We publish here an article about the church the SSPX is restoring in Jacksonville. It was featured on the front page of the Jacksonville Florida Time Union. Some inaccuracies; the Society was not founded in 1988 and Bill didn't say sincere talking about the liturgy (they omitted his comment about God-centered vs. man-centered). All in all, the article is fair and gives good exposure. We thank Bill Gulliford for his dedication.
A timeworn 99-year-old Catholicchurch in Springfield is being renovated by members of a traditionalist Catholic group whose congregation has out-grown its small church a few miles away.
Saving the old Holy Rosary Catholic Church is a victory for preservationists concerned about the disappearance of historically significant buildings across Jacksonville.
And — once all the work is done — it will be a win, says Bill Gulliford, for the congregation of St. Michael the Archangel Catholic Church, which holds traditional Latin Mass in the style before the Second Vatican Council in 1965. Gulliford, a former Jacksonville city council member and Atlantic Beach mayor, is a member of St. Michael’s, which now meets at a small church on Bartram Road just south of Atlantic Boulevard.
He’s leading that congregation’s renovation efforts at the old Holy Rosary on North Laura Street, a Romanesque structure from 1923 with twin steeples and soaring vaulted ceilings.
The Diocese of St. Augustine sold the building to a Seventh-day Adventist group in the 1990s and moved Holy Rosary north to Brentwood Avenue. The Seventh-day Adventists later moved to a new location, leaving the old church vacant.
St. Michael’s then bought it for $570,000. Gulliford figures that renovation will push the total cost above $1 million — a cost that’s being borne by the church’s 290 parishioners.
Much work to do
The church, built of brick, with a cast stone exterior, has some termite and water damage, but it’s structurally pretty solid, an inspection showed.
Still, it needs a new heating and air-conditioning system, a major expense.
The four big wooden doors at the front entrance had to be repaired with Bondo, they were so damaged. There’s a tarp covering one of the church’s two steeples. Carpets have been ripped out, but there’s still a layer of carpet glue covering the old wood flooring. The bathrooms need work, and there’s a lot of painting to do.
The altar is missing, and the parishioners plan to replace it with a big marble altar from an old church in Brooklyn, N.Y., after adding to the foundation to support it. The original stained-glass windows are gone too, but the numerous now-clear windows are in good shape.
The Rev. Sean Gerrity, pastor at St. Michael’s, said the effort and expense of restoring the old church fits in with the traditionalist beliefs of the congregation.
“It’s a pleasure and a blessing to us,” he said. “The architectural treasures and the liturgical treasures of the past have been given up far too easily. For us, beauty is always a revelation of the presence of God... That’s one reason why a Catholic church should be a beautiful thing when we walk in.”
Gerrity is 39, a member of the Society of Saint Pius X, which conducts Mass according to the 1962 edition of the Roman Missal. He lives in a priory in Sanford with eight priests who fan out across the state to lead services as the weekend approaches. Saint Michael the Archangel Catholic Church, which is not affiliated with the Diocese of St. Augustine, was founded in 1988 by lay Catholics looking to return to the traditional Latin Mass. Society of Saint Pius X priests have been leading Mass there since 2017.
The old Mass
Gulliford says it’s a religiously conservative congregation deliberately out of step with more modern churches.
“It’s not really an argument about nostalgia with the old Mass for any of us,” he said. “It’s the fact that it’s a form of worship that’s much more reverent, much more sincere. I grew up in that.”
Members of St. Michael’s even refrain from eating meat on Fridays, as was the traditional practice. Chuckling, he noted a Captain D’s seafood restaurant on Main Street that abuts the new church property. That could come in handy.
The church says it’s had a 300 percent increase in its congregation since 2020, including many younger families, and has long outgrown its 90-seat church on Bartram Road.
The old Holy Rosary church was included in Wayne Wood’s 1989 book, Jacksonville’s Architectural Heritage: Landmarks for the Future, which notes that it “is one of the rare remaining examples of the Romanesque Revival style in Jacksonville.”
It was designed by architect James R. Walsh, who moved to Jacksonville in 1895 to found a sash and door manufacturing plant before turning again to architecture for the next 20 years.
“Although his commissions were sparse, he designed some excellent buildings, including the Imperial movie theatre, three churches and two Prairie-style residences in Riverside,” Wood wrote. Walsh died in 1924, the year after the church opened.
In a recent interview, Wood called the building he designed “a significant landmark” in the city and praised the effort to restore it.
“So many of Jacksonville’s great buildings have been torn down,” Wood said. “To see one like this, realizing the effort and financial commitment it takes to restore a building like that, it’s always great. It’s one more piece of our history that didn’t get lost.”
Bill Gulliford, who’s leading restoration efforts at the old Holy Rosary church, shows where a heavy marble altar from a church in Brooklyn, N.Y., will go after the foundation is buttressed to support the weight. Holy Rosary began life in 1923 as a Catholic church, then became a home for Seventh-day Adventists until the members of St. Michael the Archangel Catholic Church on the Southside bought it. The original stained-glass windows in the church are no longer there, as can be seen in this photo.