The Sarasota mission post of the Tampa Jesuits became a parish when Father Charles L. Elslander, as a young man, said Mass in the little frame church facing east on Adelia Street on October 1, 1927, and the congregation numbered 132.
Sarasota had been a mission post since 1889 when Bishop John Moore, D.D., of St. Augustine, brought the Jesuits to Tampa to assume responsibility for St. Louis Parish (now Sacred Heart) and its large mission area in South Florida. A number of Jesuits visited the still remote and pioneer region bringing the presence of the Church (infrequently but always welcome) to the Catholic community, celebrating Mass, administering sacraments, preaching, visiting the sick and bringing Christ closer to the lives of the often scattered Catholic families.
Rev. Alfred Latiolais, S.J., in 1911, accepted adjoining lots, donated by the families of Owen Bums, T.C. Callan and George McAlpine. A small – about a dozen families – but a staunch band in Sarasota, was determined to build its church! The lots fronted on Adelia at the corner of the thoroughfare now known as Fruitville Road. Construction began the next year with Father Andrew B. Fox, S.J., in charge.
The first public notice of a Mass being offered in the Adelia Street structure appeared in February 1913. It read: “Catholic Church Adelia Street Services will be the first Tuesday after the Second Sunday of each month with Father Latiolais, S.J. saying Mass at 7:00 a.m.”
Until the nineteen-twenties the Catholics in the area numbered 13 or 14 families. Coming to the Mission Church was an especially lengthy and arduous trip for many families because of difficulties in travel. The exterior was not completed for two years because of the lack of funds and it was not until 1919 that the interior could receive attention. Masses were however, celebrated during construction.
The little church came to be known as St. Martha in honor of the patron saint of Owen Burns’ mother, Martha, who had suggested to her son that he donate the first lot.
The number of Masses was increased in November 1921 when two Masses were scheduled for the second and fourth Sundays.
Many new families moved into this area after World War I. The first attempt was made to have St. Martha Mission raised to the status of a parish as the nineteen-twenties progressed. The local Catholic Woman’s Club recently established, sent a committee to St. Augustine to petition the Most Rev. Patrick Barry, Bishop of the diocese, to assign a resident priest to St. Martha. Priests however, were still quite scarce and Bishop Barry was unable to grant this request. Despite this setback, this small group of devoted women made every effort to instill a parish life into St. Martha Mission. They organized social and fund-raising affairs to maintain the original church in good repair. They purchased pews and arranged to have a choir loft constructed. The group brought to Saint Martha’s a spirit of giving and sacrifice which made it a truly Christian community long before St. Martha parish was formally established.
Bishop Barry, in 1927, assigned Rev. Charles L. Elslander as the first pastor of St. Martha and St. Joseph’s Parish in Bradenton. Shortly after Father Elslander’s assignment to the Sarasota-Bradenton parishes, the increase in church attendance required that each parish have a resident pastor. Father Elslander remained Pastor of St. Martha Parish in Sarasota for the next forty years.
St. Martha Guild as active today as ever, was organized in 1931. Following upon this was the organization of a junior guild or Sodality, for the younger parishioners and an active group of altar boys was formed. Father Elslander encouraged the reorganization of the Knights of Columbus into an active unit and for the men of the parish, he helped organize the parish’s Holy Name Society.
The Ringling Circus had its winter quarters at Oriente Street and Fruitville Road within the boundaries of St. Martha Parish. The concern and interest Father Elslander showed for circus personnel impressed John Ringling North, one of the executive owners of the circus. He asked Father to bless the circus train each spring as it left Sarasota for the season. This event became an annual tradition in the parish. Its re-enactment was portrayed in the motion picture “The Greatest Show on Earth” in 1951. For some years the Circus gave premiere performances of their show on Church grounds for the benefit of the Parish.
The Parish acquired the property at Orange Avenue and Third Street in 1930, at a cost of $5,500, the site of the present church. During the depression years it became a survival effort merely to maintain the Parish. The devotion of the parishioners brought St. Martha through these difficult days. Their efforts finally resulted in the building of the present church. The first Mass was celebrated in the church on Easter Sunday 1941. The church was dedicated in February 1942.
