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History of Christ the King Catholic Church
In 1941 Tampa was a sleepy town riding out the end of the Great Depression, but Florida’s Archbishop, Joseph P. Hurley, could see a future filled with commerce, industry, and population growth. In the fall of 1941 he decreed that a sixth parish would open in Tampa and extend from bay to bay and be dedicated to Christ the King. Fr. John J. Mullins, a 38 year old Irish-born priest, was appointed as the first Pastor.
The twenty-five Catholic families within the parish boundaries celebrated the first Mass at the Academy of the Holy Names on December 22, 1941. Fr. Mullins left Christ the King soon after its establishment to serve as an Army Chaplain for four years. In his absence the parish was administered by two different priests.
In 1944, at the end of World War II, a surplus Army barracks was purchased by several parishioners and moved to the Dale Mabry property to serve as the church. The building was simple, but the parish now had their own church which seated 250 people.
During the postwar era Tampa grew significantly and Archbishop Hurley decided that Christ the King should open a school. Under Fr. Mullins’ leadership and with donations from parishioners and the community at large, construction began on the modern two-story building in August, 1948. The school Sisters of Notre Dame agreed to staff the school which opened in September, 1949 with grades one through four.
Following Fr. Mullins’ last year as pastor in 1949, Father William O’Farrell led the parish for one year. In 1950 another Irish priest, Fr. Mark McLoughlin, was appointed pastor of Christ the King. This would mark the beginning of his 21 years of service to our parish. Less than a year after Fr. McLoughlin’s arrival, ground was broken for a new church. The new building was dedicated in March of 1952 and featured beautiful stained glass windows of Christ and the saints. The early 1950’s also saw the construction of the convent and the rectory.
Grade levels were added to Christ the King School each year until it included Kindergarten through eighth grade. During the 1950’s the school grew to just over 1,000 students, making it one of the largest Catholic grade schools in Florida. To support the needs of the school, two wings, the cafeteria, the library, and school offices were added to the original building.
In the 1960’s Fr. McLoughlin guided the parish through the sweeping reforms of Church life and worship as a result of Vatican II. As south Tampa continued to grow and the population boomed, Christ the King served two mission churches: Little St. Ignatius in Port Tampa and St. Patrick’s on Manhattan Avenue. St. Patrick’s was established as a parish and later built a school of its own. In 1965 Fr. McLoughlin was recognized for his leadership and honored for his service to the Church by receiving the title of Domestic Prelate. In 1968 the Diocese of St. Petersburg was created to serve the faithful of west central Florida.
In 1971 Msgr. McLoughlin retired and Fr. Norman Balthazar, originally from New England, was appointed as the new pastor. Fr. Balthazar came to Christ the King with a background in education, having served as the president of Tampa Catholic High School and on the Board of St. Leo College. In the early 1970’s renovations were made to the church sanctuary so it would conform to the new liturgical standards. The renovations included a modern-day portrait of Christ created by Tampa artist Joe Testa-Secca which replaced the traditional crucifix behind the altar.
In 1974 the School Sisters of Notre Dame, facing personnel shortages, withdrew from the school. Fr. Balthazar arranged for the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians, better known as the Salesians, to take over the task of running the parish school. The school received accreditation with the Florida Catholic Conference in 1975 and with Southern Association of Colleges and Schools in 1977.
As the parish continued to grow during the 1970’s, the parish center and administrative offices were constructed. In February 1979 the parish center was dedicated as the McLoughlin Center in honor of our well-loved pastor emeritus. Also included in the additions to the parish was a beautiful Marian chapel on the south side of the church which seats 150 people.
In 1985 additional property was purchased on Morrison Avenue and was dedicated as the diocesan Catholic Media Center. It became the home of the diocesan radio station WBVM. Fr. Balthazar was honored with the title of Monsignor and elevation to the papal rank of Prelate in 1988. In 1989 the church was renovated. The carpet, ceiling, and roof were refurbished, the walls were covered with marble, and the choir loft was enlarged.
As part of the celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the parish, a 40-rank Wicks pipe organ was installed in the church and dedicated in 1990. On November 24, 1991 the entire parish was invited to a celebratory Mass and reception in honor of the 50thanniversary of the parish. A commemorative book was produced with information and photographs chronicling the major events and ministries of the parish.
