St. Paul’s celebrates 100 Years, looks back on history

St. Paul’s celebrates 100 Years, looks back on history

St. Paul Catholic Church & School will soon celebrate 100 years of serving the Riverside-Avondale community. Its size alone makes it stand out, and its architectural features are distinctive, not only artistically, but theologically as well. The campus reflects Mediterranean-Revival designs and styles introduced in Florida’s real estate boom in the 1920s and 30s. The church is “cruciform,” meaning it takes the shape of a Latin cross.

The sanctuary appointments tell the history of Christianity. As Camilian Demetrescu says in the article, “Symbols in Sacred Architecture and Iconongraphy,” Vol. 3, The Institute for Sacred Architecture, “The church is not a work of engineering. It is a symbol. A building of stone becomes a church only after it has been consecrated, in the same way that a child becomes a Christian in baptism. To see the church as only a building, a material structure, is like deconsecrating it, emptying it of its fundamental significance as a symbol.”

“Certain features make [the church] one of the most beautiful in the city, including the stained-glass windows designed and installed by the family-owned Rambusch Company in New York City and the stenciled paintings by Hugo Olms depicting Christian symbols on the wall behind the altar and across the domed ceiling,” said Rev. George Vaniyapurackal, parish administrator and pastor. Olms was a nationally renowned mural artist who also painted the Basilica-Cathedral in St. Augustine.

The brass baldacchino over the altar is also unique. The most famous baldacchino is Bernini’s great structure built 1924-33, for the interior of St. Peter’s in Rome.

The parish began in 1923 in the building facing Acosta Street that now houses the school. The church was on the first floor. The school for grades 1-7 was on the second floor, and a convent for the nuns who were teaching in the school was on the third floor.

Class of 1937
Class of 1937

In 1924, high school grades were added to the school, though they were later dropped in 1952 after Bishop Kenny High School opened.

“The continuity and quality of St. Paul’s School for 100 years has been a major factor in the success of the parish,” Vaniyapurackal said. “Many former students continue to identify with the parish even if they no longer live nearby.”

The church has had some noteworthy parishioners, including photojournalist Rocco Morabito who won the Pulitzer Prize in 1967 for his “Kiss of Life” photograph of a utility worker giving mouth-to-mouth to his co-worker who was unconscious following contact with a low voltage line. Highly decorated WWII Marine hero John Stone was interviewed in the church by Tom Brokaw for NBC’s Dateline program, “The Greatest Generation Lives On.”

Centennial anniversary activities will kick off on Jan. 25, 2023, on the Feast Day of the Conversion of St. Paul, the church’s patron saint. Bishop Erik Pohlmeier will celebrate mass that day.

Womens Basketball 1927
Womens Basketball 1927

“All of our regular activities will have a theme around our 100-year history,” said Sidney Simmons, longtime church member and co-chair with his wife, Ruthie, of St. Paul’s anniversary celebration.

The main celebration will be the weekend of Sept. 17, 2023, which is close to the date of the first mass celebrated at St. Paul. There will be a gala event one evening and a mass celebrated by the Bishop with a parish-wide brunch following the mass.

By Karen Rieley
Resident Community News

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