A sign of maturity in South Florida: Zeroes have been popping up on the calendars of several religious groups – Lutheran, Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox. And for an Episcopal parish, a centennial is coming up next year.
It makes sense: As communities are built, churches are planted.
"Churches have always been an important social draw, especially for people who didn't have a lot of money," says Susan Gillis, curator at the Boca Raton Historical Society and past curator of its Fort Lauderdale counterpart. "A lot of pioneers, both black and white, say they went to social events that were sponsored by their church."
Among them is the "Pioneer Parish," the title of a new history book about St. Anthony Catholic Church, Fort Lauderdale, celebrating its 90th anniversary this month.
"The church opened at a time when the history of Florida was being opened up," notes the Rev. Jerry Singleton, pastor at St. Anthony and author of the 174-page book.
St. Anthony has been home to prominent residents like tennis champ Chris Evert; Tim Gannon, co-creator of Outback Steakhouse; the late Brian Piccolo of the Chicago Bears; the late R.H. Gore, former owner of the Sun Sentinel, and local and state politicians Jack Seiler and E. Clay Shaw.
The church celebrated its anniversary quietly in early November, with a Mass followed by sunset cocktail party. The events followed other celebrations.
Last Sunday, St. Nicholas Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Cooper City got a visit from Metropolitan Filaret, patriarch of the international body, for its 60th anniversary. He led a liturgy, then took part in a banquet.
In May, Our Savior Lutheran Church in Plantation celebrated its 50th anniversary. Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church in Oakland Park followed with its own silver anniversary in August.
September also saw the 50th anniversary of St. Thomas University, owned by the Archdiocese of Miami. A "Jubilee Tower" was dedicated at the school in Miami Gardens by Archbishop Thomas Wenski and university president Monsignor Franklyn M. Casale.
And All Saints Episcopal Church in Fort Lauderdale has begun a year-long series of events for its centennial, which will fall on Nov. 1 – All Saints Day 2012. The varied menu will include a performance of "Murder in the Cathedral," concerts presenting more than 100 works, and a book review series featuring historian Gillis.
St. Anthony, though, stands out as only the third Catholic church building in Southeastern Florida – after St. Ann in West Palm Beach, founded in 1895, and Miami's Gesu, founded a year later. Several other bodies – including the parishes of St. George, St. Clement, St. Jerome, St. Sebastian and St. Pius X -- were birthed out of St. Anthony. So was St. Thomas Aquinas High School.
All these anniversaries, of course, coincide with the growth of communities in South Florida, Gillis notes. She adds that there is always an exchange between church and neighborhood. Even now, in an age of government welfare, religious congregations offer a lot of services: daycare, food pantries, clothes closets, Thanksgiving dinners. They also throw dances and offer societies like the Methodist Youth Fellowship.
"Churches still fill a vital role," Gillis says.
JDDavis@Tribune.com or 954-356-4730.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun