The Church of Our Lady, Queen of Peace

This article is taken from a church publication, Our Lady Queen of Peace, The First 75 Years. Please report any transcription or spelling errors. The church is located in New Port Richey, Florida.

In the six years since 1913, Mass was offered once a week on the day Father Felix could travel over from St. Leo Abbey. In 1918 - 1919, a small frame church was built with funds contributed by parishioners, local residents and the Catholic Extension Society. It was dedicated on March 9, 1919 and Father Felix was the first pastor of Our Lady Queen of Peace parish. There were seven Catholic families in the town by this time.

A severe hurricane ripped through New Port Richey in September [should be October], 1921. Winds of 125 miles per hour or higher knocked the belfry of the new church to the ground and lifted the church from its foundation and set it down facing west. It had faced south. Father Felix was in the sacristy at the time and miraculously was unharmed. Glen Dill reported in the Suncoast News, "when Father Felix came out of the church to assess the damage, he remarked - 'Well, if that’s the way God wants it, we'll just have to leave it that way'." It was decided to rebuild the church minus the belfry. Father Felix took up residence in New Port Richey after the storm and a rectory was built next to the church in 1922. The attic was made into an apartment and rented out, to help provide revenue for the parish.

By this time there were thirteen families in the parish: Paul and Anna Thiel, William and Mary Casey, Mrs. Frank Grey, Joseph and Marie Weiskopf, Peter Kissel, Elizabeth Czaska, Mrs. Oscar Herms, Mr. and Mrs. Francis Roy, Mr. and Mrs. Peter DeCubellis, Angelo DeCubellis, Mr. and Mrs. Janvier DeCubellis, Mr. and Mrs. Frank Lysek and Mr. and Mrs. Martin Van Poucke. The Rosary Altar Society was organized and held card parties and other activities to raise a few dollars to take care of the living expenses for Father Felix. Meetings were held at the home of the ladies. Mrs. Frank (Mary) Grey was its first president.

Generosity of celebrities vacationing in the area, including Tom and Jim Meighan, Gene Sarazen and Edna Wallace Hopper contributed toward the building of the Parish Hall on Washington Street, completed June 20, 1931. The building, 70 x 29 ft. with kitchen facilities, stage, and wood floor for dances seats 170 and was built at a cost of $1,128.39. The building is still in use today.

On January 6, 1932, Father Felix was appointed Spanish instructor at St. Leo College Preparatory School and was replaced by Father Paul Keegan, O. S. B., who was pastor until 1946. Father Maurus Cook, O. S. B., replaced Father Paul and during his four year stay, organized the first youth club in town, called the Teen Canteen. The club was open to all teenagers in the area and was chaperoned by members of various faiths. It met twice a week and was always supervised by Father Maurus.

Father Maurus left the parish in 1950 to re-enlist in the Marines. He was replaced by Father Gerard Brady, O. S. B., who stayed two years. Father Aloysius Dressman, O. S. B., served as pastor from 1952 to 1955, when he was recalled to St. Leo Abbey and was promoted to Prior, to assist the Abbot. During the next two years, Father Vincent Crawford, O. S. B., Father Bernard Weigl, O. S. B., Father Benedict Weigand, O. S. B., and Father Ignatius McCarty, O. S. B., each served a few months. In 1957, Father Aloysius Dressman returned to serve six more years for a total of nine.

In 1953, the year Father Felix died; Father Dressman promoted the construction of a shrine as a memorial to Father Felix’s memory. The shrine depicted Our Lady of Fatima as she appeared to the three small children tending their sheep in the mountain village of Fatima, Portugal, in 1917. The figures were of white marble carved by an Italian sculptor in Italy and brought here by freighter to New Orleans. The foundation was a community project, built by Protestants as well as Catholics. It was designed by a young man in his early 20’s named Wilson Cornell. The foundation and walls of the Shrine were of Coral Rock from the Milbauer Mines near Aripeka.

