Born in Baltimore, Maryland, on May 17, 1903, the youngest of eight children of Sarah Egleston and Charles Philbin. He was baptized by the name of Romuald Egleston Philbin. His home parish was St. Elizabeth Church. His father died when he was six years old and the family moved to Washington, D.C. - later moved back to Baltimore to Blessed Sacrament Parish.
He attended St. Charles Prep School for two years in Catonsville, Maryland, then attended Loyola School. At the age of sixteen he worked his way to Europe on a boat. He later enter the seminary at Mount St. Mary's at Emmetsburg, from which he graduated with high honors. According to Father Louis Phillips of Ironton, Ohio, a very close friend, "It was no use of competing for every honor. Every medal and every prize went to the R. E. Philbin." He was most interested in dramatics.
In 1926, his mother moved to Florida. Knowing he had a vocation to the Priesthood and expected to enter the seminary. The Bishop of St. Augustine at the time, adopted him for his Diocese.
On June 8, 1934, he was ordained to Priesthood of Jesus Christ. He celebrated his first Mass at his childhood parish St. Elizabeth Church in Baltimore on June 10th. Father Philbin's first appointment was as assistant priest to Msgr. Lyons at St. Paul's in Jacksonville, Florida, remaining there for nine years. He was also Superintendent of Schools for a number of years. After his ordination Fr. Philbin accompanied the pastor of Blessed Sacrament Church in Baltimore on a trip to Europe. This was his second voyage abroad. Two years later his mother, Sarah Egleston Philbin passed away in Jacksonville. Prior to his enlistment in the Navy in 1943, Fr. Philbin studied at Catholic University of America in Washington D.C. He was assisgned as Chaplain in the Marine Corps and was sent to the South Pacific with headquarters at Guam. He was discharged in 1946.
He came back to Msgr. Lyons, his former pastor, in Jacksonville after his discharge from the Marine Corps. The latter part of August, 1946, His Grace, Archbishop Hurley assigned Fr. Philbin to the task of making a survey for a new parish in Miami. It was not long until the first mass was celebrated by Father in the Auditorium of Miami Senior High School, on the feast of St. Michael the Archangel, September 29, 1946.
When Fr. Philbin arrived in Miami back in 1946. He began immediately recruiting Catholic men and woman with whom he organized different action groups that conducted surveys, censuses of families in the area, and prepared the road for the establishment of a new parish. Little did anyone know that, "The parish Under Survey," or, "The Church On Flagler Street," as the prospective parish was known at the time, would someday blossom into an active, dynamic congregation, born from the effort and dedication of this young priest, as well as the loyalties of a consecrated group of people who joined hands for such a worthwhile cause.
A contagious fever had infected the Catholic population living in the area west of N.W. 27th avenue and Flagler Street. It was the fever of organizing a new parish. From Fr. Philbin's basement apartment, men and women of the area departed every afternoon to visit the homes of the locality to talk to the neighbors, signing up prospective parishioners and spending the word that a new Catholic parish was in the works. "Fr. Philbin was a born leader, a handsome man full of energy whose brio and drive were second to none," remembers Thelma LeDuc, who helped conduct the preformative censuses and surveys, and herself, another founding member of the parish. "Without Fr. Philbin, our parish would have never come to exist," she assures.
Archbishop Joseph P. Hurley
The number of prospective families grew by late summer and on Sunday, September 29, 1946, coinciding with the feast of St. Michael the Archangel, the first community Sunday Mass of the forthcoming parish was celebrated at Miami Senior High School's Auditorium. The Dade County Board of Instructions gave its approval and those who attended the services that Sunday were asked to sign registration cards at the conclusion of the liturgy. On that Sunday's Mass, the first collection in the history of the forming parish was taken. It netted $212.95 from an attendance count of 307 men, women, and children.
By the spring of 1947, the most imperative concern among parishioners was the incertitude of whether or not a church building would ever be built for the celebration of daily, and Sunday masses. The auditorium at Miami Senior High School proved to number of parish members, and a newly formed Methodist Church was also using the premises for their congregation's services. Even though cooperation between both groups was commendable, the lack of space and the need for a place to call "home," became a priority. Additionally, St. Joseph Villa's administrators informed Fr. Phibin that the facility could no longer accommodate the liturgical practices and the group was asked to move their rehearsals to the homes of parishioners.
Fr. Philbin knew that the new parish needed its own place where it could develop its potential and reach its goals. But, the economic situation of the area was an unsurmountable obstacle. Almost two years after the end of the war, building supplies were still very scarce, the new parish's coffers were nearly empty and it appeared that it would be a long while before the parishioners would have the resources with which to build a church.
"Fr. Philbin always found an answer to the problems he faced. He was a man who was ahead of his times, a great troubleshooter," said Mr. Henry Koibu, a long time friend of Fr. Philbin. And true to his nature of being a good problem solver, Fr. Philbin came up with an answer to the predicament of not having a church building in a most unexpected way!
It so happened that an Army chapel at Hendrick Field, Sebring and an Army hospital ward at Camp Murphy in Stuart, Florida had been declared surplus property and listed for sale at a very modest price, one that Fr. Philbin and his loyal parishioners knew they could afford. With the help of several families of the parish, Fr. Philbin traveled back and forth to pick up furniture and movable materials. The structues were then disassembled into three main parts by local construction company and relocated to Miami on large flat-bed trailers.
A new parish was being built on solid rock not just from a construction point of view, but from the solidarity of the hearts of those whose sweat and energy were spent on that hot, early spring, every Sunday afternoon. Even the neighborhood ice cream man came by to donate his products to quench the thirst of the volunteers! During the summer of 1947, as progress was made in the reconstruction of the Army barrack and hospital ward that were to serve as the new church, new milestones were reached by the future parish.
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St. Michael's continued growing in direct proportion to the demographic augmentation of the area. Masses were increased in number and once approved by the Second Vatican Council, Spanish Masses were included in the daily and Sunday schedules. The parish's upturn was such that by early 1962, three additional Masses had to be held every Sunday. Fr. Philbin seeing the need to improve and move with the times, requested permission from the Bishop of the recently formed Diocese of Miami. The Most Rev. Coleman F. Carroll to commence a fund drive to build a new and permanent church.
Fr. Philbin celebrating Mass in the Extraordinary Form
On December 16 of that year, much to the joy of his parishioners, Fr. Philbin was elevated to the title of Monsignor. Approval was granted and the construction project was assigned to the one of Miami's leading Architects of the time, Mr. Murray Blair Wright. Ground was broken on March 15, 1964. The structure, a beautiful and solid temple of worship was completed in 1964 thanks to the effects of Monsignor Philbin, the parishioners and the generous donations of Mr. Victor Gatti. Mr. Victor Gatti was a philanthropist who donated large sums of money in loving memory of his parents, Angela and Stephen. The building, with a capacity of 1200 seats, was solemnly dedicated on December 13, 1964 by Archbishop Coleman Carroll.
In 1964, just before the dedication of the new church, because of the declining health, Monsignor Philbin was transferred to the Chancery as Director of the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine. He was succeeded as Pastor of St. Michael's by Rev. Sebastian Loncar under whose leadership the church was completed and inaugurated. Monsignor Philbin was fortunate to be able to attend the dedication ceremonies and shortly after, he retired to live in West Palm Beach, at the Archdiocesan owned, Pennsylvania Hotel.
Archbishop Coleman Carroll
St. Michael's new church ground breaking on March 15, 1964.