Bishop John Moore purchased land for All Souls parish in 1881 in Sanford, Florida, however, that would not be the land upon which the first church was built. The property on which the first church was ultimately constructed was purchased on April 26, 1887 for $2600 dollars.
1937 Church and 1887 Church
The photographs directly above and below this text are of the first All Souls Catholic Church. The cornerstone for the church was set on July 4, 1887 by Father Felix Prosper Swembergh as part of the grand Independence Day celebration that brought thousands of people from far away cities to Sanford.
Catholic Services in Sanford Before 1887
Prior to the construction of the 1887 church, priests assigned to the church in Maitland and later to St. James Church in Orlando, would travel to Sanford once or twice a month to celebrate Mass, baptize babies and perform marriages. Newspaper listings for church service times state that the services were held at Doyle’s Hall. M. J. Doyle was an Irish Catholic businessman who allowed the visiting priest to use space above his mercantile store at the corner of First Street and Magnolia in downtown Sanford.
ABOVE: This copy of the March 17, 1887 Daily Journal newspaper was recovered from the cornerstone of All Souls Catholic Church in January 1932 after the church burned to the ground on January 25 of that year. Page two, column six (last column on the right) of the newspaper includes the CHURCHES section, listing all the churches in Sanford, the times of their services, and the name of the pastors. This is the information for the Catholic Services in Sanford during the winter months.
At Doyle’s Hall on the 1st and 3d Sundays of every month. Mass at 10 a.m. Evening service at 3 o’clock. During the winter months. Rev. F. P. Swembergh, Pastor. [Felix Prosper]
Reverend Father Felix Prosper Swembergh
ABOVE: Photograph affixed to card with this inscription: Our Martyr Priest who died in Tampa, October 31, 1887. From the Mahoney Collection donated to the Archives of the Diocese of Orlando on November 5, 2014, by Alice Teslo.
Rev. Felix Prosper Swembergh was born June 2, 1845 in Cassel, France where his early life was spent among the Flemish people. He graduated from Colonial Seminary of the Holy Cross in Paris in August 1865. He next moved to America to the Vicariate apostolic of Kansas, and on June 29, 1868, he was ordained a Priest. In July 1869, he was transferred to Solomon City to provide service to remote settlements of the Kansas frontier west of Abilene. Historical accounts credit him as being the first minister of any denomination to preach the gospel to the Native Americans of that region. Father Swembergh was sent to Orange County in 1885 to become Orlando’s first resident priest. Bishop Moore asked him to immediately begin building a church in Orlando (St. James) and start work on a church in Sanford. He celebrated Mass every first and third Sunday at Doyle’s Hall, near the wharf in Sanford. He also, endorsed a Roman Catholic colony known as St. Joseph’s Colony west of Sanford. In May 1887, yellow fever broke out in Tampa and on October 23, 1887, Bishop Moore sent Father Swembergh to Tampa to care for Rev. Peterman. Rev. Peterman passed away on October 27th and Father Swembergh fell victim to the dreaded disease, too. Father Clavreul arrived in Tampa on Oct. 31st and and that night at nine thirty, Father Felix Swembergh passed away.
Source: Father Felix Prosper Swembergh Biographical Reference Paper, Christine Kinlaw-Best and Charlie C. Carlson, 1999, Sanford Museum.
The second building to the right in this photograph is M. J. Doyle’s store as it stood on July 4, 1887. On this date, the cornerstone for the first Catholic church in Sanford was set in a Solemn Ceremony listed on the 4th of July Programme. Father Felix Prosper Swembergh was the pastor of St. James in Orlando when the cornerstone was set for All Souls. There was a great fire in Sanford just a few months later that destroyed a large portion of downtown Sanford including the two buildings shown in the photograph.
Laying the Cornerstone for the first Church July 4, 1887
ABOVE: The Sanford Daily Journal, July 5, 1887 article about the laying of the cornerstone for the Catholic Church in Sanford. (Page 2, column 1)
We will publish at an early date the text of the special ____ document inserted in the corner stone of the Catholic church, together with the list of benefactors.
Catholic Church Corner Stone
The corner stone of the Catholic church on Oak avenue, between Eighth and Ninth street was laid; yesterday at 13:30 p.m., by Rev. Felix P. Swembergh in the presence of the Catholic congregation. The stone is of pure marble and bears the inscription “I.H.S.” which means, “Jesus Savior of Men.” Rev. F. P. Swemberg, dressed in a beautiful cape, and assisted by two altar boys, read the prayers prescribed the Roman ritual, which consist principally in pslams [sic] taken from those of King David and orations made by the church. Having marked the sign of the cross three times up on the stone, the Rev. Father blessed and laid it in cement in its place.
