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St. Martha's Mission Church

Markers: Sarasota History

Credit: Sarasota History Alive!
Location: Adelia Street and Fruitville Road, Sarasota, FL

Sarasota History - St. Martha's Mission Church photo

Beginning in 1889, circuit-riding Jesuit priests served the pastoral needs of Sarasota's small, but devoted Catholic community. In 1912, after years of meeting in various homes, the congregation built a small wooden mission church at Adelia and Fruitville Roads on lots donated by Owen Burns and the T.C. Callan and George McAlpine families. The mission church was named in honor of St. Martha, the patron saint of Owen Burns' mother, Martha Ann. The church celebrated its first mass in February, 1913.

Following World War I, new families moved into the area, pews were purchased and a choir loft was constructed. In 1927, with a congregation numbering 132, St. Martha's gained parish status when Father Charles L. Elslander became the resident pastor, a position he held for forty years.

(Reverse side)

The winter quarters of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus fell within the parish boundaries, and Father Elslander reached out to the circus community; this included the annual blessing of the circus train as it embarked on its national tour. From 1935-1941, the circus gave performances to benefit the church.

The Great Depression was a difficult period for the church, but through the dedication of its parishioners, the parish not only survived, but also expanded. The present church celebrated its first mass on Easter Sunday 1941, and its official dedication in 1942. Parish organizations continued to use the mission church as a parish hall and for various activities that included serving Sunday breakfast to World War II servicemen stationed at Sarasota Air Field.

In 1959, the mission church was dismantled to make room for a new rectory and parking.

Dedicated by the Sarasota Historical Commission in 2009.

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