History of the Parish
|History of the Parish|
St. Jerome 50th Anniversary Parish Directory History
Written and compiled by Jeff SignoriniSt. Jerome, as a bright but worldly young man, had a dream that transformed his life: as he stood before the judgment seat of God and announced himself as a Christian, God accused him of having a greater commitment to secular learning than to the ways of holiness. Upon awakening, St. Jerome resolved to dedicate his life to the study and understanding of Sacred Scripture. With a similar tenacity and commitment to the service of God, the parish family of St. Jerome has transformed a tiny mission church into a beacon of faith for Catholics far beyond its parish boundaries. And, in a fashion strongly reminiscent of its namesake, St. Jerome Church perseveres in its quest to be a guiding light for generations to come.
Like many parishes in central Pinellas County, St. Jerome began humbly as a mission of the long established St. Cecelia Church in the Diocese of St. Augustine. In 1951, Monsignor Thomas Colreavy, then pastor of St. Cecelia, began celebrating Mass in the American Legion Hall on Indian Rocks Beach. The Catholic community in this sleepy resort town numbered just 25 families at the time, consisting primarily of retirees. The American Legion Hall served as a place of worship for several Christian denominations, each resetting the hall for their own use.
The number of Catholic families in the community grew quickly, and Msgr. Colreavy, recognizing the growth potential for the community, purchased two acres of land on the shore side of the Haven Beach Canal in 1954. The site, acquired through mission funds augmented by St. Cecelia’s treasury, included a cottage, a large garage and a boathouse. Although Sunday Masses were still celebrated at the American Legion Hall, and later at the newly built Civic Auditorium, this site would become the first official gathering place for the Catholic family first known as Indian Rocks Parish.
In an historic memorandum to the diocesan chancellor dated January 4, 1956, Archbishop Joseph Hurley announced the formal designation of a new parish in Indian Rocks Beach. The titular (saint) is St. Jerome, the Archbishop responded to the official request for a parish name. In an accompanying letter, the Archbishop continued to the chancellor, tell Father Carroll that he and his successors must labor to make the Sacred Scriptures known and read. With this momentous document, the once tiny mission gained the decisive status of a parish, now known to all as St. Jerome.
Within a week of the formal designation of the new parish, Father William Carroll, in residence at St. John Vianney on St. Pete Beach and acting Assistant Pastor of St. Cecelia, was appointed to minister as Pastor to the growing congregation. More than 100 families attended Sunday Mass, and the need for a place to call their own was becoming greater by the day. In anticipation of continued growth, the Diocese purchased 20 acres of undeveloped land on the east side of Hamlin Boulevard in 1957.
After serving for three years as pastor, Father Carroll, in a letter to the Archbishop in 1959, made a request that would shape the future of his burgeoning parish family. The attendance at last Sunday’s two masses was 740, Father Carroll wrote. It would be much greater, I am sure, if there was a parish church. All these good people dream and talk about a church and would, I am convinced, make great sacrifices towards the building of it, given sufficient encouragement.
In addition to a church building, Father Carroll continued, the appointment of a new pastor was critical to the growth of the parish, as he was in relatively poor health. Because of my limitations in this regard, I felt all along that I could not do justice to the work which can and should be done at Indian Rocks. A healthy young pastor who would take up residence in the parish … would meet all the desired cooperation. Father Carroll’s requests were granted, and thus Father Roman Gromala was named the second pastor of St. Jerome Church.
Upon his arrival in the parish, Father Gromala quickly assessed the needs of his congregation, which now numbered 125 families. His immediate concern was the lack of worship space for daily Mass, as the American Legion Hall was available for Mass only on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation. The answer, he discovered, was right before his eyes in the large, unused garage on the parish property next to the Haven Beach Canal.
We wish to submit for your consideration the sketch of the buildings located here at Indian Rocks Beach, wrote Father Gromala in a letter to the Chancery of St. Augustine in March 1959. The garage building is neat and clean (and) …is further being painted for proposed use as a chapel. It is our humble request to obtain permission to offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass for the edification of the parishioners in this locality. Permission was granted.
Upon its completion, the chapel, furnished with folding chairs, could seat 60 for daily Mass. But the chapel wasn’t the only addition to parish life. The previously unused tree-shaded grounds became the site of numerous social functions, further uniting the growing parish and its new pastor. A census of the new parish in April 1959, revealed 275 Catholic families now residing within its boundaries.
From its humble beginning, the growth of St. Jerome continued unrelentingly. Within months the number of registered families in the parish grew to exceed 300 and the need for a larger church on parish property could no longer be ignored. In January 1960, a fund raising drive commenced to raise the necessary money to build a church and social hall on the Hamlin Boulevard property.
With his customary energy, the pastor became involved in the planning of the new church, incorporating many of his own designs into the final details. The plans called for a church building that would seat 600 people, an attached social hall that could accommodate 250 people, and a kitchen. The hall would also be used to provide religious education classes for children and adults. The estimated cost for the new facilities was $150,000, a seemingly enormous sum at the time, but a worthy and necessary investment for this dynamic parish.
Upon completion and approval of the final plans groundbreaking took place on Pentecost Sunday. Construction for the new church progressed rapidly to completion. The first Mass was celebrated in the church at midnight on Christmas morning 1960 – an amazing experience for those who attended. The darkness was illumined by car lights and flickering bulbs attached to temporary generators. The church was formally dedicated by Archbishop Hurley just three weeks later, on January 15, 1961. In less than ten years they had grown from a handful to a churchful, with much more to come.