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San José Parish in Jacksonville  
A Vision for the Future   

by Shannon Scruby Henderson

When San José Parish reaches its golden anniversary milestone in 2009, the community plans to celebrate in style. A new parish center is at the heart of an ambitious $2.5 million capital campaign, Building Together to Serve Christ, that will also fund improvements to almost every building in the complex. In addition, money is earmarked for a parking lot expansion and debt reduction.
Father James Moss, pastor of San José Parish since 1999.

  The Spanish-style San José Catholic Church was designed by Junck and Walker Architects and dedicated by Bishop John J. Snyder on Nov. 4, 1990.

““This is a very exciting time,” says parishioner Cheryl Roth. “The capital campaign is an opportunity for us to make an imprint that will impact the future. I like to think that decades from now, people will still be talking about what we accomplished.”

Pastor Jim Moss concurs. “With the new campaign, we are building upon our past and remembering our ‘foundation’ in faith by a dedicated group of selfless parishioners,” he says. San José pioneer Ozzie Bonner, 91, is a bridge from that generation to the present, and he sees parallels in the new initiative. “Msgr. (Mortimer) Danaher had people skills,” he notes. “He knew how to bring people together, and so does Father Moss. He’s doing a good job of making sure the church stays up with the times.”

At San José, a lot has changed in five decades - most noticeably, its multicultural population. “This parish is a microcosm of our nation,” says Cheryl Roth. “For example, we have a strong Albanian presence and Hispanic people from Mexico and nearly every country you can name in South and Central America.”

Ministering to diverse groups is a joint effort. Deacon Gjet Bajraktari coordinates outreach to Albanian Catholics. Father Al Esposito’s Spanish Mass each Sunday is attended by as many as 600. He has recently organized a Portuguese ministry for Brazilians. With a Hispanic population that now stands at 25 percent, San José has Hispanic Advisory Council that parallels and complements the English-speaking parish council.

The community has become a mecca for immigrants seeking instruction in English. Sister Maria Maxwell directs an all-volunteer program that runs three evenings a week, 11 months a year. Last year, it served 400 adults. The program is open to everyone, Catholic or not. To ensure that language training is free, Sister Maria writes grants for funding. “We’re Sisters of Mercy and our mission is to people who are poor, so this was a natural fit,” she says. “I began helping migrant workers in the Crescent Beach area, but then I realized that the need was right here in my own parish.”

Father Moss credits “seven years of reflection and focus on stewardship of time, talent and treasure” as the force that encourages parishioners to engage in ministries that enhance parish life and to help others. “We continue to preach and teach about calling people to be faithful disciples and good stewards, as they recognize all as a gift from God,” he says.

The sanctuary area is dominated by a window wall of glass depicting the Trinity. The three large windows are fabricated in a combination of colored, painted and faceted glass.

Sister Ambrose Cruise, director of religious education, sees generosity as a hallmark of the parish. “It’s a very alive place, and people are so enthusiastic,” she says. “In my own program, every year I’m looking for more teachers. I pray and end up getting more than I need. Lay people work together for our parish and the community.”

There is also an emphasis on enjoying each other’s company. The parish has organized a FUNN (Fellowship Under a New Name) Committee, to sponsor social events. Recently, more than 60 women met to reestablish an old parish tradition of ladies’ circles. These and other social ministries are part of Father Moss’ long-range plan. “When I arrived, I invited the people to consider a vision of parish as people who ‘pray together and play together,’” he says. “In doing that we build community, so that when we gather around the Lord’s table we know each other better as we pray together. Our prayer with and for one another leads us to get involved with others.”

San José Parish at a glance
San José Parish, est. 1959
3619 Toledo Road
Jacksonville, FL 32217

Pastor: Father James Moss
Parochial Vicar: Father Alberto Esposito
Parishioners: 2150 registered families
School: 500 students, Pre-K through 8
Principal: Jan Magiera

Diocesan visionary Archbishop Joseph P. Hurley purchased the parcel on Toledo and St. Augustine Roads that would become San José Parish back in 1954. In 1959, he appointed Msgr. Mortimer Danaher to establish the parish.

Msgr. John J. Lenihan succeeded as pastor in 1977, leading the parish until his retirement in 1999. During his tenure, San José dedicated a splendid new Spanish-style church. Father James Moss has been pastor since 1999. Under his leadership, the parish has embarked on a capital campaign that will modernize the faith community for a new generation of Catholics.

A glimpse back to the beginning

Local history buffs may be interested to learn that when South Jacksonville’s San José Parish was founded by Msgr. Mortimer Danaher in 1959, his younger brother Leo (now deceased) was also going door to door to canvas parishioners for a new parish - in his case, Sacred Heart on Blanding Blvd. Both Danaher’s built churches in 1960; each opened a school right away - and persuaded the Sisters of Mercy from two different convents in Ireland to help.

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