Our Lady of the Rosary Catholic Church celebrated 70 years of operations with special Rosary processions before each of its Masses last weekend.
The church is a mainstay in Land O’ Lakes, providing a spiritual home for families in many communities within The Laker/Lutz News’ coverage area.
Besides conducting regular services, the church is known by many for its Lenten Fish Fry suppers, its active scouts programs, and for helping others in need through its St. Vincent de Paul food pantry, among other things.
In a recent interview, the church’s newest pastor, the Rev. Justin Paskert, recounted the church’s early days.
“In ’52, there was a place called The Florida Bar, on (U.S.) 41,” Paskert said. “Back then, bars had to be closed on Sunday. We rented it out and had our first gatherings over there.”
Next, the church used the VFW Hall on U.S. 41 for its meeting space.
When Our Lady of the Rosary Catholic Church was formed, it pre-dated the Diocese of St. Petersburg, so it was a mission church, as part of the Diocese of St. Augustine.
To get it started, Archbishop Joseph P. Hurley, of the Diocese of St. Augustine, asked the Benedictine monks from St. Leo, to support the mission, Paskert said.
“So, the first handful of pastors — they were all kind of short-term — but they were the Benedictine Brothers,” he said.
Occasionally, Jesuits from downtown Tampa’s Sacred Heart Church would help out, too, he said.
Early on, just a handful of families attended the mission church.
The church bought land for a permanent building in 1957, began holding services there in 1958 and had a formal dedication ceremony, with Archbishop Joseph P. Hurley presiding, on April 26, 1959.
Monsignor Ron Aubin, who led Our Lady of the Rosary for 27 years, shared some of the big changes regarding the church, in an interview before he retired in June 2021.
When Aubin arrived at the parish on July 1, 1994, about 830 families belonged to the church, he said, in The Laker/Lutz News story, published on June 23, 2021.
At the time, the church was still located on the southwest corner of U.S. 41 and State Road 54, Aubin said.
Both of those roads were two lanes then, and there were very few stoplights, he added.
“There are two churches there now. One on the north side of the highway and one on the south side of the highway. Both were ours. Except the one on the north side of the street used to be on the south side of the street.
“When they widened the intersection there — widened (U.S.) 41 to four lanes, did the whole intersection — they were going to chop off the (smaller) church,” Aubin said.
Instead, the building was sold to the Episcopal Church, which paid $1, and moved it across the street.
Our Lady of the Rosary had already been using the larger building on the site on the south side of State Road 54. The structure later became home to Keystone Community Church.
Our Lady of the Rosary moved to its current campus at 2348 Collier Parkway, in Land O’ Lakes, on Nov. 27, 1999.
Initially, the new site had a church and an office. Over time, it added an early childhood center and a youth center.
During Aubin’s tenure, the church weathered the Great Recession and shutdowns caused by COVID-19.
As Aubin departed, he expressed optimism that the new pastor would bring fresh energy and be able to revitalize the parish that had been forced to limit gatherings and personal interactions because of the pandemic.
In his previous role, Paskert ran the campus ministry for six years at the University of South Florida’s Tampa campus. He believes that background will prove useful in his new role.
“With doing campus ministry, the entire focus is on evangelizing,” he explained.
He believes his outreach experiences will help promote growth in the Land O’ Lakes church community.
“It’s not just trying to take care of the Catholics who show up, it’s really kind of challenging our whole community to kind of get out and share who we are and what we’re about, and share the Gospel,” he said.
When Paskert arrived at Our Lady of the Rosary, “we still had limited capacity, and we had just stopped having to register if you were going to come on the weekend.
“The first thing I did was put all available chairs back into the church — which was way more than what we needed — but it was kind of a signal to everybody: ‘We’re going to fill this back up again.’”
The efforts are showing results.
“Last summer, after I first got here, after Fr. Ron retired, we probably had about 1,300, 1,400 people on a weekend. This past month, we’ve been about 2,400 people.
“That’s been a very good momentum.
“I think people are being excited, in coming back to church,” the pastor said.
He also shared this thoughts about the various influences the pandemic has had, on church attendance.
“You had some people, kind of regular and prayerfully participate in church. Then, everybody stopped going. People very strong in their faith came back right away, as soon as the doors were open,” he said.
Now, he added, “a lot of people who are coming are a lot of new people that we didn’t necessarily see before the pandemic and the shutdown.”
Some are likely newcomers to the area, Paskert said. But others are people, who during COVID, decided to find a church home.
“People were asking themselves what they wanted their life to look like. I think it was kind of a hinge-point, a lynch pin, for people establishing new priorities for themselves or their family, post-pandemic,” Paskert said.
“People aren’t just necessarily going back to what they were doing before. They might be trying some things that are different,” he added.
Paskert noted that it’s not enough to attract people to try out the church.
“It’s constantly the work of how to welcome people, how to integrate them into the community,” the pastor said.
That challenge is likely to continue, as Our Lady of the Rosary Catholic Church moves forward beyond its first 70 years.
Our Lady of the Rosary Catholic Church milestones
1952: The Mission’s first official Mass was celebrated on Oct. 5, at the VFW Hall on U.S. 41. The celebrant was Abbot Francis Sadler, O.S.B. The mission’s patroness, and title, is established because the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary is Oct 7.
1957: Land is purchased of the south side of State Road 54, a quarter-mile west of U.S. 41. The groundbreaking ceremony happened soon after signing of contract.
1958: The first Mass celebrated at the new church building on State Road 54.
1959: A formal dedication ceremony is held at Our Lady of the Rosary Church on April 26.
1970: The last Benedictine pastor, the Rev. Edward Martineau, completes his assignment. The Rev. Peter Reynolds becomes the first diocesan-assigned pastor.
1979: The parish hall is constructed on the State Road 54 property.
1984: Our Lady of the Rosary Church purchases 26.75 acres, four-tenths of a mile north of State Road, on the east side of Collier Parkway.
1996: Planning and permitting begins for the new church, on Collier Parkway.
1999: Bishop Robert Lynch, of the Diocese of St. Petersburg, dedicates the new church on Collier Parkway. The dedication occurs on Nov. 27. The new location includes a multipurpose building, with the church, offices, rectory and a large parking area.
2001: An extension is added for a fourth living space for associate priest.
2007: Construction is completed on Immaculata Hall and the Early Childhood Center (Mary’s House).
2018: The Mater Dei building is completed, to be used for youth and adult formation.
Source: Our Lady of the Rosary Catholic Church
Pastors of Our Lady of the Rosary Catholic Church:
- Reverend Stephan Herrmann, O.S.B.: 1953 to 1955
- Reverend James Hoge, O.S.B.: 1955 to 1956
- Reverend Cassian Foley, O.S.B.: 1956 to 1958
- Reverend Michael Leap, O.S.B.: 1958 to 1963
- Reverend Aloysius Dressman, O.S.B.: 1963 to 1966
- Reverend Edward Martineau, O.S.B: 1966 to 1970
- Reverend Peter Reynolds: 1970 to 1972
- Reverend John Bolger: 1972 to 1973
- Reverend Stephen Dambrauskas: 1973 to 1994
- Reverend Ronald Aubin, J.C.L.: 1994 to 2021
- Reverend Justin Paskert: 2021 to present
Source: Our Lady of the Rosary Catholic Church
Published October 12, 2022