Paul Thiel, a stone mason and a parishioner, supervised the foundation work, and Leo Smith, another parishioner "donated" use of a concrete mixer he had been using to build a swimming pool on his own place. The lighting effects were donated by Wilburn Hoffman, a local resident but not a member of the church, while the telephone company, free of charge, hoisted the statue of the Virgin Mary, weighing nearly a ton onto its platform atop the Grotto.

Father Dressman often expressed his appreciation for the help given by the community ... "It was wonderful." The Grotto, when finished, drew many tourists to New Port Richey. People of all faiths stopped by to see it and offer a prayer, but Father Dressman was a bit reluctant to talk much about the shrine because the bishop had designated the shrine of Our Lady of La Leche in Saint Augustine as the place of pilgrimage for that Marian year. Father Dressman’s modesty aside, there was no gain saying the fact that many visitors continued to come here as well.

The attractive Grotto was the scene of much garish activity. Each year, on Memorial Day, an outdoor Mass was offered at the Grotto attended by members of veterans organizations, who then paraded through the streets of the town to mark the memory of those lost in the wars. Remains of the Grotto are still evident on the Washington Street church grounds but have fallen into disrepair and the ravages of vandalism since the church is no longer operational there. The buildings at Washington Street still hum with activity, used by Catholic and non-Catholic endeavours as well. Boy Scout troop #46 sponsored by Our Lady Queen of Peace Men’s Club, but made up of boys of all faiths, uses one of the cottages on the property as their club house. Father William Loesch Council #8155 Knights of Columbus uses Father Felix Hall for their meetings until such time as they gain occupancy of their own building on Allamanda Drive. Other Catholic action groups including S.O.L.V.E. use the old rectory as headquarters for their activities, all without charge, as does the St. Vincent de Paul Society... good community action use of the property.

In July 5, 1963, Father Dressman purchased ten acres of land in the southern end of the town, along U.S. 19 for $30,000. This became the site of our present church and parish center building.

That fall, Father Dressman suffered a detached retina in one eye, necessitating his retirement from the pastoral assignment at Our Lady Queen of Peace. He was replaced in September, 1963 by Father Michael Leap, O. S. B.

As the population of West Pasco County increased, so did church membership. Beginning in 1960, the Washington Street Church Hall was also used for Sunday Mass, seating upward of 200 people. The Cinema Theatre on Boulevard South (now the Richey Suncoast Theatre) was rented and three Masses were celebrated there each Sunday. All told, some 1,500 parishioners were served in this piecemeal manner. Indicative of the obvious bulge in membership at Our Lady Queen of Peace, a mission church was started in Hudson on October 25, 1965, later to become St. Michael’s parish.

With Father Leap’s assignment to replace Father Dressman came the directive to plan the construction of a new provisional church on the newly acquired property, to alleviate the inadequacy of the Washington Street facilities.

Father Leap’s tenure as pastor, which ended in 1975, capped a long and proud record of stewardship by the Benedictine Fathers, who nurtured the tiny parish into lusty growth. In all, eleven Benedictine Fathers administered the affairs of Our Lady Queen of Peace parish.

Father Michael Leap, O. S. B., was appointed pastor of Our Lady Queen of Peace parish on September 1, 1963, replacing Father Dressman.

Father Leap came to us from Our Lady Queen of the Rosary Church in Land O' Lakes, where he had served the previous five years.

A native of Cassandra, Pennsylvania, he was enrolled at St. Bernard’s College until he entered the novitiate at St. Bernard’s Seminary in Belmont Abbey College in 1948. He was ordained in 1954 at St. Leo’s Abbey. The twelve years of Father Leap’s stewardship saw amazing growth of the parish. He worked at the Washington Street facilities striving mightily to serve his burgeoning parish with a tiny church seating less than 200 and a Church Hall seating 170. In 1964 he had the rectory building modernized, air conditioned and refurnished. It provided three bedrooms, one large and one small bath, a large living area, kitchen, porch, three offices and a carport. That building served as our priests' residence until July, 1983, when our new priest’s residence on High Street was dedicated.

On January 26, 1964, Archbishop Hurley granted permission to Father Leap to see to preparation of plans for a new "provisional" church ... "which the growing mission sorely needed."

