Location: 350 Tampa Avenue West Venice, FL 34285
The Church of the Epiphany was begun as a mission of St. Martha’s Parish, Sarasota in the winter of 1935 by Monsignor Charles Elslander to serve the Catholics of the Venice area. The wisdom of a mission was brought to Fr. Elslander's attention by Col. Charles Richmond, Kentucky Military Institute president who pointed out that Catholics on the faculty and students had to make a 36 mile round trip to Sarasota to attend Mass. At first, Mass was said only during the winter in the old Gulf Theatre, a movie house which occupied the northwest corner of Venice Avenue and Nassau Street in downtown Venice. About 20 people came to the first Mass at the theatre.
Some of the old-timers in the parish recall the days when the altar was set up between the popcorn stand and the soft drink dispenser. Ushers and assistants had to sweep up the litter of popcorn boxes and candy wrappers from the night before, and attempt to create a presentable area in which to set up the altar so that the Sacrifice of the Mass could be held.
Besides the priests of St. Martha Parish in Sarasota, Father Roderick McEachern, a retired priest who lived on the Bar-M-Bar ranch, which occupied the area where the Sarasota Vo-Tech School now stands, frequently came to say Sunday Mass. At this time, Sunday Mass was attended mostly by the Catholic students and faculty of the Kentucky Military Academy, some of the personnel from the Venice Army Air Base (now Venice Municipal Airport), and a scattered handful of Catholics who lived around Venice. Fr. McEachern helped out Fr. Elslander with the Venice mission for about seven years.
In 1947 a former military chapel of Venice Army Air Base was transported to Tampa Avenue and Nassau Street where it was refurbished and dedicated as the first Epiphany Church. This first building was used as a parish church and later as a parish center until it was razed in 1980 to make way for the present church. The purchase of this first permanent building as well as the complete outfitting of the church for use cost $11,165.30.
By 1954, the mission of Epiphany had taken on considerable proportions. Monsignor Elslander and his assistants at St. Martha’s were kept busy with the even more rapid growth in Sarasota. Thus, on March 7, 1955, Epiphany was established as a separate entity with Fr. Michael M. Reynolds appointed as the first pastor by Archbishop Joseph P. Hurley. Fr. Noah E. Brunner was later appointed as interim administrator during late 1955 and early 1956 because of the illness of Fr. Reynolds.
In September, 1956, Fr. Cummings was appointed pastor of Epiphany. In 1957, Fr. Cummings offered the first Mass in Englewood at the Civic Recreation Center and later the Lemon Bay Women's Club. One year later, the first daughter parish of Epiphany was created and on March 2, 1958, the first Mass was said in the new St. Raphael's Church.
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