The parish maintained a mission post at Venice, twenty miles south of Sarasota. Sunday Mass was offered in the old Venice Theater starting in 1935. Visiting priests, retired priests, and especially the Redemptorist Fathers and Jesuit Fathers from Tampa, assisted both at the Sarasota church and its Venice mission. The first resident assistant of the parish,Rev. Paul Woodyard, was appointed in 1945. Rev. Charles Mallen, C.Ss.R., the present Founder and Director of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Retreat and Spirituality Center, of the Diocese of Venice, was one of the Redemptorists helping Fr. Elslander.
World War II brought service men from all parts of the country for training at the Sarasota Airport. The former frame church in Sarasota became a recreation center for these men. Each Sunday morning free breakfast was provided and many of these servicemen became active in the parish. A number returned with their families to the Sarasota area after the war and continued their interest in the parish.
When Father Elslander marked “Paid” on the last bill for the $55,000 church building the parish launched another five-year fund-raising campaign for a parish school. The first wing of St. Martha School was erected at Eighth Street and Orange Avenue, and it opened on November 13, 1950 staffed by the Benedictine Sisters of Holy Name Priory, San Antonio, Florida. There were 176 students. A yearly increase in the enrollment led to the building of a combination cafeteria and auditorium in May 1952, and the final classroom wings were added in January 1954. Starting in 1974, the school was staffed for a number of years by the Franciscan Sisters of Syracuse, New York, assisted by dedicated lay teachers.
St. Martha Parish along with the other Catholic parishes of the west coast of Central-Florida passed from the jurisdiction of the Diocese of St. Augustine to the jurisdiction of the newly founded Diocese of St. Petersburg, in 1968, headed by the Most Revered Charles B. McLaughlin, D.D.
Monsignor Frank Mouch, then Father Mouch, President of Cardinal Mooney High School, served as administrator of St. Martha as well, from January 1968 until August of that year when the Reverend John P. Lawler was appointed pastor.
During the tenure of Father Lawler, the parish’s involvement in community activities expanded. St. Martha School cafeteria became the kitchen of Community Mobile Meals where upwards of 1,300 meals weekly were prepared and packed by volunteers for delivery by other volunteers, initially from local churches.
The parish sponsored two weekly medical clinics, for children and adults, staffed by volunteer doctors and nurses and clerical help. About 1,500 adults and 1,500 children in the early seventies were served each year. The clinics were in operation until the County assumed responsibility for them.
The Parish Council came into being in 1972 through the efforts of a steering committee set up by Father Lawler. The group solicited persons with specific backgrounds and particular talents who were willing to serve on the first council. Bylaws followed guidelines set by the Diocese and provided for annual elections.
Father Lawler encouraged St. Martha people to be involved in parish and community activities, saying: “As we travel the road to the Father, our journey requires signposts in addition to the liturgies we conduct and the words we say within the church, important as they are. Our journey demands to be recognized by the fruits of our works.”
The Reverend Jerome A. Carosella became pastor of St. Martha on August 27, 1973 succeeding Father Lawler. He began his pastorate with a very busy few months. Along with setting up Bible Study and Inquiry classes and other spiritually enriching programs, he supported Brother William Geenen, C.S.C., in his efforts to get the Senior Friendship Centers under way. He made the newly acquired Michael property at the corner of Orange and Second Street available for use as St. Martha Senior Friendship Center, open to all older people. Also, at the first Parish Council meeting he attended, Father learned that thirty-two years had taken their toll and the church interior was in great need of repairs and renovation. That took almost a year to complete. First, the stained class windows were restored (by the nephew of the man who made them) and protected on the exterior by clear glassset in aluminum frames. Then came the general repairs which meant that daily masses were said in Little St. Martha across the street and Sunday masses in the School Hall.
St. Martha gratefully accepted the offer of United First Methodist Church (just off Five Points) to use their church for Christmas Masses that year.
The altar area of St. Martha was reconfigured to be functional and attractive and in conformation with Vatican II guidelines. Altar and ambo were brought closer to the congregation with pews on three sides and the choir behind the altar. A new cross was made for the large figure of Christ before it was replaced on the sanctuary wall. A new balcony with tiered seats for 140 was constructed. New pews with padded kneelers were installed.
The dust had hardly settled when thoughts turned to a new parish center at the corner of Orange and Second, replacing the Michael house.
