The Church of the Epiphany was begun as a mission of St. Martha’s Parish, Sarasota in the winter of 1935 by Monsignor Charles Elslander to serve the Catholics of the Venice area. The wisdom of a mission was brought to Fr. Elslander's attention by Col. Charles Richmond, Kentucky Military Institute president who pointed out that Catholics on the faculty and students had to make a 36 mile round trip to Sarasota to attend Mass. At first, Mass was said only during the winter in the old Gulf Theatre, a movie house which occupied the northwest corner of Venice Avenue and Nassau Street in downtown Venice. About 20 people came to the first Mass at the theatre.
Some of the old-timers in the parish recall the days when the altar was set up between the popcorn stand and the soft drink dispenser. Ushers and assistants had to sweep up the litter of popcorn boxes and candy wrappers from the night before, and attempt to create a presentable area in which to set up the altar so that the Sacrifice of the Mass could be held.
Besides the priests of St. Martha Parish in Sarasota, Father Roderick McEachern, a retired priest who lived on the Bar-M-Bar ranch, which occupied the area where the Sarasota Vo-Tech School now stands, frequently came to say Sunday Mass. At this time, Sunday Mass was attended mostly by the Catholic students and faculty of the Kentucky Military Academy, some of the personnel from the Venice Army Air Base (now Venice Municipal Airport), and a scattered handful of Catholics who lived around Venice. Fr. McEachern helped out Fr. Elslander with the Venice mission for about seven years.
In 1947 a former military chapel of Venice Army Air Base was transported to Tampa Avenue and Nassau Street where it was refurbished and dedicated as the first Epiphany Church. This first building was used as a parish church and later as a parish center until it was razed in 1980 to make way for the present church. The purchase of this first permanent building as well as the complete outfitting of the church for use cost $11,165.30.
By 1954, the mission of Epiphany had taken on considerable proportions. Monsignor Elslander and his assistants at St. Martha’s were kept busy with the even more rapid growth in Sarasota. Thus, on March 7, 1955, Epiphany was established as a separate entity with Fr. Michael M. Reynolds appointed as the first pastor by Archbishop Joseph P. Hurley. Fr. Noah E. Brunner was later appointed as interim administrator during late 1955 and early 1956 because of the illness of Fr. Reynolds.
In September, 1956, Fr. Cummings was appointed pastor of Epiphany. In 1957, Fr. Cummings offered the first Mass in Englewood at the Civic Recreation Center and later the Lemon Bay Women's Club. One year later, the first daughter parish of Epiphany was created and on March 2, 1958, the first Mass was said in the new St. Raphael's Church.
2nd Epiphany Church 1958 (now the Parish Center)
In 1959, Fr. George W. Cummings, the second pastor of Epiphany Church, raised funds to build a parish school. The new school opened in November of that year. The school was constructed in six months and was built in such a way that a second floor could be added when the time for enlargement arrived. In December of 1959, ground was broken for a new church, which was completed in 1960. (This new church is the present parish hall on Harbor Dr.) The former military chapel was then used as a parish hall. By 1966, increased enrollment at Epiphany School made the addition of a second story to the building necessary. The second floor housed the new auditorium, science room, music room, library, classrooms, and conference rooms.In 1964 Epiphany Parish started a new mission in Warm Mineral Springs as an outgrowth of both Englewood and Venice. The first Masses were offered in the Springs Restaurant. The winter congregation rose to nearly 300 with the summer attendance about 125. That year an excellent parcel of land was purchased on US 41 consisting of ten acres. In May, 1966, ground was broken for the new San Pedro Church, the second daughter parish of Epiphany.
Epiphany since 1968
Fr. Esteban G. Soy became the third pastor of Epiphany in 1976. A parish census revealed that a new church was needed. Marian Hall was built on the east side of the school to accommodate extra Masses and various parish functions. In the meantime, the Parish Council voted to open a drive to construct a new and larger church.
By March, 1978 with the customary support of Epiphany parishioners and visitors, the building campaign went “over the top.” Ground was broken in February, 1979, and on June 29, 1980, Bishop W. Thomas Larkin, Bishop of St. Petersburg, dedicated the present church. The 1960 church edifice was remodeled to serve as the new parish hall.