He then delivered a short address in which he pointed out to his hearers the meaning of the ceremony which had just taken place. This new building, he said, would be another representative of that great and ancient institution which for eighteen centuries had done battle for God, and worked for the salvation of souls. It was not a mere meeting house where people would congregate to sing the praises of God, to listen to the teachings of the gospel, or to pray to the loving God, but it was more than that, it would be the dwelling, the tabernacle of God; for a Catholic church was built to meet the practical consequence of the belief of the real presence of Christ in the sacrament; it would be the home upon earth of Him who said: “My delights are to be with the children of men.” Building, therefore, not for men, but for God, it was natural that every sacrifice should be made to beautify the house of God, that, having assisted in adorning the home of God upon earth, we at our turn might be admitted to the home of God in heaven.
The congregation was then dismissed and went to swell the throng of people who had come to Sanford to celebrate the Fourth.
READ the Programme for the July 4th Celebration mentioning the laying of the cornerstone.
Completion of the 1887 Church
The church was completed around November 1887, shortly after the death of the beloved Father Swembergh, who died of Yellow Fever on October 31, 1887, caring for the sick and dying in Tampa. The completion date assertion is based on an article in the Florida Times Union dated October 27, 1887 [emphasis added]: “The Catholic Church at Sanford will soon be completed. It will be one of the handsomest of the state.”
It would certainly be amazing to learn that the church was completed in time for All Soul’s Day 1887, however, the actual date of completion has yet to be found.
Father Patrick J. “P.J.” Bresnahan – First Resident Priest
ABOVE: Photograph is from his book “Seeing Florida With A Priest,” published around 1937. The short book was not copyrighted and was reprinted by the Diocese of St. Augustine in 2015.
The October 14, 1910 Sanford Herald praised Father Michael Fox and heralded the arrival of Father Patrick J. Bresnahan, announcing that he would say his first Mass as first resident pastor of All Souls Catholic Church on October 23, 1910.
Father Bresnahan, in his book “Seeing Florida with a Priest” (pp. 61-63) writes about coming from the mission fields and becoming pastor at all Souls: “At the close of 1910 Bishop Kenny said to me: ‘I am sorry, but I need more men for parish work and I want you to start a parish in Sanford.’ On my arrival there I found a church wrecked by a recent storm but no rectory. So I had my hands full but penniless. Thanks to the zeal of the resident Catholics, as well as to the Catholic Church Extension Society and faithful northern friends, who assisted financially and otherwise, within two years there were erected on the church property a commodious frame rectory and a two-story convent-school house, also of frame, in charge of two Sisters of Mercy and a novice from a New York community.”
All Souls Rectory, Church and School
This rare photographic postcard, shows the rectory on the left, the church in the center and the school on far right as they stood prior to the great fire that destroyed the church and rectory on January 25, 1932. The rectory was built in early 1911 for the first resident pastor Father Patrick J. “PJ” Bresnahan. The church was constructed in 1887, and the convent/school was completed by May of 1912 for the Sisters of Mercy and their St. Anne’s School.
Church and Rectory Destroyed by Fire
ABOVE: Front page of the afternoon edition of the Evening Reporter Star on Monday, January 25, 1932, with headline “Sanford Church Burns.” The article recounts that the fire department got the call at 4:30 a.m. and the church was engulfed in flames when they arrived. Several people helped the pastor remove some items from the rectory and save all the church records (which now reside at the diocesan office in Orlando).
The first church burned to the ground in the early morning hours of January 25, 1932. The first fire alarm came in at 4:30 a.m. and within minutes the fire department was on the scene. Due to wind shifting, the rectory caught fire as well and was nearly destroyed. Everything in the church burned to the ground but church records were saved. Some bystanders helped save some of the furniture in the rectory and removed it to the former school / convent for safety.
The photo below shows the rectory after the January 1932 fire. The only remnants of the 1887 church were foundation bricks – visible in the right foreground in this photo.
The above photograph of the rectory built for Father Bresnahan in early 1911, taken by the Sanford Fire Department shows the damage to the rectory caused by the January 1932 fire that destroyed the church.