Fr. Carosella wrote in a weekly bulletin “for many years all our parish activities have been cramped for space.”There were many needs, space for religious education classes and seminars; youth activities; young adult and other adult groups; seniors’ activities; a place for social affairs, dinners, after-Mass coffee, dances, bingo, receptions; private offices for our priests for counseling individuals and couples; office space for the business of our parish; in addition to wedding receptions, choir rehearsals, and dozens of other activities. The parish would be fifty years old the next year, 1977. “Now, to celebrate, we can start planning for the future by building a new Parish Center and what could be more appropriate than to honor our Pastor of 41 years, Monsignor Charles L. Elslander, by naming the New Parish Center after him!”
A Survey Committee solicited suggestions of features to be included. A Finance Committee investigated estimated costs. The Building Committee considered architects, types of buildings, size, construction, etc. and the inevitable Building Fund Drive was set up April of 1977.
The Parish Center would be located on the corner of Orange and 2nd Street with a courtyard between it and the Church. The Center would be large enough to accommodate Parish activities for years to come.
Ground was broken, during the 50th Anniversary celebration, by the first Bishop of St. Petersburg, The Most Reverend Charles B. McLaughlin. The ceremony was followed by a concelebrated Mass in the Church with the Bishop as chief celebrant and homilist. The festivities took place on December 4, 1977, although the anniversary was on October 1.
Dinner for 450 people at Sarasota Hyatt House followed. Leo Carty was Master of Ceremonies and parishioner Jose Martinez played piano music during dinner. The Boys Choir of Our Lady Help of Christians School sang for the diners. The principal speaker was the Reverend Larion J. Elliott, S.J., President of Jesuit High School, Tampa. Father Elliott spoke on the early Catholic history of the Sarasota community and illustrated his talk with slides, many of them made from photos in the Parish collection.
While preparations for building the new Parish Center were underway, there was a benefit musical revue “Regards from Broadway” staged in April 1978, at St. Martha School Auditorium. The following year saw “Regards from Broadway – 1979”. These were produced by parishioners and other professionals who donated their time.
The center was taking shape and the priests and staff moved into their new offices located on the lower floor of the two story wing in August of 1979. Planning for the landscaping of the inner courtyard had already begun thanks to parishioner Mark Ramaeker, a local architect who volunteered his services. Parishioners contributed toward the cost of the trees and bushes that have matured making the courtyard today a serenely beautiful spot. In 1983 the Sarasota Garden Club honored the Parish with a Civic Beautification Award for the Rose Garden.
The center was blessed and dedicated by Bishop W. Thomas Larkin on Saturday, September 22, 1979, after a concelebrated Mass with the Bishop as principal celebrant.
St. Martha has always stressed religious education and now the second floor of the center would provide commodious rooms for religious education, youth groups, RCIA and enrichment courses for adults.
The new Parish Hall was put to use quickly. By mid-October there had been: a wedding reception; an “Oldies but Goodies” Dance; farewell reception for a departing priest; and the Homecoming Dance for Sarasota High. Bishop Larkin used the Hall for a two-day Workshop for all the clergy of the Diocese the following week. Thanksgiving Dinner was served there; the Moonlight Ball (the 16th) sponsored by the Parents’ Club and a New Year’s Eve party were held there. And those were just the special events! Every Tuesday evening year round, it would be occupied by bingo workers and players with the school the big winner.
Circus performances for the benefit of the parish had been an annual event dating back to March 19, 1936, when, in the area that is now the parking lot behind the church, a program of top acts of Ringling Brothers Circus was presented by members of the Ringling family as a favor to their good friend, Father Elslander. St. Martha parishioners ran concession stands. In 1945 the event developed into the “St. Patrick’s Ball” held at the John Ringling Hotel. Music was supplied by Merle Evans, Circus Bandmaster. In 1960, this annual parish social became the “Moonlight Ball,” sponsored by the Parents Club of St. Martha School.
The Parish Center was still receiving finishing touches when the news came from Senator Lawton Chiles office in 1980 that St. Martha application for government funds for housing for the elderly had been approved. Construction commenced in the early fall of 1981 of the 78-unit, one-bedroom complex immediately south of St. Martha School, on the southwest corner of Orange Avenue and 8th Street.
