St. Augustine Catholic
The Long Goodbye
Hope After Abortion
Katie's Gift of Life
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saint of the month
editor's notes
bishop's message
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in the know with Fr. Joe
work life
theology 101
your marriage matters
the parenting journey
spiritual fitness
parish profile
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catholic news from around the world
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2005 diocesan financial report
parish profile
St. Paul Parish, Jacksonville Beach
faith in action

Can a “mega” parish still feel and act like a cohesive, caring community? Is it possible to harness the energy of a large group without squelching the individuality of its members? From the perspective of St. Paul Parish in Jacksonville Beach, the answer to both questions is a resounding “yes.”

In stained glass is the parish’s patron saint, St. Paul. Built in 1947, the Spanish-style church is constructed of block and stucco. The church can seat 730 people.

Runaway growth at the beaches is one of the reasons that St. Paul’s has tripled in size during the last 20 years. But there’s more to the story than population shift alone. “St. Paul’s is such a welcoming parish, and Father Kelly sets the tone,” says parishioner Betty Moye, director of the parish RCIA program. “He’s a quiet man, but with a dynamic presence, and he’s out there in the community making a difference. I think that’s helped attract great people to us,” she says.

“St. Paul’s is a place where you find real hospitality,” seconds choir director Gretchen Hoss. “There’s something for everybody here, from young singles, to retirees, to families with children,” she says. “It’s truly a multi-generational kind of parish, with three wonderful priests, all from different parts of the world. And the best part is that we all support each other.” First-grade teacher Mary Hulihan puts it another way: “Father Kelly never asks for money,” she says. “He just stands up and asks people to be kind to each other. And they respond.”

It can be a challenge to remain a tight-knit community with a population that tops 3,400 families, but St. Paul’s has a blueprint that works. “We have good volunteers!” notes Father Kelly. “That’s how we manage to juggle so many groups and so much interaction,” he says. “Also, this is a pretty stable place. The people who have come in the last 20 years have for the most part stayed.”

What they have built is a parish that not only looks after its own, but also has energy to spare for people in the larger community. Parishioners like to attribute this spirit of giving to Father Kelly. But he disagrees: “St. Paul has a tradition of reaching out that stretches back to at least Msgr. James Heslin’s time (in the 1960s),” he says. “For example, Pablo Towers for the elderly was built and is still owned by the Beaches Christian Service Corp, a joint effort of churches at the beach. Our parish has been very involved from the start; in fact, we have people on the board right now. Then there’s BEAM (Beaches Emergency Assistance Ministry), an interdenominational effort that started out helping transients and now assists the working poor with rent assistance, utility bills, food and so forth. I’m on the board and many parishioners are involved. As a parish, we’ve built five Habitat houses in Jacksonville Beach and along Mayport Road. The way I see it, we’re the largest church at the beach, so we should take a leadership role. Twenty-four percent of the population at the beaches is Catholic. We have a responsibility to help where we can.”

St. Paul parishioners appear to take this sentiment to heart. Parish-sponsored outreach efforts include an active chapter of St. Vincent de Paul, a “cold-night” shelter program for the homeless, and a host of projects – from golf tournaments to weekly Bingo to the annual Beaches Crop Walk – that benefit others. “Keep in mind that this is not a wealthy parish,” says parishioner Mike Hulihan. “You’ve got a lot of people living out here a long time, and property didn’t get so pricey until the last few years. St. Paul’s has always been a blue-collar kind of church. That’s what makes what we do remarkable.”

One of the beneficiaries is the school, where children with financial needs receive tuition assistance drawn from parish support and fundraisers. In turn, St. Paul students are encouraged to embrace the parish’s philosophy of outreach. “This fall, a student drive at the parish school raised almost $14,000 for hurricane victims, says Parent Teacher Alliance president Tammy Pramuka. “We want them to understand how important it is to help others.”

The parish also caters to its children attending public schools. Parishioner Kate Norton notes that the religious education program currently enrolls as many children as the school. All parish children receive the sacraments together. All are invited to participate in group activities like the PTA-sponsored Christmas Carnival – a shopping day and festival for young children – and a fall campout hosted by the Dad’s Club last October that drew 70 families.

It seems fitting that a parish that began as a mission is now involved in supporting its own mission church. This one, to be dedicated to St. Peter and serviced by priests from St. Paul’s. It is located on Girvin Road, about a mile east of Atlantic Boulevard, in an area with no Catholic churches and a heavy concentration of St. Paul parishioners. “The parish has lent the construction money to the diocese,” says Father Kelly. “After many delays, we’re hoping to be finished in about six months. Many people have worked to make this possible. We think it is a good way to manage growth, while preserving the sense of community that is so special at St. Paul.” – Shannon Scruby-Henderson

Father William “Bill” Kelly, pastor of St. Paul’s since 1977, is considered a quiet man, but very pastoral to the people of the community.
The stone and metal baptismal font is prominantly positioned at the front of the sanctuary.

st. paul parish, jacksonville beach at a glance
St. Paul Parish, Jacksonville Beach
24 North Fifth Street
Jacksonville Beach, FL 32250
(904) 249-2600

Pastor: Father William A. Kelly, V.G., V.F.
Parochial Vicars: Father Dung Bui
Father Lawrence Mulinda
Parishioners: 3,400 registered families
School: 560 students in grades PreK-8
Principal: Mrs. Kathy Boice

The history of this seaside parish dates back to 1836, when circuit-riding missionaries began making periodic visits to St. Johns Bar, a tiny beach community east of Jacksonville. Later rechristened Pablo Beach (and still later, Jacksonville Beach), in the early 1900s, it was “Florida’s great summer resort,” bustling with tourists and seasonal residents. Responding to the need for a Catholic presence in the area, the parishioners of Immaculate Conception in Jacksonville built a summer chapel on First Street. Mass was said there on Sundays by visiting priests from Immaculate Conception, and later, Assumption Parish.

In 1930, St. Paul Mission became a full-fledged parish. It operated year-round, though in the beginning, its wintertime congregation numbered only 35 members. Convinced that the future was bright, in 1937, Bishop Barry purchased land for development. In 1947, the present church was built on this property, and in 1950, St. Paul School opened nearby. Since Father William Kelly became pastor in 1977, the parish has installed stained glass windows in the church, renovated the school, and added a parish center and gymnasium.