In 1984, St. Ita, a mission to St. Bernadette Catholic Church in Hollywood, was established. A group of about 60 Catholics from Sunshine Ranches and the surrounding community celebrated Mass in a volunteer firehouse on Hancock Road.
As the faith community grew, Archbishop Edward McCarthy saw the need for a permanent Church in the area. With Rev. William Hennessey as founding pastor, St. Mark Parish was established in July 1985.
Shortly thereafter, a lease arrangement was made with the Schott Memorial Center and services were held in their chapel for the next five years.
In 1987, Fr. Hennessey oversaw the development of a Master Plan to address both the present and future needs of the Parish family. This plan included the building of a Parish Center, a permanent Church and an elementary school complex. At the time, the Parish was comprised of over 300 families and growing rapidly. Further, no one could have ever foreseen the future impact that Hurricane Andrew in 1992 would have on the influx of families into the area.
Also in 1987, a Parish fundraising campaign was launched to secure the funds necessary to construct the Parish Center. The Parish community was asked to help reduce the nearly $2 million cost of the Parish Center and the beginnings of the school building. Remarkably, this small body of faithful willingly stepped up to raise $750,000 and provided Fr. Hennessey the ability to move forward with the construction of the Parish Center and four classrooms.
On December 2, 1990, the St. Mark Parish Center was dedicated. Shortly thereafter, the first school building was completed and placed into service.
In 1995, with Monsignor Robert Lynch as pastor, our second school building was constructed and dedicated. Msgr. Lynch was with us only six months before becoming the Bishop of St. Petersburg. Although his stay was brief, he left his mark.
In 1996, Rev. Edmond Whyte, long-time pastor at Our Lady of the Lakes (Miami Lakes) was assigned to St. Mark as the new pastor. Having successfully built new churches in Key Largo and Miami Lakes, Fr. Whyte was tasked with not only continuing the construction plan for St. Mark but also the construction of Archbishop Edward A. McCarthy High School.
In 1999, the Archdiocese of Miami and the parish leaders of St. Mark determined the Parish had outgrown the Parish Center as a worship space and needed to return the building to its eventual intended use – a parish hall for use by the many ministries and organizations of the Church and school.
In early 2000, a major capital campaign was successfully launched to raise the $5 million necessary to go to contract on the basic new Church structure and to satisfy our Vision 2000 obligation. Shortly thereafter, the decision was made to move forward with the entire Master Plan all at once.
Ground was broken on the new Church complex in September 2002.
Church is built: ‘Finally!’
After tragedy and delays, St. Mark Parish dedicates new church – by Ana Rodriguez – Soto – (The Florida Catholic)
With that one word, Archbishop John C. Favalora summed up the sentiment of St. Mark Parish’s 4,800 families at the dedication May 21 of their new and glorious church. “It took 46 years to build the temple of Jerusalem. We’re far short of that,” the archbishop noted.
Just over 40 years short, in fact. But from planning to dedication, St. Mark took longer than the average church building project. The groundbreaking took place in September 29, 2002, and architectural planning meetings started more than a year earlier.
“Much water has run under the bridge,” admitted Father Edmond Whyte, St. Mark’s pastor. “It has been a trying time in some sense, but a time of grace, too.”
The deaths of the project manager, Jim McElroy, and general contractor, Vincent Perini, accounted for most of the delays in building the massive, octagonal structure which rises 80 feet at its center and is paired with a 120-foot-tall bell tower.
The archdiocese’s Building Commission eventually took over the project, led by director Bob Brown and assistant director James Detrick. In fact, Father Whyte joked, the three considered opening up their own general contracting business: Brown, Detrick and Whyte. Father Whyte would qualify as a general contractor based not only on his experience at St. Mark. This is the third church construction the 68-year-old priest has overseen. He also built St. Justin Martyr Church in Key Largo, where he was founding pastor, and the permanent church of Our Lady of the Lakes in Miami Lakes.
The construction delays raised St. Mark’s final price tag to $15 million, Father Whyte said. But the result, said those who took part in the dedication liturgy, is well worth it.
“Oh my God, it’s spectacular,” said parishioner Waldy Gonzalez. “This is breathtaking. It’s such a blessing. Father Whyte did a spectacular job.”
Mike Smith, St. Mark’s director of development, said he had driven along Flamingo Road the night before the dedication, when the church was lit. “Traffic was slowing up, looking at the stained glass windows,” he said.
St. Mark’s cupola is in fact intended to function as a beacon for passersby. It takes the shape of a lantern with stained glass on eight sides reflecting the light from below.
The cupola rises above a compression ring that supports a “glue lam” wood system that serves as the roof structure, Brown said. Like the cupola, the church is octagonal in shape, with massive columns that separate the ambulatory space from the nave. The columns are reminiscent of Romanesque style, set in a modern design.
Architect Peter Kosinski described the design as “a contemporary statement of a very classical approach.” “It follows the liturgical guidelines of the (Second Vatican) Council, to keep as many members of the congregation as close as possible to the celebrant,” said Kosinski, whose firm specializes in churches. They have designed nearly 100 throughout the country.
The backdrop of the sanctuary is a wall of cut coquina stone upon which hangs a life-size corpus of the crucified Christ. The altar and ambo are made of marble. All the columns, exterior and interior walls are made of concrete clad in pre-cast brick veneer. Their white color is set off by the floor’s gold and slate-colored porcelain tile and light-wood benches.
The baptismal font is an immersion pool whose water trickles down from a basin located inside the Blessed Sacrament chapel. Two large cry rooms occupy the back of the church on either side, their glass walls accentuated by wooden crosspieces. A large, flowing fountain greets people as they enter the church, and ramps framed by more columns lead them inside.
On the outside are 15 pairs of doors made of solid Costa Rican mahogany. The doors weigh around 300 pounds apiece and three men were needed to hang each one, said job superintendent Rick Taylor.
The church can seat 1,500, with standing room for 500 more. Both Archbishop Favalora and Father Whyte reminded the congregation, however, that the church is more than a building. It is the people of God who gather there to worship.
“While we are today dedicating a physical temple, our teachings tell us that we are the structure, the people of God, the church. Each one of us becomes a temple where God resides,” Archbishop Favalora said. He called the building’s completion the “crowning touch” in the parish’s 21-year-history. Father Whyte has served as pastor for the last 10. He was preceded by Msgr. William Hennessey, now archdiocesan vicar general, who guided the parish from its founding through its first decade. In between came Bishop Robert Lynch of St. Petersburg, who served for nine months before his appointment as bishop.
Father Whyte said St. Mark’s physical plant is now essentially completed, with a fountain-adorned piazza and covered walkways tying together all the elements: the elementary school, parish hall and church.
“It’s a great, great day,” said Annie Martinez, a parishioner for 14 years who works at St. Mark School . “Now we’re done.”
“We waited so long,” said Norma Rodriguez, a parishioner for the past 15 years. “This is going to be a whole new chapter. There’s going to be blessings no matter what.”