The project was undertaken at the suggestion of Bishop Larkin who committed the Diocese to sponsoring these projects as an extension of the social ministry of the Church. The first tenants moved in on the Feast of St. Martha, July 29, 1982, and Bishop W. Thomas Larkindedicated Casa Santa Marta on Saturday, November 13, 1982.
The residents are at least 62 years of age, of any race, sex, or religion. There is a maximum annual income limit and residents pay only a percentage of their income as rent with the Department of Housing and Urban Development providing the amount required to pay the HUD mortgage loan and to provide for staffing and maintenance of the facility.
A second building with 54 units, Casa Santa Marta II, was constructed in 1994-95 and financed with a HUD grant. Bishop Nevins dedicated it in June 1995.
St. Martha started reaching out in a special way during the early eighties to needy parishioners and others through Caritas, one of the largest community outreach ministries and yet one of our best kept secrets. It is a joint effort of five downtown churches: First Baptist Church, First Presbyterian Church, Church of the Redeemer, St. Martha Catholic Church, and First United Methodist Church.
The members of Caritas, invited by their pastor, interview persons seeking help. They alternate days on duty and all members meet monthly. Applicants may only use the service three times a year and records are kept by Social Security number on a computer. Each church complies with mutually agreed upon policies and uses its own budget to meet the emergency needs of the clients it interviews. All contribute to the Caritas Pantry located at the First Baptist Church facility on Main Street.
Father Carosella established St. Martha Caritas during the summer of 1980. It is funded by parishioner donations collected after all Masses on Caritas Sunday, the first Sunday of each month. Volunteers who help at the Food Pantry are appreciated.
The first of a continuing series of annual Catholic/Episcopalian joint prayer services for Christian Unity, was held at St. Martha on January 22, 1981. It was sponsored by St. Martha and the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer. Both Roman Catholic Bishop Larkin and Episcopal Bishop Haynes participated, along with Catholic and Episcopal clergy. The Lutherans, in recent years have also participated in the service which is referred to as the PONTIFAX (bridge builder) Service.
St. Martha Visitation Committee was set up to keep shut-ins in touch with the Parish. They brought a number of them to the Church for a Mass for the Sick and Disabled in October 1981. Parishioners volunteered as drivers and escorts. St. Martha Guild served lunch afterward and Religious Education students waited on tables. St. Martha school children made favors for each participant. This was the first of several annual Masses. The Diocese of Venice has been offering them in recent years.
Through the good offices of one of our parishioners, who had made arrangements a year or two previously, in May 1982, the Air Force Academy, Cadet Catholic Choir flew into Sarasota to sing at two of our Masses, the 9:15 a.m. Family Liturgy in the Parish Hall and the 10:30 a.m. Mass in the Church. Parishioners invited them to stay in their homes and provided transportation for them. The Choir gave a performance for their host families, a free public concert at Manatee Junior College Neel Auditorium, and performances at Cardinal Mooney, Riverview High School and Southeast High School.
Over one thousand people enjoyed Friday evening and Sunday afternoon performances of the St. Martha Musical Variety Show, “Vaudeville Tonight” produced and directed by parishioners Timothy and Marifran Casey in November of 1981. Other professionals, parishioners and the priests volunteered their musical and vocal talents to sing and tell jokes. The show concluded with a staged medley from Gilbert & Sullivan’s H.M.S. PINAFORE that featured the priests and the Director of Religious Education, Sr. Laurine McDonald, O.S.F.
The Parish on Thanksgiving Day in the late seventies and early eighties, provided dinner for people who would be alone otherwise. One hundred fifty to two hundred people would sign up for the meal and the companionship. Parishioners volunteered for the kitchen and dining room. Members of the Women’s Club, youngsters from the Sacramental Preparation Program and others did the cooking, serving and cleaning up.
Since 1985, the Knights of Columbus have offered the dinner. The Parish provides bus service from the church parking lot to the Knights of Columbus Hall and back.
The Patriarch Apostolate came into being in the summer of 1982. Men of the parish were invited to become senior altar servers, initially for the 4:00 p.m. Mass on Saturday. Since then they have accepted responsibility for the 5:30 p.m. Saturday Mass, Holy Days, weekday morning and noon Masses and for funerals.
Only four years after the founding of the Parish, St. Martha Guild came into being in 1931. This organization has been faithful and unstinting in its work in the parish. It started with thirty members and increased both in membership and in its scope of activities through the years. Its fund raising events, notably the rummage sales, have raised thousands of dollars each year for parish needs. It is presently known as St. Martha Council of Catholic Women.
Bishop Nevins appointed Father Carosella to be Chancellor-Moderator of the Diocese of Venice in 1986. The Reverend Robert Tabbert, Associate Pastor, served as Temporary Administrator of the Parish until Bishop Nevins appointed the Reverend John Rourke as Pastor, in June of that year.
Third Street was scheduled for widening and the uncertainties involved in the civic planning for it caused the Parish and its new Pastor some anxiety. Increased traffic on the widened roadway could adversely affect the stained glass windows. Reinforcement to withstand the constant vibration had to be done before work commenced on Third Street which would be renamed, “Fruitville Road.”
The previous fall restoration work on the stained glass windows had begun and, by February of 1988 parishioners had generously donated most of the $25,000 cost. Later that year plans were laid to create a “Cry Room Vestibule” at the back of the Church to provide a place for mothers with crying babies.
The confusion and noise just inside the main entrance to the Church on Saturday afternoons prompted Father Rourke to plan for Reconciliation Rooms on the south side of the Church. Covered access would be from the ramp leading to the door on the south side of the building. The rooms conform to the Vatican II revision of the Rite of Penance.
St. Martha Church hosted an Ecumenical Prayer Vigil for victims of AIDS in our City, both present sufferers and their families. Religious leaders and members of other denominations, Protestant and Jewish, participated in the service at which Mayor Fredd Atkins was the principal speaker. A candlelight procession followed the service and concluded on the grounds of City Hall.
The Parish also had a special pre-Christmas treat in December of 1987, “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” performed by a group of St. Martha children and a couple of their grown up friends, Father Heuberger and Pastucci. They enjoyed rehearsing and learning how to perform under the direction of parishioner David Schram, a teacher in the Visual and Performing Arts program at Booker High School. The rest of the parish enjoyed their several performances.
The Parish was introduced to the “Service of Nine Lessons and Carols” in 1986. It is offered each Christmas season. The senior choir and the Cantate Domino children’s choir sing Christmas hymns and carols between Scripture readings by parish lectors. The readings trace the history of salvation from Adam’s fall to the appearance of Christ. It is a centuries-old service developed in medieval England as a tool for teaching the people of that time.
The 1988 Easter season closed with a concert by the Cantate Domino choir, a group of St. Martha children led by Ellen Henderson, a Parish organist. The program included works by contemporary composers and traditional pieces along with the music of the ecumenical monastery of Taize, France.
St. Martha and the Church of the Redeemer with their combined choirs presented Mozart’s “Requiem in D Minor”, with the Chamber Orchestra of the Florida West Coast Symphony in each Church. Virginia Bray and Ann Stephenson-Moe directed the late Sunday afternoon performances. The following year the combined choirs offered Puccini’s “Messa di Gloria”.
Realizing that there are times when we all feel we need more Divine help than our own prayers are providing, St. Martha became part of the Christian Prayer Line when it was being established in Sarasota parish communities in 1988. We can all make a phone call and ask that our intentions be included in the prayers of all on the Line.
For many who attend Mass at St. Martha, Spanish is their first language. They have emigrated to Florida and to Sarasota from Spain, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Honduras, Colombia, Chile, Cuba, Guatemala and other countries in Central and South America.
Father Victor Aguera, a Spaniard, an assistant pastor at St. Martha and a Cardinal Mooney High School instructor, was the first to contact Latin families in Sarasota. After he left to get his master’s degree in history from Catholic University in Washington, DC, Father Joseph Rimshaw, an American priest who had studied at Cuernavaca, Mexico, succeeded him, visiting the Mexican migrant camps and other Latin families in Sarasota. He began the celebration of Mass in Spanish, at the first in the school auditorium and then in the Church at 1:15 p.m. on Sunday. Father Rimshaw began teaching English to the adults in special classes and conducted CCD classes for their children.