With the Catholic population in Florida steadily increasing, Pope John Paul II in 1984 established two new dioceses, one of which was the Diocese of Venice. The Church of Epiphany was selected to become the Cathedral for the new diocese and Most Rev. John J. Nevins was installed as the first Bishop of the Diocese of Venice. In 1986, Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Venice was founded as the third daughter parish of Epiphany Cathedral, located on Center Road in eastern Venice.
Fr. Soy now concerted his efforts on modernizing Epiphany School’s instructional facilities. Pre-school, cafeteria, computer and library buildings were constructed. A classroom annex building, which has permitted the school to grow to its maximum enrollment, soon followed. Santa Maria Chapel in the school courtyard was constructed in 1999 to serve the spiritual needs of the school children.
Fr. Soy retired to his native Spain in July, 1999 after 23 years of service to Epiphany but has since returned to the Diocese to be of further service. At his farewell, Bishop John J. Nevins announced the appointment of Fr. Robert R. Cannon, Judicial Vicar of the Marriage Tribunal , as the new rector of the Cathedral effective October, 1999. Fr. Cannon initiated needed improvements and updating of parish facilities, including a renovation of the interior of the Cathedral church and replacement of the church's pews. In 2001, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Parish, Osprey, was founded as the fourth daughter parish of Epiphany Cathedral. In March of 2003, Fr. Cannon, a reserve Chaplain in the Air Force, was called to active duty. On April 9, 2003, Bishop Nevins announced the appointment of Fr. George Ratzmann as rector of Epiphany Cathedral effective April 23, 2003. Fr. George previously served at Epiphany as a transitional deacon and a parochial vicar.
In 2005, Fr. George with the assistance of Cargill & Associates began a three year capital campaign entitled Renew...Refresh...Restore with the purpose of updating the parish buildings. Included were the renovation of the second floor of Epiphany School, a new tile roof for the Cathedral, and the renovation of the Parish Hall.
On April 25, 2006, His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI named Msgr. Frank J. Dewane, a priest of the Diocese of Green Bay, Wisconsin, as coadjutor bishop of the Diocese of Venice. Bishop-designate Dewane will succeed Bishop Nevins upon his retirement or death. On July 25, 2006, Msgr. Dewane was ordained to the episcopacy at Epiphany Cathedral with Bishop John Nevins as principal consecrator; Archbishop John Favalora of Miami and Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin, Ireland were co-consecrators. This was the first episcopal ordination in the history of the Diocese of Venice.
On January 19, 2007, His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI accepted the resignation of Bishop John J. Nevins on the occasion of his 75th birthday. Bishop Frank J. Dewane, Co-adjutor Bishop suceeded him as Ordinary of the Diocese of Venice.
On September 19, 2008, Bishop Frank J. Dewane announced the appointment of Fr. George Ratzmann as pastor of St. William's Parish in Naples, Florida. A farewell was held in the parish hall on September 28, 2008. Fr. George is best remembered for his giftedness in preaching, his professional-quality singing voice, and his upbeat outlook on life. For these reasons and many others, he endeared himself to Epiphany parishioners.
At the same time, Bishop Dewane announced the appointment of a new rector for Epiphany Cathedral, Rev. John F. Costello, who previously had been pastor of St. Joseph's Parish in Bradenton, Florida. These appointments were effective October 1, 2008. Fr. Jack has completed the final phase of the Capital Campaign "Renew, Refresh, Restore" begun during Fr. George Ratzmann's tenure and which included a major renovation of the Parish Hall, now known as the Parish Center, which has served the parish for fifty years both as the first permanent church and later as a social hall. Bishop Dewane re-dedicated and blessed the new facility on June 6, 2010. Also included in the Renew, Refresh, Restore program is the renovation of the parish rectory to provide up-to-date living facilities for all resident clergy and the demolition of two antiquated residences on Nassau St. The rectory renovation project began in January, 2012 with expected completion in June, 2012. In December 2011, the parish (diocese) purchased the Venice-Nokomis Women's Club located at the corner of Tampa Avenue and Harbor Drive North. The purchase of this property by Epiphany Parish completes the southwest corner of the block, and the entire block is now available for Epiphany Cathedral's use. The purchase agreement for the Women's Club allows the Women's Club use of the building on Mondays and Wednesdays for three years.