The above photograph of the parish hall was also taken by the Sanford Fire Department after the fire that destroyed the church and the rectory on January 25, 1932. It shows what was, at that time, called the Parish Hall or the Social Hall. Completed in May 1912, the structure originally housed the Sisters of Mercy Convent and St. Anne’s School, as reported in the May 10, 1912, Tampa Tribune:
“The convent and home for the Sisters of Mercy that has been built on the property of the Catholic Church, in the enclosure with the church, is so near completion that the sisters, who are conducting the school, have moved in, and the children are receiving instruction in the new building, which, from the exterior, seems to be ample for use as a school and also a home.”
Completion of the New Church
Despite the fact that Sanford’s citizens keenly felt the ill effects of the Great Depression, the parishioners of All Souls rebuilt the church in five years. The new church was dedicated on July 4, 1937 – the 50th anniversary of the laying of the cornerstone for the first church.
The 1937 church, now referred to as the Historic Chapel, still stands on the land purchased by Bishop John Moore in 1887. It is located between 8th and 9th Streets and Oak and Myrtle Avenues in Sanford, Florida.
The two photographs from the 1978 All Souls Parish Album featuring the 1937 church – now referred to as the “Historic Chapel” with the completion of the new church located on Highway 46 between Interstate 4 and Highway 17-92 in Sanford. The interior photograph shows the original altar under the Crucifix, the new altar in front and the old Communion rail. The exterior shows the church and bell tower and the school office.
In 1965, there were 350 families in the parish and the parish boundary lines were: North, Lake Monroe; East, St. Johns River; South, Township 25 line going west from the St. Johns River to Sanford Avenue extended, Sanford Avenue north to Onora Road; Onora Road west to Lake Ada, north from Lake Ada to Twenty-fifth Street, west to Paola Road extended to Wekiva River; West, the Wekiva River. (Parish boundary information from: Catholic Parishes of Florida Histories, Univ. of Florida Smathers Libraries, Aisle 23/D/5-6, Box 4-5, Michael Gannon, 1965)
The third church was completed in 2008 and dedicated in August of that year.
Explore Images and Documents under Attachments below and be sure to read the descriptions!
Names and places mentioned in attachments: Father Felix Prosper Swembergh, Father Patrick J. Bresnahan, Joy Brueggermann, Michael Hatch, Cecelia Russi, Joan Downs, Patricia Smith, Jean Vanzura, Pricilla Mitchell, Deanna Farina, Dixie Lee Gregus, Linda Fitts, Thomas Ray, Michael Smith, Lloyd Edwards, Richard Jansen, Carlos Velez, Daniel Mathers, Thomas Edward Fay, Daniel Hutchinson Mathers, Jr., Michael Peter Hatch, Richard Joseph Hansen, Michael Brian Smith, Charles Modesto Velez, Joan Eleanora Downs, Deanna Colleen Farina, Mary Lina Fitts, Dixie Lee Gregus, Precilla Ann Mitchell, Cecelia Marguerite Russi, Patricia Ann Smith, Wilma Jean Vanzura, Father Richard Lyons, Sisters of Christian Charity, Mother Mary Virginia, St. Margaret Mary School, Sister Mary Albert, Father Daniel C. Hegarty, Father William T. Keane, Larry Crimmins, Kevin Spolski, Randall Brister, Patrick Kilcline, Ann Rournaux, Debbie Michels, Sister Elisa, Sister Ignatia, Sister Josephita, Sister Lucy, Orlando Diocesan Championship Basketball Tournament, Father William Ennis, Ken Solstman, Joe Perez, John Sierputowski, Mike Fall, Mark Yelsley, Chris Gillmor, Sister Charlene, Ken Bojeajis, David Craig, Greg LaTour, Greg Smith, David Wiggins, May Day Queen, St. Vincent dePaul Society, Young Vincentians.
Click on the first image to begin the slide show and for larger images, right click on image and save to your device.
This list of Priest and Deacons who have served the parishioners of All Souls Catholic parish is a work in progress. As additional information and facts are discovered, the information contained in this list is updated.
The history of the parish is still in progress, but this index will give an idea of the types of information and documents found thus far.
List of all the sources cited in the All Souls Timeline History currently under construction (2015). This is a list of all the printed copies of documents collected and cited with notations regarding discrepancies, contradictions and corrections to the original document.
Excerpts from The Sanford Herald newspaper from 1908 through 1913 (at this time). Includes Father Fox's last Mass, arrival of first resident pastor - Father Patrick J. "PJ" Bresnahan, arrival of the Sisters of Mercy and their St. Anne's School, school entertainments, school picnics at SanLando Springs, the construction of the rectory, and more.
This is an on-going project and more will be added in the future.