The work was continued by Fr. Julio Reina from Colombia in South America. Father had studied at St. Joseph Major Seminary in Bogota and was ordained in 1936. He taught in high schools and had served as a chaplain in the Colombian Army before coming to St. Martha in 1970. During his nine years here, Father Reina noted a gradual increase in the number of Latins, their more than satisfactory adjustment to their new country, and a notable increase in Mass attendance and reception of Sacraments.
Father Oriol Tremoleda, another Spaniard, a graduate of Pontifica Universitas, Salamanca, Spain, who had assisted at Sts. Peter and Paul Parish in Miami, came to St. Martha in November 1979. Especially dedicated to youth and the needy, Father served them here until June of 1983 when he became Assistant Pastor at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Tampa. This enabled Father to expand his directorship of a Diocesan program for refugees and entrants to Highlands, Hardee, DeSoto and Hillsborough counties as well as Sarasota County.
Father Celestino Gutierrez, born in Segovia, Spain, and ordained in Madrid on 1964 and a missionary in Guatemala for seventeen years, has been priest-in-charge of the Hispanic Apostolate for Sarasota County since 1985.
Father Celestino has continued and expanded the good work of his predecessors as the Hispanic population has continued to increase. At his first mass in 1985 there were 25 people present. Now an entire parish (St. Jude) is dedicated to serving the Spanish Community.
Every Christmas season Father and his dedicated volunteers provide an ever-increasing number of food boxes for needy families. The boxes are marked for particular families and each contains an appropriate toy, chosen by sex and age, for each child under thirteen years of age in the family. The gift toys are attractively wrapped and ready for the parents to give to their children. Financial help comes from parishioners, Caritas, the Knights of Columbus, and the St. Vincent de Paul Society. In 2003 there were 1100 boxes given out as well as 652 turkeys at Thanksgiving.
To further the ministry, the Diocese developed the Blessed Carlos Manuel Hispanic Center. Ground was broken on June 24, 2004 for the center, a multipurpose building that has meeting rooms, classrooms, a kitchen, office space and a hall seating 800. Located at the corner of 17th Street and Hammock Place, is part of a new parish, St. Jude, and serves a multi-cultural community. Fr. Celestino is its first pastor.
The Fall of 1989 saw the installation in the church of the red oak two-manual, tracker pipe organ built by the long established J.W. Walker & Sons, Ltd. in Suffolk, England and reassembled at St. Martha by Walker personnel. Parishioners heard the organ for the first time at Masses on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.
St. Martha School enlisted the help of all parishioners in collecting Publix cash register receipts to take advantage of Apple Computers nationwide offer to exchange the tapes for computers. They quickly accumulated $240,000 worth of tapes and ordered the first computer and printer. Over the life of the program, the School was able to acquire 6 computers, 1 printer, 1 disc drives and 20 programs.
The School also celebrated the dedication and opening of a new library in January 1990. After the blessing of the library there was Open House for parishioners and other donors to see it.
Over the years the indefatigable Parents’ Club of the School has sponsored dozens of fund raisers, raffles, Fifty-Fifty Club, Las Vegas night, spring and fall festivals, monthly “Parish Family Dinners”, Lenten fish dinners and $50 golf tournaments to name a few. In so doing they have raised thousands of dollars for the School.
St. Martha Day Care began caring for little ones, two months to four years of age, in the summer of 1990. Staff and volunteers lead the children through a well structured day with sufficient play, rest and nourishment. Since 1999 the Diocese of Venice has been in charge.
Bethesday House is a Day Center founded by the Diocese of Venice to respond to the physical, social and spiritual needs of HIV infected and affected persons. It is a place where PWAs, their families, friends and care givers can receive counseling, visit, share and recreate. St. Martha Parish provides the house and Parish volunteers help with its programs which include a weely dinner, food pantry, laundry facilities, AIDS information and home and hospital visitation. Available as needed are: individual pastoral counseling, emotional and spiritual support groups, recreational and learning opportunities. It is open Monday through Friday.
