By the early 1940’s many parishioners of St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church in Overtown, – considered as the “Mother Church” for Black Catholics, – moved to the Liberty City area within Miami, FL, which just opened to Negroes, in search of better housing for their families. In order to secure their Catholic worship, it became necessary to secure transportation, often by bus or jitney, in order to attend church services. After personally enduring the inconvenience of this experience, the Reverend Joseph Cronin, SSJ, the pastor of St. Francis Xavier, had the concern and kindness to provide a bus for transporting the members in Liberty City to Mass at St. Francis on Sundays. Thus, the members were able to continue their worship without interruption.
As time went by, and the Liberty City members increasingly communicated with each other, they began to feel a dire need to organize an extended Catholic community in their area. Mrs. Helen Kelly, who had organized the Sunday school at St. Francis Xavier, was chosen as chairman of the Catholic interest group because of her strong leadership skills. She graciously accepted this honor. Mrs. Kelly first point of interest was to find out immediately if the members would be willing to start working toward building a Catholic church in Liberty City. Without hesitation the group wholeheartedly accepted the challenge because they shared a dream and were committed to seeing it become a reality.
Regular meetings were subsequently held at Mrs. Kelly’s home. The main source of income for the group was the sale of hot dogs, fish sandwiches, and cold drinks on Saturdays.
Mrs. Kelly also organized and conducted CCD classes at her residence. In the spring of 1941, a group of children who were prepared by Mrs. Kelly made their first holy communion at the downtown church, Gesu Catholic Church. However, the Sunday school membership soon outgrew Mrs. Kelly’s home. She then requested and received permission to use James E. Scott Community Center, and later sought to use a classroom at Dorsey High School.
The following year, the Sunday school was placed under the direction of St. Mary’s Catholic Church, and a young priest, Father Patrick Kehoe, was assigned to assist the group. He immediately began a door-to-door survey to determine how many Catholics were in the Liberty City area. In 1944 a very joyous occasion occurred when the first holy communion class was held at St. Mary’s Catholic Church followed by a breakfast in the school cafeteria.
By this time, Mrs. Kelly and the group contacted Archbishop Hurley of the Archdiocese of St. Augustine to inform him of the great need for a Catholic church in the Liberty City area.
In response to this request, he showed his concern by sending Reverend Father Alfred McDonald, a secular priest, to confer with the group. Father McDonald visited the homes of the members and submitted a report to the Diocese. During the next five challenging years, the members continued their meetings and worked extremely hard, sponsoring annual fund-raising activities such as baby contests and raffles.
A Parish Is Born
In 1945, a piece of property at N.W. 71st Street between 13th and 14th Avenues was purchased by the Archdiocese of St. Augustine, and plans began to develop for the new church. There was great anticipation among the members because they were holding on to their dream, a vision of a Catholic church built in Liberty City.
On a Sunday morning in late 1949 Father Joseph Cronin turned the first shovel of earth – the actual groundbreaking. Construction officially started at the site of the new parish. Many months later the new church was completed and plans were made for the formal dedication.
On December 10, 1950, Archbishop Hurley made a historic visit to Liberty City for the dedication of Holy Redeemer Catholic Church. The Reverend Joseph DeVaney was named the first pastor.
Father DeVaney was a truly dedicated, committed, zealous young priest whose organizational skills were superb. In implementing his projected vision for the future growth of Holy Redeemer, he called a meeting of the women within the parish. The women formed a financial committee which supported the financial needs of the church. He recommended that the group be named The Women’s Union and Mrs. Irma Bodie served as the first president. Later, the name was changed to the Blessed Martin’s Guild and after several years renamed again as the St. Margaret Mary’s Guild.
Through the years, St. Margaret Mary’s Guild provided strong financial support for the parish by sponsoring annual bazaars, baby contests, candy sales, thrift sales, and contests between Circle I and Circle II. As the church grew, the membership was gradually increased with a large number of converts, thereby allowing for the purchase of such much needed items as pews and kneelers.
From its very beginning, Holy Redeemer extended its influence not only in the Liberty City area but also throughout Dade County. In 1954, Father DeVaney traveled to Opa-Locka and offered Holy Mass for the Catholics in that area, thus St. Phillip Neri Catholic Church was started. Likewise, in 1956, he traveled to Coconut Grove and assisted in founding the mission that became St. Augustine Parish. In 1957, a third mission was established in Richmond Heights, later to become Christ the King Parish.
A neighborhood medical clinic for the poor was also set up at Holy Redeemer by the staff of Mercy Hospital. They supplied a nurse and medical doctor each Tuesday and Thursday to offer medical care and treatment to the poor, sick, and ailing. A small fee of $1.00 was asked, to cover the cost of medication.
Milestones in the Growth of Holy Redeemer Parish
1950 December 10th, Holy Redeemer Church Dedicated
1952 Holy Redeemer Social Hall completed
1954 Holy Redeemer School Completed and Opened
1955 Holy Redeemer School Dedicated
1961 Holy Redeemer Rectory Completed
1962 Holy Redeemer Church Renovated and Enlarged
1969 Holy Redeemer Library Dedicated
1979 Holy Redeemer School Celebrated 25th Anniversary
1981 Holy Redeemer Kindergarten Built
1982 Holy Redeemer Complete Renovation
1988 Holy Redeemer School Celebrated 35th Anniversary
1990 Holy Redeemer School Closed
1995 Holy Redeemer Supplemental Renovation
2000 Holy Redeemer 50th Church Anniversary
2000 Youth Group traveled to Belleville, Illinois to the National
Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows
2001 The Distinguished Entrepreneurs of America
(Young Men Mentoring Program within Parish)
2002 Kwanzaa Celebration Sponsored by Barbara Fisher and Sondra Wallace
2005 Renovation of the school building
2007 The 10th National Black Catholic Congress held in Buffalo, NY July 12th – 15th
2008 Renamed social hall to M. Athalie Range Hall
2009 Closing of St. Phillip Neri and St. Francis Xavier
2010 60th Anniversary Celebration
2015 Dr. Earl E. Allen Scholarship initiated by Phillip and Vanesther Fletcher