100 years of Assumption

Assumption Catholic Church as it looked in the early 1920s. Photos courtesy of Assumption Catholic Church

It was in the early autumn of the year 1913 that the prayers of a small group of Catholic laity in South Jacksonville were answered, when His Excellency, The Most Reverend William J. Kenny established the parish of the Assumption on the south shores of the St. Johns River. Father Patrick Barry celebrated the first Mass on October 15, 1913.
Father Patrick Bresnahan succeeded Father Barry and in 1923 a contract was signed to start construction of a new parish hall and school. The school opened that fall with an enrollment of 110 students. The school was staffed with four Sisters of St. Joseph from St. Augustine. Sister Mary Agnita was the first principal.
The parish and school continued to expand and in 1942 Father George Rockett, who was the current pastor, began to investigate the possibility of acquiring a parcel of land on Atlantic Boulevard. Father James Cloonan made final arrangements for acquisition of the land. This acquisition was finalized at a time of growth in the Southside area. Father Cloonan’s first project was to convert the existing building into a temporary school and convent. The new Assumption School opened in September of 1949 with an enrollment of 317 students. The school also saw a change in the Order of Sisters that were teaching in the school. The St. Joseph nuns left and eight Sisters of St. Dominic arrived to staff the school. Sister Marie Joseph Barry, niece of the founding pastor, was the first Dominican principal.
Under Father James Cloonan, a new church building was built on the site of the school in 1955 when the city acquired the original property for the expressway. A new rectory and convent were built in 1958. As enrollment increased so did the need for more space. In 1965 an additional school building and a parish hall were built under the guidelines of Monsignor Harold Jordan. This addition made available eight more classrooms. The old auditorium was renovated to house the school library.
Monsignor Eugene Kohls became the pastor in 1977 and has since constructed another meeting hall that is used by the parish, which frees up the parish hall for school use. A preschool was added that provides a safe, caring environment for three and four year olds. The original school building has been completely renovated and updated. The new computer lab has been outfitted with IBM compatible computers with the latest software. The junior high building has been renovated with new floors, windows and chalkboards.
The history of a living community is ongoing. The life processes of adjusting, expanding, coping with new and different circumstances are constantly in motion. Assumption is one of the oldest parochial schools in Jacksonville.

(Editor's note: Assumption Catholic School and Church has been an important faith fixture in the St. Nicholas community for a century. School leaders shared an enlightening history of Assumption, which provides an interesting perspective of the neighborhood during the past 100 years. Local alumni may recognize names of some of the school's founding fathers – and sisters. The school and church launched the centennial celebration in September with a fall festival in early October and a parish family campout in mid-October. The church and school plan to have a centennial historical church tour in December and leaders invite the community to help celebrate this milestone.)
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