Publication from 1909, created by the Sanford Board of Trade, promoting Sanford, Florida - The Celery City - including information on local businesses, tourist accommodations, industry, farming, organizations and churches. All Souls Catholic Church can be found in the photographs.
There was thought to be some issues with the KKK during All Souls long history in Sanford but none has been proven. It is of interest that the only church shown in this publication (see pages 12 and 13) that does not mention affiliation is All Souls CATHOLIC Church. The listing here is just "All Soul's Church."
Index to Seeing Florida with a Priest by P J Bresnahan (Rev. Father Patrick J. Bresnahan).
Father Michael Columbkille Clasby was the 5th Pastor at All Souls Catholic Church in Sanford, Florida. Research indicates that he served from before December 1925 (he is in the December 1925 telephone directory) to before October 1930 (his next appointment began on that date).
A reporter for the Sanford Today magazine interviewed Father Clasby in September 10, 1926
for a weekly column that featured local pastors discussing the sermon they would preach on Sunday.
The two were sitting in the rocking chairs on the front porch of the first rectory (shown on the far left above) built for Father Patrick J. "PJ" Bresnahan in early 1911 (View enlarged image) smoking cigarettes as they spoke.
The article entitled "Sanford's Briefest Sermon Will be Preached Tomorrow Morning in All Souls Church by Father Clasby - Topic: "Do Not Swear,"
gives us an insight into Father Clasby's wonderful Irish sense of humor, his demeanor, and perhaps his ability to make a point with brevity.
Newspaper article about the dedication of the second All Souls Catholic Church on July 4, 1937, 50 years after the laying of the cornerstone for the first church on July 4, 1887. Father John J. Kelleghan is featured in a photograph with young Frank Meisch who received First Holy Communion on the same day.
All Souls Catholic School postcard invitation to festivities surrounding the 60th Anniversary of the opening of the school in 1954.
All Souls Catholic School postcard invitation to festivities surrounding the 60th Anniversary of the opening of the school in 1954.
Published in The Florida Catholic on July 3, 1959, this photo captured the groundbreaking for additional school classrooms at All Souls Catholic parish in Sanford in 1959.
Shown in the photo is Father Richard Lyons, who spearheaded the establishment of All Souls Catholic School in 1954.
The school was established in a refurbished garage on the former home site of the Chase family at the corner of Oak and Ninth in Sanford. The Chase home was converted into a convent for the Sisters of Christian Charity with their leader, Sister Veronita.
The first All Souls Catholic Church was burned down on January 25, 1932. As unbelievable as it may seem, someone tried to burn down the second church on September 30, 1962 - 30 years later. This newspaper article from the Sanford Herald, published October 1, 1962 on the front page, gives details and a photograph. There is a transcription of the article at the end of the document as it is very difficult to read due to the condition of the image on the original microfilm.
The October 7, 1962 Sunday Bulletin had this announcement regarding the fire:
By now all of your know about the fire that burnt out the vestibule of our Church last Sunday evening, and damaged the rest of the interior by smoke. We have no definite information how the fire started, except that it was no accident. By very good fortune it was discovered soon, so that much greater damage would have resulted. We owe a great debt of gratitude to Mrs. Toth who came to visit the Church at the most opportune moment and gave the alarm. All damage is fully covered by insurance, and work of cleaning and restoring has already begun. So many have asked how they could help. For the present, your regular Sunday contributions will be the most acceptable way. Later some particular items needed, will be mentioned and your kind help solicited. Thank you for the many wonderful expressions of sympathy, the prayers and tears we all shared together! These more than anything, are precious fruits of a bond of kindness and charity among us that is overwhelming. God Bless All of You!
The parish directory or album was published around 1967-1968 and includes photos and information on the parish.
There errors in some of the information presented in the album directory relative to dates of important events in the Parish History. For example: It states Father Bresnahan arrived in 1911 and the Sanford Herald and Father Bresnahan's own book "Seeing Florida With a Priest" proved he was in Sanford in 1910. Another example: It states the first church burned down in 1931 and it was on January 25, 1932, as proven by newspaper articles in the Sanford Herald and Orlando Sentinel newspapers as well as Fire Department photographs and records.
A special dedication booklet was created for the Dedication of the new All Souls Catholic Church - many years in the planning! It features photos of the construction site from the beginning of the process to the completion of the new Church.
PLEASE NOTE: The history presented in the dedication album has several errors.