Shown at right is the altar of the Washington Street church, decorated for a 25th Anniversary Mass for Mr. and Mrs. Herbert Grove. Father Leap, the celebrant, enters the altar from the sacristy door at the left.

The altar stone from this altar is now imbedded in the altar of our remodeled church. The crucifix and corpus above the altar are now displayed in a niche in the narthex of the new church, linking the old with the new. We are sentimental about the "roots" of our church. That is why we retained so much of what was so good in the provisional church we enjoyed for twenty years.

Plans for the provisional church were drawn up by Frank P. Patterson of Tampa and called for a structure 184 ft. x 57 ft. with a seating capacity of some 875, including a Parish Hall with kitchen facilities. The structure has reinforced concrete foundations, concrete floor slab on fill. Exterior walls are buff colored clay brick. Front portion of the building is pink crab orchard stone; wood laminated beams with double tongue and groove wood decking. Floors throughout are terrazzo and the ceilings, exposed wood decking. Cost to build: $182,000, including parking lot paving and sidewalks. Later, landscaping was accomplished by the parishioners.

Sunday, January 16, 1966, was the great day when ground breaking ceremonies for construction of the provisional church took place. Attorney Jim Altman, Master of Ceremonies, casts an approving eye on the shovel-work of Mrs. Frank E. Grey and Peter DeCubellis, oldest members of the parish as they turn the first shovelfulls, ably assisted by the Very Reverend Leo Schlosser, O. S. B., sub-prior of St. Leo Abbey. Lending pastoral approval are (left to right) Father Michael Leap, O. S. B., pastor; Father Jude Krogel, O. S. B., and Father Samuel Rimshaw, O. S. B., of the Abbey. Their shoveling was so good, construction was completed eight months later, on September 16, 1966. First Mass in the new church was celebrated by Father Leap on Sunday, October 16, 1966.

We can well imagine the joy of the parishioners at having such a roomy church at their disposal but all was not joyous ... those who had moved into the Washington Street area to be near the church now found it at a distance too long to traverse without a car. Solutions often create problems.

Even with its expanding facilities our parish outgrew its ability to handle the burgeoning Catholic population, and it became a "mother church" as additional missions and parishes were spun off. A new parish in Holiday, St. Vincent de Paul, was established, under the direction of father Joseph Beaumont. In 1971, the mission in the Hudson/Bayonet Point was established as a parish under the direction of Father George Malin, with St. Michael as its patron saint.

In June, 1975, Father Michael Leap was transferred and Father Aiden Foynes was appointed pastor. Father Leap’s farewell message to his parishioners succinctly noted a new course of administration in our parish ... "For the past 60 years, the Benedictine, Fathers of St. Leo Abbey have staffed Queen of Peace parish. Serving the people of this community has brought unlimited joy to myself and the other priests of St. Leo who have served here.

"Time has a way of changing many things. Time has changed the size of this parish from a small rural community into a large city, with two new parishes being formed from Queen of Peace in the past six years (St. Michaels and St. Vincent de Paul). Time now brings another change. As the population increases, demand for priests becomes greater. Since the community of St. Leo cannot supply the number of priests needed, the administration of this parish will come directly under the Bishop of St. Petersburg. This change will take place on Tuesday, June 10th when Father Aiden Foynes, from Espirito Santo parish in Safety Harbor, will assume the duties of pastor of Queen of Peace parish. The community of St. Leo joins with me in welcoming Father Foynes and prays he will find peace and contentment in serving this community." Thus ended the succession of Benedictine pastors at Our Lady Queen of Peace ... eleven in all.

Father Foynes' first assistants were Father Robert Fucheck, O. S. B., and Father Julius Piatkowski, who replaced Father William Loesch. In 1976, Father Eugene Ryan and Father Donald Baier, O. S. B., replaced them. We have since had Father Paul Lauers, Father Hilarin Lapinski, who, though retired, continues to help with Mass on busy weekends; Father Leo J. Martineau, who left us to become a chaplain in the U.S. Army-Airborne; then Father Brian Fennellon and Father John Helie and Father Michael Devine; Father Seamus Collins, Father Tom Madden and now Father Ray Gualtieri, Father Tom Connery, S.D.B., and Father Maurice A. Cunningham, M.Af.

