Lake City Catholics create a vibrant faith community
In 1996, more than 130 years after the first Mass was celebrated in Lake City, Epiphany Parish built their church for the ages. The new church, hewn from local materials including oak and pine, tells the story of the faith community’s place and mission in the world in three magnificent sets of stained glass windows.
|| Irish artist Ronald Neill Dixon won a national award for the dramatic stained glass windows he designed for Epiphany Catholic Church in Lake City. They were fabricated in Virginia at Dixon Studios, Inc.
||The new Epiphany Church was dedicated by Bishop John J. Snyder on Jan. 7, 1996. The church sanctuary seats 650 people and cost $1.2 million to build.
“The whole theme of the windows reflects the name of the parish: epiphany,” says Father Anthony Sebra, pastor during the building project. “The triptych windows over the entrance doors depict three scenes of epiphany in the life of Christ: the visit of the Magi, the first public miracle at Cana, and the baptism in the Jordan. On the north side of the church are windows commemorating the Georgia martyrs and other North American saints. On the south wall are the corporal works of mercy. They represent the way the parish manifests the epiphany, through faith and works of charity.”
Father Mike Pendergraft, Epiphany’s pastor since last June, is enthusiastic about the generosity of his new community, led by an active Knights of Columbus and Women’s Council. “We’re a discernible presence in Lake City, with outreach and individuals that impact many different needs,” he says. “We work closely with the local Catholic Charities office, financially and in other ways. Through them, we became very involved with helping evacuees after the hurricanes last year. I-10 is a direct route out of the Gulf Coast. We even helped a family resettle and become part of our parish.”
Nurturing the Spirit
“The more people become involved in their faith, the more dynamic our parish will become.” –Father Mike Pendergraft
Father Mike considers himself “still in the observation mode,” but one goal is clear: “We’re already planning, in the next year or two, to have regular parish retreats,” he says. “Also, the Cursillo group is undergoing a revitalization that will help our parish.” Julie Ortiz, who is active in Spanish Cursillo, agrees. “This is a spiritual parish where I’ve had the chance to learn more about my faith. One thing I want to add is that Father Mike goes to the trouble of giving his sermons in Spanish at the Spanish Mass. We appreciate that!” she says. Mo Becnel notes that the community is showing signs of renewal, “We’ve grown considerably in the last few years, and we’re seeing old faces again.”
Sally Kane enjoys the adult and children’s choirs – and rituals that keep people close. “This is an active place in terms of everybody knowing each other,” she says. Among her favorite traditions: birthday and anniversary postings in the bulletin; coffee and donuts after 10:30 Mass on Sundays; and a monthly Sunday evening potluck parish dinner where “everyone comes together.”
Faith in Action
“I always wanted to do something like this. I thought, when I retire, I owe God some time.” – Sally Kane, Prison Ministry coordinator
Once a month, Sally Kane travels with Epiphany’s Carmelite Father Tom Velliyedathupathalil to visit Columbia Correctional Institution and the Correction Corporation of America, a privately run facility for young men. On her own, the retired registered nurse makes weekly visits to the state prison in Columbia County. “I walk away every Saturday with a smile,” says Kane. “The men so appreciate the chance to see the same person week after week. A lot of them have never had consistency in their lives. If they had, I don’t think they would be where they are,” she adds sadly.
As a pharmacist at the VA Hospital in Lake City, Julie Ortiz works with veterans who have suffered life-altering wounds – both physical and psychological – as far back as World War II. As a eucharistic minister, she returns to the hospital during off-duty hours to bring comfort. “They receive Communion with tears in their eyes,” says the Puerto Rico-born Ortiz. “I’m always saddened to see how many of them – probably 90 percent in the VA nursing home – have been abandoned by their families. We have our freedom because of them. It’s a joy to take them Communion.”
Epiphany School: High Standards and an Ecumenical Spirit
“Back when I taught at Columbia County High, I used to say that you could tell when a student was from Epiphany. They were that much more prepared.” – Mo Becnel, substitute teacher at Epiphany
|| Students at Epiphany Catholic School enjoy spending time with their new pastor, Father Michael Pendergraft. Founded more than 45 years ago, Epiphany School has helped educate generations of Lake City children.
For more than four decades, Epiphany School has set the educational bar in Lake City. “Our student population is 60 percent non-Catholic. They’re here because their parents want a faith-based environment and a strong education for the children,” says principal Carol Ghionzoli. Everyone studies the same Catholic curriculum, and all of the children go up for a blessing or Communion at Friday Mass.
In an area that is heavily Protestant, non-Catholic students and their families gain a broader view: “The exposure to Catholic doctrine makes them more educated Christians,” says Ghionzoli. Father Mike agrees. “They’re here to get a great education, and it also helps build bridges to the larger community,” he says. “In January, we invited all pastors with students at our school for an ecumenical service. Our purpose was to let them know that they are welcome and can be a part of their students’ lives here. We got very positive feedback. We plan to do it again.”
– Shannon Scruby-Henderson
|epiphany parish at a glance
1905 SW Epiphany Court
Lake City, FL 32025
Pastor: Father Michael Pendergraft
Assistant Pastor: Carmelite Father
Parishioners: 650 registered families
School: 135 students in grades K-8
Principal: Carol Ghionzoli
One of the oldest Catholic faith communities in Florida, Epiphany Parish traces its roots back to 1864, when Bishop Verot traveled across Union lines to celebrate Mass in Lake City. In 1886, Father Hugon built a small wooden structure on the corner of Columbia and Orange Streets, which he visited once a month from his main parish in Tallahassee. During the early decades of the 20th century, Lake City was a mission of Immaculate Conception Parish in Perry. In 1944, it was officially named Epiphany Parish. Property for a new church and elementary school was purchased by the Diocese of Saint Augustine in 1955, and by 1960, the new parish complex (a combination church and school building) was completed. Sisters of Mercy from Ireland opened the school, and were succeeded by the Sisters of St. Joseph of St. Augustine in 1979. Today, principal Carol Ghionzoli guides the students at the school.
To accommodate Epiphany’s growing population, a new church was built in 1967. That building was renovated as a parish hall after the newest Epiphany Church – a structure that is double the size of its predecessor – was dedicated in 1996. The parish has been a mother church to missions in Madison, Monticello, Jasper, Live Oak and Cross City.