As an example, the history in the album states that Father Bresnahan because the first resident pastor at All Souls in April 1911, but Father Patrick J. "PJ" Bresnahan actually arrived at All Souls in October 1910 and said his first Mass on Sunday, October 23, 1910, as stated in the October 14, 1910 edition of the Sanford Herald (emphasis added).
County Happenings. "Will Have Resident Pastor"
Last Sunday [October 9, 1911] Father Fox officiated for the last time as pastor of the Catholic church in Sanford. This church he has served continuously for eighteen years, having received his appointment from Bishop Moore in 1892. That period of time witnessed the prosperity and the adversity of the old and the birth of a New Sanford and during it all the pastor stood by his flock. He now leaves regretfully when the New Sanford is in a vigorous and promising adolescence and when the prospects of his church are brighter than they ever were before. But these improved conditions and increased congregations make changes imperative. Hitherto Sanford was a mission, it will now have a resident pastor and be the center of a surrounding missionary field. The church will be in its normal condition with pastor and Mass all Sundays and weekdays.
A rectory, to house the new pastor, will be of immediate necessity and there is hope that at no distant time there will be erected a convent and school to aid in the work of keeping New Sanford clean, cultured, and Christian.
The Rev. Patrick J. Bresnahan, until recently of Tallahassee, will succeed Father Fox. He is not unknown to the people of Sanford, having replaced the Pastor five years ago when the latter made a trip to Europe. Father Bresnahan is strong physically, and interested in base ball and other sports. He is, too, strong mentally and morally and will be a decided acquisition to the city in the works of citizenship and civic nature. Father Bresnahan will take possession of his charge, Sunday, 23rd inst. [October 23, 1910]
Another example deals with the date the rectory was completed and when the Sisters of Mercy arrived and started St. Anne's School. The date mentioned in the History in the Dedication is "before 1913" but the dates are much earlier based on newspaper articles in the Sanford Herald.
Sanford Herald, April 28, 1911, no page number, col. 1-2.
Parochial Residence of Father Bresnahan. The Catholic Church.
Among the many changes and improvements, that have been made in Sanford during the past six months, by no means the least was raising of the district to the dignity of a Catholic parish so great was the influx of Catholics to Sanford and neighboorhood [sic] that a resident priest was found to be absolutely necessary so that the spiritual needs of these Catholics may be attended to accordingly towards the end of October 1910 the Rev. P. J. Bresnahan formerly diocesan missionary of this diocese of St. Augustine was sent hither by his bishop to organize a new parish a Catholic census showed almost 50 Catholic families in town, and a catechism class with an enrollment of about 40 children.
The church is constantly increasing its membership and is now probably the strongest church in the city. The material improvements made have attracted the attention of every citizen. For within four months after his arrival Father Bresnahan found himself in a beautiful parochial residence erected by his enthusiastic congregation at a cost of not less than $2500. A beautiful new altar and has been installed also an organ. And now there is talk of the sisters coming to establish a catholic school on the other side of the beautiful building block owned by the church in Sanford.
Still another example deals with the opening date of the school run by the Sisters of Mercy - St. Anne's School.
Sanford Herald, September 29, 1911, page 12, col. 2.
New School Opens.
The Sisters of Mercy started their school at Park Ave. and Ninth street last Monday [September 25, 1911]. For the present they accept pupils for the kindergarten and grammar school only, owing to lack of accommodations for high school pupils. A new school building is to be put up on the Catholic Church property in the very near future, and then they will be in a position to receive those seeking opportunity for higer [sic] studies. The pupils now in attendance tax the building they occupy. A number of music pupils as well as some for painting have been enrolled.
NOTE: Peter Schaal in, "Sanford as I knew it 1912-1935," p. 4 states: "April 16, 1912 ... I was a student at St. Anne's school, 831 Park Avenue* (later the home of Mayor T. L. Dumas)... The school operated in that building from September 25, 1911 to late **1912..."
*The 1912 Sanborn map shows the address as 823 Park, the last house on the block. The 1920 R. L. Polk Sanford Directory, p. 58, shows Thomas L. Dumas resides at 823 Park. The 1915 Sanford City Directory indicates that James C. and Mollie A. Roberts resided at 823 Park in 1915. Based on these three resources, it seems likely that the school was first located in the house that currently sits at 823 Park.
** The May 10, 1912, Tampa Tribune states: "The convent and home for the Sisters of Mercy ... is so near completion that the sisters ... have moved in, and the children are receiving instruction in the new building ..."
Excperts historic rectory (former Chase home) from the 1996 Sanford Historic Trust 8th Annual Holiday Tour of Homes, Saturday and Sunday, December 7 and 9, 1996.