And growth and development continues apace. In 1983, Father Foynes broke ground for a new priests' residence just across from the church, and purchased a residence just north of it to house visiting priests. In 1980, our handsome Parish Center was opened, built around a 450-seat great Hall, with a classroom wing and a rectory-office wing. It hums with activity and houses overflow Masses on weekends when our visitor population swells. A house on Shaw Street was purchased to serve as a residence for Sisters and a 2-bay garage and workshop was built to house parish equipment.

Our 75-year history has been remarkable and the story of our growth from 3 families in the parish to our present 2,500, in spite of the number of parishes which have grown out of our parish family startling. With our 100th Anniversary as our goal, speculation as to what will happen then will be interesting reading. Afraid I will not be around to write it!

There are reasons for growth such as ours. Some are thrust upon us by natural population movements and growth. We like to feel that we have earned some of it too. Ours is a dynamic parish, with vital organizations who accomplish things. We have leadership people, working in the community, putting into action the things our religion teaches us! We can take pride in being part of this exciting history of growth and service to our parishioners and our community.

Acknowledgement: Thank you Aimee Cassidy! For many years more than she is willing to admit, Aimee Cassidy of our Rosary Altar Society has been historian of Our Lady Queen of Peace parish. This account of the early history of our parish was gleaned from her voluminous records, without which we would have been unable to bridge the gap through the years to our beginnings. We are indebted to you, Aimee!

Your Editor

Catholic Church Preaches To All

The following article appeared in the Tampa Tribune on Oct. 23, 2004.


NEW PORT RICHEY—In 1913, three Catholic families met for Mass led by Father Felix Ullrich in the home of James H. Casey. Mass was celebrated once a week when Ullrich could come to the area from St. Leo. [jm note: a contemporary newspaper account reports that Casey moved into his new home in early 1914.]

In 1919, a small frame church on Washington Street was dedicated, and Ullrich was the first pastor of Our Lady Queen of Peace Catholic Church.

A hurricane in 1921 knocked the belfry off the church, lifted the church from its foundation and set it back down. The church was rebuilt minus the belfry.

A parish hall, completed in 1931, recently was moved near Sims Park to be restored.

In 1963, 10 acres were purchased along U.S. 19, and ground was broken on Allamanda Drive for a new building in January 1966. The first Mass was celebrated there in September 1966.

The current parish hall was dedicated in 1980. A house on Shaw Street was purchased to house sisters, and a garage and workshop were built on the church property.

A part of the church family for seven years, Father Ken Slattery has led the parish for three years. He had served Our Lady of Lourdes in Dunedin for one year before coming to New Port Richey.

Slattery holds degrees from Alfred University in Alfred, N.Y., the University of South Carolina and the University of Texas. His religious education was received at St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary in Boynton Beach. Before joining the priesthood, he worked as an engineer for 13 years.

Our Lady Queen of Peace offers religious education classes for youngsters in kindergarten through sixth grade on Wednesday evenings.

The church offers a Fire Program, a special all-day religious education offered for families six Saturdays during the year.

Sister Phillipa leads the ministry for the home-bound and hospitalized.

The Center for Lifelong Learning offers religious and secular classes.

Stepping Stones to Independence helps the elderly remain independent.

There are close to 60 ministries and support groups that enable parish members to be involved.

“The parishioners of Our Lady Queen of Peace church believe God has truly blessed us,” Slattery said. “We seek to live our daily lives to fulfill our Lord’s commandment to love God and our neighbor and try to do that in every way we can.”

Queen of Peace Hall

In June 2001 the old Queen of Peace Catholic Church was moved to Sims Park in New Port Richey. Pictures from the dedication of the Queen of Peace Hall, held on Feb. 24, 2005, are here.

History of Pasco County front page