Parish History

Chronological History of the Holy Spirit Catholic Church Lake Wales

The first recorded Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in the vicinity of Lake Wales,
wasccelebrated by Rev. A. Latiolais in the home of Mr. and Mrs. Jacob Kirch at Starr
Lake. Father Latiolais came from the Church of the Sacred Heart in Tampa by horse
and buggy over sand trails. For several years, Catholic families took turns gathering in
one home every month or two and Fr. Latiolais came to celebrate mass. At this time, the
Most Reverend M. J. Curley was Bishop of St. Augustine, and there was no established
Catholic church in Polk County.

Fr. M. J. Farley was assigned by Bishop Curley as pastor of St. Joseph’s Church in Lakeland with a mission church in Winter Haven.

A group of Canadians built a small church known as St. Anne Shrine on the
shores of Lake Helen. Masses were offered on Sundays during the winter months.
Today the original shrine is used to celebrate the Easter Sunday Mass.

The Club of Catholic Women was organized in Lake Wales.

A group of twenty families formed a building committee for a church to be built on
the corner of Highway 60 and 11 th Street. Plans for a simple frame mission church were
soon upgraded due to the real estate “boom” in Florida.

On March 13, 1927 ground-breaking ceremonies took place for the new church. On December 11, 1927, Holy Spirit Church at Highway 60 and 11th Street was dedicated by the Most Rev. Patrick Joseph Barry, Bishop of the Diocese of St. Augustine. Newspapers proclaimed Holy Spirit Catholic Church as one of Florida’s most charming and unique small church buildings. It was a mixture of Mediterranean, Mission, and antique Spanish styles with a dome ceiling of sky blue with special lighting effects.

In February 1928 Fr. A. J. Salois was appointed first resident pastor. A small building nearby was bought to serve as a rectory. This was destroyed by fire in 1942.

The collapse of the Florida real estate boom caused economic depression in the
area. Many Holy Spirit parishioners were unable to meet their obligations, leaving the
church with a large debt. The parish had to seek Diocesan help.

The Holy Spirit parish survived with the support of parishioners, many of
them volunteering to teach catechism and to prepare children for the Sacraments.
Priests occupied a temporary rectory on Ninth Street.

On July 23, 1961, ground-breaking took place for the construction of the Academy of St. William, which was made possible by a $150,000.00 grant from the William P. McDonald Foundation.

On May 6, 1962 the Academy was dedicated under the guidance of Dominican nuns from Kenosha, Wisconsin and was opened for business on September 4, 1962. On October 11, 1962, ground-breaking took place for the construction of the Holy Spirit Convent.

On May 3, 1964, the Most Rev. Michael Joseph Curley blessed the Holy Spirit Convent. 

The Academy of St. William was closed and transformed into an education building for the church. The so-called Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, often known as CCD or catechism for short, were held with volunteer lay teachers. Thereafter two Franciscan Sisters of the Atonement were assigned to the Holy Spirit. During this same period of time, Vatican II brought about renovations and other changes in the Catholic Church. Mass celebrations were changed from Latin to English; altars were turned to face the congregation; kneeling rails were removed; and women were allowed to take an active role in liturgical services.

Pope Paul VI created two new dioceses in Florida, namely the Diocese of St. and the Diocese of Orlando, and elevated the Diocese of Miami to an Archdiocese. The Holy Spirit Catholic Church in Lake Wales was assigned to the Diocese of Orlando under the leadership of the Most Rev. Bishop William Borders.

In December 1977, Holy Spirit Church celebrated its 50th Anniversary of its founding in December 1927. By this time, the parish that began with 20 families had grown to 900 registered families, excluding winter visitors or so-called snowbirds. Masses at the church proper had increased in number; masses were also held at Nalcrest, Saddlebag, and Indian Lake Estates nearby.

In December 1972 Fr. Felix Baños was assigned to Holy Cross Church when his predecessor, Father Bronis “Ben” Benesevich, pastor since 1972, was reassigned as Chaplain of the Nalcrest area.

In February 1986, a pledge drive began for the construction of a larger church, although many families were reluctant to give up their small beautiful and historic church building at Highway 60 corner 11th Street. In 1989 the Diocese of Orlando sold this property to the City of Lake Wales, which it in turn converted into a Cultural Center and added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places on August 31, 1990).