Late in 1991 Msgr. Balthazar left the parish for a post in the diocese. Fr. Michael Muhr, originally from Chicago, was installed as pastor on January 19, 1992. The parish saw more growth under Fr. Muhr’s spiritual leadership, but the physical plant also required attention. During the early years of his tenure roofs were replaced on many of the campus buildings, a new chiller was purchased for the church air conditioning system, a security system was installed, and changes were made to make the church handicap accessible.
The mid 1990’s saw the fundraising for and construction of a new building to house the Early Childhood program for four year olds at the parish school, which welcomed its first class in September 1995. During this time a renovation of the church began. The Testa-Secca mural of Christ was donated to St. Leo College and a stained glass window depicting Christ our King was installed in the back wall of the sanctuary. At that time a new Crucifix and a statue of the holy family were installed. Fr. Muhr was able to locate Christ the King’s original tabernacle and have it refurbished and returned to the sanctuary. Also, new roofs were installed on the chapel and church, the sound system and lighting were enhanced, and the parish center received a complete renovation.
In early 1997 the parish had an opportunity to acquire more land and purchased the adjacent property on Dale Mabry Highway that housed a bank and a cafeteria. The bank was refurbished into a center for the youth ministry, scouts, and meeting space. The cafeteria continued to operate and leased the property for many years. In order to better serve the ever expanding parish membership a capital campaign was begun in early 1999 to fund the renovation of the school administrative offices, paved parking in the athletic field, and the construction of a multi-purpose covered pavilion.
The 50th anniversary of the school was celebrated in March 2000 with a homecoming weekend full of events. A special Mass was followed by the re-dedication of the school, an open house, and a family picnic. The evening before a gala dinner dance,A Step in Time, was hosted for over 800 guests. A musical history production was preformed by over 100 parishioners of all ages to the entertainment of our guests. In attendance were many of the former students and teachers including the Salesian Sisters and the School Sisters of Notre Dame. All past principals were specially honored including Sister Angela Marie who was in the first group of SSND sent to our school.
A task force was organized in early 2000 and charged with the job of gathering input for the creation of a ten year plan to meet the worship, parish life, and educational needs of the parish. Town hall meetings were held, the parish was surveyed, and staff, ministry leaders, and experts were consulted. The input was summarized and presented to the parish in the fall of 2000.
In March of 2001 Fr. Muhr announced that he would be accepting a faculty position at the St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary. Fr. Desmond Daly, originally from Ireland and most recently pastor of St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Hudson, was appointed our Pastor and began his service to the parish in July 2001. Faith Café opened in November 2001. This joint effort with the South Tampa Ecumenical Ministries serves lunch and feeds the hungry in South Tampa six days a week.
In the fall of 2003 a Core Team of parish leaders was assembled to work with ISPD, a Catholic consulting company, to create a written strategic plan to address the needs of the parish. A master site plan was created and a parish census was taken. In January of 2005 the completed plan was presented to the parish.
After 30 years of service to our parish school, the 2004-2005 school year was the last year for the Salesian Sisters at Christ the King. A Mass and special celebration of their years of service was held in May 2005. A commitment was made to maintain the Salesian Spirit as an integral part of our school through the Salesian Cooperators Program.
In May 2005 the kick-off for the Future of our Faith, Capital Campaign was held. The campus projects for Phase I of the campaign was to construct the Parish Community Center, The St. John Bosco Catholic Education Center, campus canopies and walkways, and the remodeling of restrooms in the church. Phase I was completed in spring of 2007. The goal of Phase II is to construct a new classroom building that will be used to continue the education of our youth, both in our Religious Education program and our parish school.
In the fall of 2005, as a part of an ongoing parish-wide initiative to increase our outreach programs, our church and school adopted the St. Suzanne’s Mission Parish in Collette, Haiti. Funds were pledged to build a structure that will be used as a church and school, named Christ the King School, which was completed in early 2006. Donations of clothes, medical and school supplies, as well as other needed items, were collected and sent to St. Suzanne’s. This initiative will continue as one of our main outreach projects, along with the fifty plus ministries and community projects our parishioners are involved in.
This summary of our parish’s history focuses on the major changes and accomplishments in our 65 years of existence, but it is through the continued effort, support, and love of the individual members of our parish that makes our parish the vibrant community it is today.