June 16, 1991, the Parish received the news that Father Rourke would be going to St. William’s Parish in Naples and would be succeeded by Father Fausto Stampiglia, S.A.C., S.T.D., who has the distinction of being the first Pastor of St. Martha who belongs to a religious order. The Society of the Catholic Apostolate, known as the Pallottines. After his arrival on July 7, 1991, Father Fausto quickly proceeded to: (1) Add to the Sunday Bulletin a column written by and for the Spanish Ministry; (2) Blessed ground in the courtyard for the burial of cremated ashes of parishioners and named it the Elslander Memorial Garden. Names of the deceased are recorded on plaques in the Carosella Chapel; (3) Converted a section of the Parish Office reception area to a chapel so that parishioners who so wished could make visits to the Blessed Sacrament during office hours when the Church is locked for security reasons. Parishioners donated the furnishings and the sound-proof glass partition and door. Chancellor and former pastor, the Very Reverend Jerome A. Carosella officially inaugurated the chapel, known as the Carosella Chapel, on December 11, 1991.
The Christmas season is well celebrated at St. Martha starting with a St. Nicholas party early in December for children ten and under. At every party there is singing, refreshments and gold coins (with chocolate inside) for each child and St. Nicholas pays a visit.
The annual dinner dance for the benefit of St. Martha School has been both an important fund raiser and social event. It is a formal affair. Ads are sold for the journal/program given to all who attend. Many thousands of dollars have been raised over the years for the school at this popular event.
During Christian Unity Week the Parish has special services to pray for unity among Christians. One year the Parish also learned more about and celebrated the unity in diversity of all the Catholic rites.
St. Martha was introduced to the RENEW process in the spring of 1993. This spiritual process helps parishioners develop a closer relationship with Christ. During six week seasons in the spring and fall, groups (usually ten to twelve people) meet weekly to discuss the Sunday Scripture readings and share with one another how their faith is affected by those Scripture passages. Over 200 parishioners met during the five seasons of RENEW in groups with one member having received training to facilitate the group. Many have continued sharing their faith using QUEST materials and a number of the ministers have been starting their meetings by reading a passage from Scripture and sharing with one another.
One RENEW group became M.O.M.S. (Ministry of Mothers Sharing) to address the special spiritual needs of mothers, particularly those who live with many demands on their time and energy.
Two other ministers have been developed as a result of RENEW faith sharing. A Bereavement Group calls those who have had a death in their family and offers spiritual support and invites them to meet with others also recently bereaved for mutual support.
The Newcomers Club also came out of RENEW. Several times a year newly registered parishioners are invited to sit as a group at Sunday Mass and have coffee after in the Parish Hall to meet representatives of Parish ministries and activities.
The whole Parish celebrated when parishioners Frank Horan and Jack Wren became Permanent Deacons with the group that Bishop Nevins ordained at Epiphany Cathedral in 1993 in the presence of their families and friends and with the consent of their wives, Anita Horan and Peggy Wren.
Bishop Nevins requested that St. Martha Church be available for the celebration of the old Latin (Tridentine) Mass, which was superseded by the new Latin and Vernacular Mass in 1966. Our present Pope, in 1988, permitted bishops to have the Tridentine Mass celebrated in their dioceses according to their pastoral judgment, if the faithful requested it. Starting January 22, 1995, the Latin (Tridentine) Mass was celebrated at 4:00 p.m. Sunday. It has proven so popular that the Bishop has created a new Latin-centric church in Sarasota, Christ The King to regularly celebrate the Tridentine mass in the Diocese.
The Altar Society joined St. Martha ministries in 1993. Its fifteen members keep the church tidy, take care of liturgical articles and supplies and help our busy sacristans in many ways. Also set up in recent years in the Liturgy Committee to help our clergy in planning liturgies and services. Each weekend Mass involves a celebrant, altar servers, cantor, lector, organist, ushers and Eucharistic ministers. The 10:30 a.m. Sunday Parish Mass, the Spanish, Latin and Vietnamese Masses and the 9:00 a.m. Family Mass in the Parish Hall, all have choirs as well. Just the scheduling of all the ministries requires hours of planning by their coordinators.
The parish has the spiritual care of the third largest hospital in Florida, Sarasota Memorial (see Hospital Ministry). St. Martha also has the care of twenty nine nursing homes and our shut ins (see Nursing Home Ministry).
The parish, in addition, has the spiritual care of Catholic prisoners who are in the Sarasota County Jail. Two masses are offered every Sunday and confessions are heard every Wednesday.