On February 22 1987, with Fr. Ben Benesevich as pastor, the Most Rev. Thomas J. Brady, Bishop of the Diocese of Orlando, blessed the present Church site on 9th Street, Lake Wales, a Spanish-style building adorned with murals by Jose Agnar Ibañez of Spain.

On April 10, 1988, Bishop Thomas J. Brady dedicated Holy Spirit Catholic Church Lake Wales. On December 4, 1988, ground breaking took place for the for the Parish Center. It was used for the first time by the Men’s Club for their Sunday-morning coffee hours.

On March 1, 1989, the final mass in the former church at Highway 60 corner 11th Street was held and the keys were turned over to the Lake Wales Arts Council through Arch Updike, a parishioner representing the Arts Council. On November 12, 1989, the dedication of the Parish Center took place.

Installed on May 25, 1991, the Most Rev. Bishop Norbert M. Dorsey of the Diocese of Orlando, visited the Holy Spirit Church for the first time in November 1991 to officiate the first Confirmation held in the new church. During the year, the rectory on Highway 60 was sold; the rectory was moved into a home on Sunset Drive donated by former parishioners. 

As chaplain for the Nacrest area, Fr. Leo Dobosiewicz, bought and remodeled an old bank building at Nalcrest and established St. Leo Mission Church.

Fr. Leo, giving generously his time, energy, finances, and love, remodeled the St. William Academy for use for religious instruction to the youth and by the various Church ministries. During this same period, Vatican II brought about renovations and other changes in the Catholic Church. Mass was changed from Latin to English, altars were turned to face the congregation, kneeling rails were removed, and women were allowed to take an active role in liturgical services.

On a Sunday in March 2000, Fr. Felix Banos had a mortgage burning ceremony at all the Masses. But more projects were needed to be completed before his retirement, namely the stained glass windows in the sanctuary, the Marion windows in the chapel, and a Pentecost window over the front entrance. These were soon installed and paid for through the generosity of parishioners. Holy Spirit Parish was debt free for the very first time. By the time Fr. Banos retired in December 2000, the parish had 1,200 registered families served by Fr. Frank Cerio and assisted by Father John Olivier and Deacons Donald Raymond and John Avery from October 2000 through May 2001. 

Pastor Anthony Bluett hired Mrs. Terri Seitz as faith formation director for children, youth, and adults, coordinating the educational programs at Holy Spirit for grades Pre K through adult education, both English and Spanish and establishing under her guidance other programs, such as Women’s Retreats; Fall and Spring, God, Wine, and Cheese; “Why Catholic”; “Meeting Christ in Prayer”, Catholic Women Bible Study, and Lenten Series.

Fr. Glenn S. Charest became the parochial administrator on June 1, 2013. Fr. Leo died on September 4, 2013.

The Leo Mission was closed.

Fr. David Vargas became assumed as pastor in April 2016. The Holy Spirit parish engaged in various activities: Stations of the Cross on Fridays during Lent and Living Stations of the Cross by the Youth Group; Friday fish fries sponsored by the Knights of Columbus and Columbiettes; Seder Meal on Monday of Holy Week; Italian Night hosted by the Entertainment Committee; St. Patrick’s Day Party; Harvest Moon Ball; a Bon Voyage Extravaganza for Snow Birds; parish picnics in November of each year; and informal religious discussions every first Friday of the month and during breakfast socials at the Parish Center conducted by Fr. David Vargas.

The Diocese of Orlando sponsors a Sister Diocese in the Dominican Republic. Twice a year Sam Updike goes there to work, and over the years has had other parishioners go with him to see God’s plan in action. Every year he encourages anyone willing to work for people in need to come along with him.

In mid-March 2022, Fr. David Vargas was reassigned to another parish and was replaced by Fr. Luis S. Osorio in the capacity of parochial administrator, re-assigned from Guadalupana Mission Winter Haven. Earlier on January 12, 2022, Mrs. Linda Felix Dizon was appointed faith formation director for children, youth and adults.and in charge of Marriage, Quinceanera and reformatting of the parish website 

Fr. Luis aside from his pastoral duties has initiated some changes as he builds on the activities of his predecessors, including the streamlining of the various Church ministries and reorganizing the parish administration making Ms. Debbie Chiaccio the bookkeeper also as acting office manager, appointing  Mrs. Terrie Legein as the  new receptionist and taking care of the parish bulletin.  Father Luis also updated the office computers and telephones setting up a voice mail system for improved incoming  communication.