Bishop John J. Nevins, the first Bishop of the Diocese of Venice in Florida, died on August 26, 2014. Following the wake and the Mass of Christian Burial on September 3, 2014, Bishop Nevins was interred in the Bishop's Mausoleum at Epiphany Cathedral.
Administrators, Pastors, Rectors Epiphany Parish Cathedral
Rev. Monsignor Charles L. Elslander, V.F. 1935-1954
Rev. Michael F. Reynolds 1954-1956
Rev. Noah E. Brunner 1954-1956
Rev. Monsignor George W. Cummings 1956-1976
Very Rev. Esteban G. Soy 1976-1999 R.I.P.
Very Rev. Robert R. Cannon 1999 - 2003
Very Rev. George Ratzmann 2003 - 2008
Very Rev. John F. Costello 2008 - Present
Priests assigned to Epiphany Parish:
Very Rev. John (Jack) F. Costello 2008 - present * 4th Rector
Rev. Sebastian Szczawinski - 2018 - present
Rev. Ricky Varner - 2017 - present
Rev. Charles Ruoff - 2016 - 2018
Rev. Mark Ruckpaul - 2015 - 2017
Rev. Eric Scanlan - 2014 - present
Rev. Joseph Gates - 2013 - 2016
Rev. Murchadh O'Madagain - 2013 - 2015
Very Rev. George Ratzmann 1986-1989; 1995-1996; 2003 - 2008 * 3rd Rector
Rev. Cory Mayer - 2009 - 2013
Rev. John Fitch - 2009 - 2013
Rev. Gerard Critch - 2007 - 2009
Rev. Jarek Sniosek (In Residence) - 2007 - 2011
Rev. Richard York - 2007 - 2013
Rev. Jan Antonik - 2005 - 2007
Rev. Theodoro Mata - 2005 - 2006
Rev. Pawel Kawalec - 2004 - 2005
Rev. Daniel Smith 2004-2004 R.I.P.
Very Rev. Robert Cannon 1999- 2003 * 2nd Rector
Rev. Michael Cannon 2003-2007
Rev. Thomas McGovern 2002-2004
Rev. Raphael Padilla 2002-2003
Rev. James M. Shea 2001-present
Rev. Jacek Mazur 2001-2005
Rev. Carlos Mundet 2001-2002
Rev. Peter Brudzynski 1981- 2008 R.I.P.
Rev. Joel Schevers, O. Carm. 1985-2009 R.I.P.
Rev. Normando Feliz 2001-2002
Rev. Michael Scheip 1999-2002
Rev. Jack Cosentino (Hospital) 2001 - 2015
Rev. Lukas Schmidt, O. Carm. 1999-2000 R.I.P.
Rev. Richard J. Mueller 1996-1999
Very Rev. Esteban G. Soy 1975-1999 *3rd Pastor/Rector
Rev. Piotr Zawadski 1998-1999
Rev. Chester Domaszewicz 1995-1998
Rev. Donald J. Koch (Hospital) 1996-1998
Rev. Timothy Navin 1993-1995
Rev. Thomas DeVita 1993-1995 R.I.P.
Rev. Stanislaw Strycharz 1990-1994
Rev. Edward Toner (Hospital) 1991-1994 R.I.P.|
Rev. Norman Connelly 1992-1993
Rev. Brian Butterly 1988- 1992
Rev. Maynard T. Evers, O. Carm. 1990-1991 R.I.P.
Rev. Joseph Rowan, CSsR 1988-1990 R.I.P.
Rev. Robert B. Mattingly 1988-1989
Rev. Jacek Kowalik 1984-1987
Rev. Leo W. Schnell, O.P. 1981-1987 R.I.P.
Rev. Stanislaus Pierog 1987
Rev. Thaddeus Kloc 1983-1987 R.I.P.
Rev. Mark Heuberger 1983
Rev. Robert E. Gately 1981-1983 R.I.P.
Rev. Robert D. Leib 1982 R.I.P.
Rev. Kieran Connolly OFM 1982 R.I.P.
Rev. Edward E. McLoughlin 1979-1981
Rev. James W. Carroll 1979-1980 R.I.P.
Rev. Thomas J. Deasy, MS 1971-1980 R.I.P.
