By the summer of 1946, the needs of the Catholic faithful living in Florida, particularly Miami, were served by the Diocese of St. Augustine in St. John’s County, in Northeastern Florida. In the city of Miami there were only five parishes: Gesu, St. Francis Xavier, St. Mary, St. Peter and Paul, and Corpus Christi. The shortage of parishes forced many Catholics, who lived in the area west of N.W. 27th Avenue, to attend Sunday services at Gesu, in downtown Miami. A parish in the neighborhood was needed!
Rev. Romuald E. Philbin was the priest appointed to come to Miami and study the feasibility of establishing a sixth, and new parish in the city. Rev. Philbin, a young priest who had been recently discharged from the Navy after serving in the Pacific front, arrived in Miami during the summer of 1946 and immediately began recruiting Catholic men and women to prepare the road for the establishment of the new parish.
Just six blocks west from the grounds where the new parish was to be established, at 54 N.W. 32 Place, there was a two story Mission style, Miami home, where Rev. Philbin was able to rent a room in the house’s basement turning his small living quarters into the first rectory for the future parish. He was also authorized to use the chapel of St. Joseph’s Villa, a Catholic shelter for homeless boys located at N.W. 32 Avenue and 7th Street, to celebrate the daily masses for the faithful of the neighborhood. The number of prospective families grew by the 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 the Miami Senior High School’s Auditorium.
Rev. Romuald E. Philbin
On that day’s Mass, the first collection in the history of the forming parish was taken. Also, on that day, Sunday announcements included the implementation of a religious instruction course to be held at a private home, and the first meeting of the Altar Boy’s Society and Choir which was scheduled for the following Saturday. On October 27th, the first Sunday School and First Communion preparatory classes started.
With the temporary assignment of Rev. Guillaume Aubuchom, the number of Sunday masses grew from two, to four. Following his departure, Rev. Richard B. Washington and Rev. John R. Flinn were assigned to assist Rev. Philbin. With the approaching holiday season, new activities were organized, including a Christmas eve Mass in which over 1100 people attended. The following morning, five Christmas day Masses were celebrated and the turnout was such that there was no room to accommodate all who attended the services.
By the spring of 1947, the auditorium at Miami High School proved to be too small to accommodate the growing number of parish members, and with the newly formed Methodist Church also using the premises for their congregation’s services, the need for a place to call “home” became a priority.
Since building supplies were still very scarce and the new parish’s coffers were nearly empty, there was not enough resources with which to build a church. Rev. Philbin solved this problem. 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 a surplus property and listed for sale at a very modest price. With the help of several families of the parish, Rev. Philbin traveled back and forth to Stuart to pick up furniture and removable materials. The structures were then disassembled into three main parts by a local construction company, and relocated to Miami on large flat-bed tractor trailers.
To prepare the grounds for the reassembling of the structures, over one hundred men, women, and children, led by Rev. Philbin, gathered on Sunday, March 29, 1947, and cleared the field of trees, wild-growth, and weeds. During the summer of 1947, progress was made in the reconstruction of the Army barrack and hospital ward that were to serve as the new church. Parishioners planted fruit trees, Carissa plum, and hibiscus plants on the parish grounds, making the parish’s arboretum the focus of attention of the media.
On Sunday, August 15, 1947, on the Feast of the Assumption, the first Sunday Mass was celebrated inside the partially reconstructed church. Three weeks later, on the second Sunday of September, the Church was completely reassembled, just in time for the celebration of the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.
On the third week of September, 1947, His Excellency, the Most Rev. McDonough, summoned Rev. Philbin to the Diocese’s office in St. Augustine and delivered the long awaited news, that the new parish was approved to become operational under the name of “St. Michael The Archangel Parish,” and that Rev. Philbin was also appointed as the first pastor. A recently ordained priest, Rev. Charles A. Bartok, was also appointed as the new parish’s assistant Pastor.
The boundaries of St. Michael’s (as it became known to all), were established to encompass the area from the Miami River and 19th Avenue, to 12th Street S.W. and Douglas Rd., and from S.W. 8th Street west to N.W. 57th Avenue, and then north to N.W. 36th Street.
The official inauguration date was set to be on the feast of St. Michael the Archangel, Sunday, September 29, 1947.
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 at the Dade County Auditorium, to the east of the parish’s grounds. Rev. Philbin 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 building.
On December 16 of that year, Rev. Philbin was elevated to the rank of Very Reverend, Monsignor. Approval was granted, and the construction project was assigned to one of Miami’s leading architects of the time, Mr. Murray Blair Wright. Ground was broken on March 15, 1964. The structure was completed in August 1964 thanks to the efforts of Monsignor Philbin, the parishioners, and the generous donations of Mr. Victor Gatti, a philanthropist who donated large sums of money in loving memory of his parents, Angela and Stephen. The building, with capacity of 1200 seats, was solemnly dedicated on December 13, 1964 by Archbishop Carroll.
Groundbreaking for new parish, March 15, 1964
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