St. Monica Church is the third oldest Catholic Parish in the St. Augustine Diocese. Located in Palatka, the church was one of the many mission stations administered by the Georgia "horseback priests" of the 1850's. From its earliest years, the parish has served a lively mix of ethnic diversity. Consisting of Irish, German and Spanish immigrants from St. Augustine, the church was ministered from Jacksonville by the plucky Fr. William Hamilton.
A small wood frame church was blessed and dedicated by Fr. Edmund Aubril on December 8, 1858. By 1861, with the advent of war, the poor mission church suffered in both attendance and administration since "the devoted clergy were away at war ministering to the stricken soldiers of the contending armies.” After the Civil War, the parish was administered from St. Augustine by the hearty French missionaries Fathers Henry Clavreul and Joseph Hugon.
In 1876, Fr. Felix Ghione ministered in Palatka until the arrival of Fr. William J. Kenny in 1881. During his three years in Palatka, Fr. Kenny displayed the virtue and courage which would lead him to the episcopacy in later years. In 1884, St. Monica’s Pastor was Fr. Bernard O'Reilly, who later wrote that, “the number of parishioners were greatly reduced owing to the terrible freeze of 1894, which wiped out the orange industry on which the town mainly depended." Undaunted by the crisis, the little church by the river began to expand its operation and build for the future. On October 31, 1897, Bishop John Moore blessed the cornerstone for a fine brick structure which was completed May 4, 1899 and is where the parish still worships today.
In 1903 Fr. Patrick Barry became the eighth Pastor of St. Monica, and in 1922 the fifth Bishop of the Diocese of St. Augustine. He ministered to those in East Palatka, by crossing the St. Johns River by small boat and then traveled on horse back to those in San Mateo, Welaka and Crescent City.
The long tenure of Fr. William C. Becker covered 24 years and won the hearts of all the townspeople. When Fr. Becker celebrated his 50th Anniversary of Ordination in 1949, the town declared February 24 "Father Becker Day."
The church underwent extensive renovations in 1921 and almost 30 years later in 1950, Fr. Michael Kelly erected a parish hall.
In 1997, to celebrate the Centenary of the brick church, Bishop John J. Snyder blessed and rededicated the church. Fr. Joseph F. Finlay, the pastor at that time, launched a project to restore the church steeple, roof and other renovations. On December 7, 2008, St. Monica Parish had a Sesquicentennial Jubilee Mass. Symbols of our blessings from the 150 years were set in front of the altar. The symbols were: pictures of: the first wooden church, St. Joseph Academy in Palatka and St. Monica’s School, along with 21 candles representing the 21 former pastors and roses representing the future- “faith will sprout where it is rooted” proclaimed Fr. Ignatius Plathanam, Pastor 2006– 2014. Blessings were bestowed on the parish in person by Bishop Victor Galeone, and in writing from Retired Bishop John Snyder and Pope Benedict XVI.
114 South 4th Street, Palatka, Florida 32177, United States
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