By Laura Dodson, Florida Catholic Correspondent – October 16, 2017
Melbourne | Breathtaking! The 100 year old bell in the first church of St. Mary’s Catholic Community in Rockledge joyously rang 100 times October 13 celebrating the 100th anniversary of this parish named for Mary, Mother of God on the 100th anniversary of her appearance in Fatima.
“All are welcome!” declared Bishop John Noonan. “It is truly wonderful to celebrate 100 years of bringing Christ to our community! We are thankful to God and to a lot of people who built this community – some of you are here tonight. We think about the milestones in life – Baptism, First Communion, Confirmation, Marriage – even funerals, but we also thank God for the moment you came to church and heard the gospel and the gospel changed your life.”
Mary Witte is 96 years young and with her husband raised six children here. Accompanied by her youngest, Theresa, and Theresa’s husband, Kevin Riley they presented the gifts during Mass.
“This is very much a big event in my life,” Witte said. “I feel joy and happiness.”
Bishop Noonan provided the rich history of the parish that also reflected the Church’s presence in Brevard County. Priests occasionally visited from the 1600s, but growth began in the mid-1800s and the first Catholic mission community of Rockledge gathered in a home in April 1881 where two children celebrated their First Communion. Twenty families built the first church dedicated in 1917 which served the rapidly growing community until a larger church was built in 1962 and still a larger one in 2002. The onset of the space program produced the need for a school for the young families and in September 1958, St. Mary’s Catholic School opened with 153 students in kindergarten through grade six.
“The school was our point of interest for many years,” explained Orlando Van Orman who was stationed at Patrick Air Force Base in 1951 with his wife Tellie. “We have five children and our oldest son was in the first, first grade. Tellie made several hundred uniforms through the years.”
The Van Ormans are still active at the Helping Hands food pantry – the parish’s outreach to the poor where they have participated since its inception.
The only Catholic school in the area, students came from as far away as Titusville and Cocoa Beach and enrollment leapt to 230 during the second year. It was then that the Sisters of Mercy arrived from Ireland.
“I received all my sacraments and went to school here,” shared Cynthia Minot who accompanied her mother, Laura Minot, a parishioner for 56 years. “The biggest handprints were the Sisters of Mercy. They formed Rockledge and all of Brevard County. They were the conduit for God’s love.”
The legacy continues. Brian and Teri Schroeck have been parishioners for nine years and are parents of Garrett 8 and Gracelyn 4.
“They’ve both been in school since pre-k,” Brian said. “It’s been great seeing all the kids grow up together – it’s like a big family.”
Teri added, “St. Mary’s has been such a warm, welcoming community that has taught us all the importance of being a community and living by God.”
In addition to Mass and reception, the celebration included praying the rosary, the Divine Mercy chaplet, a concert and 100 hours of adoration before the Blessed Sacrament.
“The relationship and communication of all the people participating in the celebration was wonderful,” said Josefina Mendoza, a parishioner for 20 years who has seen tremendous growth in the multi-cultural community, “but the celebration of the holy hours was not just a good experience for the community, it was prayer for 100 years for the entire Church.”
“Did heaven and earth come together this evening?” Father Ivan Olmo, St. Mary’s parochial administrator, asked the gathered community who responded with a resounding, ‘Yes!’
“We have to thank God because our Lord gave us himself, his Son and his Holy Spirit and that would have been enough, but our God loves us so much he gave us our Blessed Mother! He also gives us our beautiful shepherd to lead us, can we give thanks for Bishop Noonan. And I just want to take a moment to thank my team and all of you and your families who have built this Church for 100 years and for all the gifts and blessings.”
Edgar Serrano is in his second year of the diaconate and was instrumental in bringing the traveling statue of Our Lady of Fatima to the parish in honor of the 100 years of her appearance. “This is a celebration of the triumph of the persistence of faith,” Serrano said. “Nothing escapes the will of God and Father Ivan is that – God’s will – a blessed priest.”