dinners, parish picnics, a carnival, a golf tournament and a pilgrimage to Peace Hall.
“We strive to be a welcoming community,” he said.
The church will continue celebrating its centennial anniversary throughout the year. The Centennial Mass on Saturday, though, is the most spiritually important centennial event on the calendar, Earthedath said. He expects 1,000 attendees.
The Pascio County Commission also passed a resolution celebrating Our Lady's Centennial anniversary last week.
Carol Keyes, a longtime Our Lady parishioner, said the church “has always been a beacon as people come into West Pasco.”
Keyes, a Tarpon Springs resident, has attended Our Lady for 40 years and is helping organize centennial festivities.
This Saturday's Centennial Mass, which will also include a brief procession, is a chance to take part in a multicultural ceremony and a rare chance to attend a ceremony held by the Bishop of the St. Petersburg Diocese, Keyes pointed out.
“Everything we’re doing is a once-in-a-lifetime event,” Keyes said.
Centennial Mass: The Centennial Mass starts at 4 p.m., Feb. 16, at the church campus at 5340 High Street, New Port Richey. The ceremony will include a procession, Mass and reception.
The church is holding centennial festivities throughout the year. Find out more about them at the church Centennial website.