Rev. Robert L. Schaeufele 1977-1978
Rev. Richard J. Allen 1978 R.I.P.
Rev. James F. Gloekler 1976 R.I.P.
Rev. John J. Walsh M.S. 1972-1976 R.I.P.
Rev. Charles P. Graham 1968-1971 R.I.P.
Rev. Thomas Murphy 1971
Rev. Aristodemo Rodriguez 1964-1971 R.I.P.
Rev. Sebastian Loncar 1970 R.I.P.
Rev. Joseph Duggan 1968
Rev. Louis Dunleavy 1966-1967 R.I.P.
Rev. William Bauman 1967
Rev. William Kelly 1964-1965
Rev. Michael O'Neill 1961-1964 R.I.P.
Rev. Emil Leveque 1963 R.I.P.
Rev. John W. Scannell 1961 R.I.P.
Rev. Lawrence Cunningham 1961 R.I.P.
Rev. Walter Sinnott 1957-1960 R.I.P.
Rev. John Clair 1957 - 1960 R.I.P.
Rev. William A. Hochheim 1960 R.I.P.
Msgr. George W. Cummings 1957-1975 * 2nd Pastor
Rev. Noah Brunner 1955-1956 R.I.P.
Rev. Michael M. Reynolds 1955 R.I.P.* 1st Pastor
Msgr. Charles Elslander 1935-1955 R.I.P.*Founded Epiphany Mission from St. Martha's Parish, Sarasota
Religious Brothers & Sisters assigned to the Parish:
Sister Mary Daniel Griesenbrock, OSF R.I.P.
Sister Jean Barrett, OSF
Sister Marguerite Weiler, SSND
Sister Mary Agnes Potthast, OSFS R.I.P.
Sister Juliemarie MacDonald, SND
Sister Bernadetta Staab, SSND R.I.P.
Sister Frances Lalor, RSM
Sister Christa Cunningham, OP
Brother Alphonse Kopp, CFX R.I.P.
Brother Raymond Kelly, CSC R.I.P.
Brother Peter Nault, CSC
History of Epiphany Cathedral School
In 1959, Monsignor George W. Cummings initiated a fund-raising program to build a Catholic school in Venice. Later that year the school opened its doors. Originally, the school was a one-floor structure, and in 1966, a second floor was added to house the new auditorium, science room, music room, library, classrooms, and conference rooms. The first enrollment for the school year 1959-1960 was 66 students in grades 1 through 4 with two instructors, and the school year started at KMI (Kentucky Military Institute) buildings until the construction work was completed on the first Epiphany School.
The Benedictine Sisters were the first religious teaching order at Epiphany and continued until 1968 when the Sisters of St. Francis, Syracuse, New York, arrived.
In 1974 the Sisters were recalled to Syracuse. At that time, Mr. John Hollis was employed as principal of the school. Two Benedictine Sisters from Holy Name Priory, San Antonio, Florida, joined the staff.
Fr. Esteban G. Soy became pastor of the parish in 1976 and enthusiastically supported the school, its progress, and its dedication to values education.
In August 1977, three School Sisters of Notre Dame of the Baltimore, Maryland, Province and two Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary from Chicago, arrived to bring the number of religious teachers to seven. A kindergarten was started in August, 1978.
An all-purpose, building, Marian Hall, was erected at the east end of the school in 1979. This facility was used for school and parish activities. At the close of the school year 1980-1981, changes were initiated to provide for improved departmental teaching and a stronger "middle school" concept for grades 6-7-8.
By 1982, computer education became an obvious need. Teachers and administrators attended several in-service workshops which served to spark interest and confidence among the faculty. Several teachers immediately pursued computer education at a local college. Each classroom was equipped with at least one computer, and computer lab was added to the Media Center in 1983.
During the summer of 1983, an outdoor play area was designed and constructed by the Home-School group of "Handy Dads."
In 1984 when the Diocese of Venice was created and Epiphany became the Cathedral Church, the official school name became Epiphany Cathedral School.
By the summer of 1987, two growth problems were resolved by creating an art studio space and a professionally operated pre-kindergarten. By 1988, these improvements were in place in a remodeled house on school property known locally as the "Brown house."