S.U.R.E. is an ecumenical organization whose acronym stands for Sarasota United for Responsibility and Equity. St. Martha and three Protestant Congregations serve as the poor’s advocate before governing bodies of city and county to promote social justice.
For a number of years St. Martha has joined members of the Bahia Vista Mennonite Church and Temple Emmanu-El for a Thanksgiving Eve service at one of the three houses of worship.
St. Martha celebrated its 70th anniversary as a parish in October 1997, starting with a Monday-Friday mission that ended with a penitential service. This was followed on Friday by the Commemorative Mass and the dedication in the courtyard of a congratulatory plaque presented by the Ringling Estate. Dinner with wine and dancing in the Parish Hall ended the evening.
Saturday featured a classic car show in the parking lot in the morning and a showing in the evening in the Parish Hall of “The Greatest Show on Earth” with some of the original cast members present.
Sunday evening a floor show circus was presented in the Parish Hall.
Tangible mementos of the Parish’s relationship with the circus are the parade wagon parked in the courtyard and the stuffed lion resting on a shelf over the doors from the courtyard into the West Hall. These were presented by parishioner and former circus owner Allan Hill.
Also in 1997 St. Martha Italian Society of St. Anthony came into being to foster the spiritual life of its members. The annual Mass in Italian is, as one would expect, followed by a good Italian dinner.
Spiritual food for the mind can be found in the St. Martha Library on the second floor of the Parish Center.
The Jubilee Year of 2000 saw St. Martha, the Mother Church of Sarasota County, as a place of pilgrimage, one of several in the Diocese of Venice. The Parish had evolved from a mission dating back to 1889 and had served the entire county until 1958 when its mission in Venice became Epiphany Parish. By then St. Martha and Sarasota had grown to the extent thatIncarnation and St. Michael the Archangel parishes were set up to the south and, in 1959, Our Lady Queen of Martyrs to the north.
A reconciliation service, open to all was held in the church on April 2. It included a brief history of the church and its stained glass windows and other art works.
The turning of the century was celebrated by a dinner dance held in the Parish Center, followed by Mass in the Church so that parishioners could prayerfully greet the 21st Century. Breakfast followed in the Parish Center.
A new and larger school in another location, so that more of our young Catholic population can receive the benefits of a parochial school education, had been a Parish goal for a number of years. In the summer of 1991 Bishop Nevins and newly appointed pastor, Father Fausto, first went looking for a new site for St. Martha School because plans were to close and sell the old facility, possibly transferring the few pupils to the classrooms on the second floor of the Parish Office. Consideration was also being given to opening a new parish in the Meadows area. Ideas and suggestions abounded and feasibility studies were conducted, concluding that the Parish could not raise the necessary money.
The dream came back to life when, late in 1995, John Wrenn III, son of our Deacon Jack, promised to raise a substantial sum. On March 30, 1996, a fabulous dinner dance he organized at the Sheraton Center in New York City with then Mayor Rudy Giuliani as the main speaker, resulted in $350,000 being raised for the new school fund.
A Development committee was formed and St. Martha parishioners responded by contributing or pledging $5,534,365 as of May 2002. The Diocese helped in searching for the property on McIntosh Road and by buying back the Orange Avenue school property so that just under three million dollars will have to be mortgaged.
Located at McIntosh and Fruitville Roads the campus has been named Bishop Nevins Academy forBishop John J. Nevins, D.D., first Bishop of the Diocese of Venice. It opened in August 2002, with four domes to house St. Martha Catholic School and Dreams Are Free Institute for children with special learning needs.
Bishop Nevins Academy is the first school in Florida with the domed design similar to buildings in Arizona.
The round pavilions are connected by St. Anne’s Hall which can accommodate 1,300 people for Mass or other large events. The buildings’ roundness protects them from wind damage and the domed roofs can withstand 600 mph winds.
The Parish has 2900 families with 4500 parishioners and several hundred are involved in the ministries and activities.
Our Holy Father, in an address to the Church as a whole, stated that we should use modern methods of communication. St. Martha took the lead in the Diocese by establishing, through the efforts of Pat Macaulay, a ministry on the Internet. The world is now welcome to visit St. Martha on line.