In 1990, the new annex at the south side of the main school building was completed, furnished, and dedicated. This facility housed the school offices, clinic, reception area, and on the west end, a large pre-kindergarten area.
In the period 1991-1993, the cafeteria building, the Media Center, the Pre-School Classrooms, and the Music Room were constructed in what is now known as the courtyard area, west of the main classroom building.
Enrollment continued to escalate, and Fr. Soy and Sr. Gertrude Marie Kramer, SSND, school principal and later her successor, Mr. Dewayne Byrnes, saw the need for additional classroom space so that the school could grow to its maximum potential enrollment of 500 students. In 1996 ground was broken on Tarpon Street, sight of the "old convent" and one time "parish rectory" for an annex classroom building, now accommodating grades 4-5-6 as well as changing facilities for physical education, teacher lounge, and other offices.
In 1998, a long-time generous benefactor of the parish and school, Mr. Milton Lewis, contributed the funds to construct a chapel intended primarily for school use. This chapel, Santa Maria Chapel, completed in 1999 in southwest Spanish architecture is the focal point of the school courtyard assembly area. Santa Maria Chapel is also utilized by the Diocese of Venice for their weekly TV Mass for shut-ins as well as by the parish on occasion for funerals, weddings, and other special celebrations.
The school enrollment declined in the early 2000's, and it was decided to limit the number of each grade to one classroom per grade. This decrease in enrollment made it possible for the school to cede use of the Classroom Annex Building on Tarpon Street to the parish for offices and ministry advancement.
In 2007, Epiphany School was awarded the prestigious Blue Ribbon of Excellence Award. In 2009, Epiphany School began celebrating the 50th anniversary of the opening of the school. The festivities included a recorded video of an interview with Sr. Helen, the first principal, and Msgr. Cummings, the pastor of Epiphany Parish, when the school began operation. The current principal, Mrs. Irene Lynch, and the Director of Development, Mrs. Chris Coviello, were included in the video. An Anniversary Gala was held to commemorate the 50th Anniversary at the Plantation Golf & Country Club.
Principals of Epiphany School:
Sr. Helen Lange, OSB (1959-1961)
Sr. Dorothy Neuhofer, OSB (1961-1964)
Sr. Helen Lange, OSB (1964-1968)
Sr. John Joseph, OSF (1968-1971)
Sr. Mary Cassian, OSF (1971-1974)
Mr. John Hollis (1974-1977)
Sr. Mary Zetta, SSND (1977-1986)
Sr. Gertrude Marie Kramer, SSND (1986-1995)
Mr. Dewayne Byrnes (1995 - 2005)
Mrs. Irene Lynch (2005 - 2013)
Mrs. Michelle C. Kroll (2013 - 2015)
Mrs. Regina Code (2015 - 2017)
Mrs. Mary Caren Heffner (2017-Present)
Sisters who have served at Epiphany School:
Sister Lucy Faciane, OSB
Sister Dorothy Neuhofer, OSB
Sister Joseph Austin, OSB
Sister Christine Delgarde, OSB R.I.P.
Sister Germaine Bevans, OSB
Sister de Chantal Ducuing, OSB
Sister Patricia Ann Driscoll, OSB
Sister Marian Crimm, OSB
Sister Elaine Lippolis, OSB
Sister Miriam Cosgrove, OSB
Sister John Joseph OSF
Sister Mary Cassian, OSF
Sister Mary Zetta LaVallee, SSND R.I.P.
Sister Patricia Hackett, SSND
Sister Paula Gascon, SSND
Sister JoAnn Appel, SSND R.I.P.
Sister Theresa Moran, SSND R.I.P.
Sister Maureen Michael Byrne, SSND
Sister Mercita Hermann, SSND R.I.P.
Sister Gertrude Marie Kramer, SSND
Sister Bernadetta Staab, SSND
Sister Jane Dettmer, SSND R.I.P.
Sister Mary Virginia Connelly, SSND R.I.P.
Sister Lorraine Soukup, SSND
Sister Eleanor Frankenberg, SSND
Sister Joseph Louise Reichlin, OSF
Sister Frances Kowalski, OSF
Sister Marie Damian Myers, SSND R.I.P.
Sister Eileen Mackey, BVM
Sister Maureen Eddy, BVM