St. Stephen Church - Our Story
In the mid Twentieth Century the Catholic presence in the Greater Hollywood Area resembled very little that reality of the Church that we are all so familiar today at the beginning of the Twenty-first Century. The only Catholic Church in the vicinity at that time was The Church of the Little Flower which took care of the entire Greater Hollywood (South Broward) area.
Eventually, the Catholics of this region felt the need to worship near their own local community. Neighbors from West Hollywood and Miramar petitioned the priests from Little Flower to hold services within their own geographical communities and on September 6, 1953, 250 people gathered to worship! Yet, those beginnings were definitely simple. Liturgies were held at an unfinished Community Civic Center located at Glenn Parkway. ‘Wooden orange crates’ served as ‘the Altar Table’; ‘cement blocks topped with wooden planks’ served as ‘pews’; ‘a dinner bell’ announced ‘the Consecration’ ... nevertheless, ‘true catholic fervor’ filled that sacred space!
From this humble beginning things grew rapidly: April 24, 1954 ~ Fr. Donleavy from Little Flower blessed the ground on which the new Church was to be built off from State Road 7. July 10, 1954 ~ Fr. Donleavy celebrated Mass inside a building that would serve the St. Stephen's Catholic community temporarily. January 15, 1956 ~ Bishop Hurley dedicated the completed smaller Church Building (half of the existing building) during the 10 AM service.
Within a few years that same structure was enlarged to accommodate the large numbers of parishioners that attended mass on a regular basis here. August 12, 1956 ~ Fr. Robert Schleffen was commissioned to become the first Pastor of St. Stephen the Protomartyr Church and celebrated the first Eucharist marking the beginning of St. Stephen's as an independent parish from Little Flower Church. The people from the community immediately set out to do the work of the Lord and a key expression of this was the establishment of our Catholic School in 1956.
Like the Church itself, Saint Stephen Catholic School had simple beginnings. The first classes, under the direction of The Sisters of Saint Joseph, were held within the Church building itself. Our first school building was completed for the 1957 school year, and handled grades 1-6. Once again the vitality and the growth of the community demanded expansion to two buildings and up to 8th grade. Unfortunately, over time, with the changing demographics of the area, and the diminished economy causing low enrollment, St. Stephen School closed in 2009 along with 9 other diocesan schools. The school buildings are currently being rented by a public charter school, Somerset East Preparatory Academy.
During the first twelve years, St. Stephen's was staffed by diocesan priests that faithfully served the people of this community. But in 1968, Archbishop Coleman F. Carroll invited the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, a congregation of Religious Brothers and Priests, to oversee the parish. The Oblates carried out this duty for 45 years until July 1, 2013 when the Oblates turned the parish back over to the Archdiocese.
The population growth and development of the faith in this area did not cease with the founding of St. Stephen Church. What began so simply in 1953 has resulted in the establishment of several other faith communities. St. Stephen's has given rise to Annunciation, Nativity, St. Bartholomew, St. Bernadette, and St. Boniface. Also, by mid 1970’s Hispanics started moving into the South Broward area and with their influx a new cultural challenge arose. Thus, St. Stephen began to minister "en Español", welcoming with open arms the providential gift of ‘New Blood’ into our parish family.
During the 1991 Triduum Celebrations, the interior of the Church was redesigned and refurbished in order to celebrate our 35th Anniversary. The work included a new ‘Sanctuary’ and ‘Narthex’ (vestibule entrance), a new ‘Chapel for Daily Mass and Eucharistic Reservation’, a new ‘Cry Room’, a new ‘Gift Shop’, a ‘Carillon’ (electronic bell system) and a new ‘Choir Rehearsal Room’ which included a new Allen Organ for our Church Worship and Sound System.
The concept and design for the newly refurbished areas were commissioned by future St. Stephen pastor, Fr. Alex Roque, OMI who for 10 years worked as an Architectural Designer in the South Florida area prior to becoming a Missionary Oblate and an Associate Priest here in 1988. Also, the ‘Stained Glass’ windows and the original hand-woven tapestry piece in the daily chapel - ‘The Creation’ - were commissioned and fashioned to beautify our worship space from the renown stained glass artist, Sister Diane Couture, SSJ.
Subsequently, on August 1992 Hurricane Andrew affected the southern part of Miami-Dade County forcing thousands of Hispanics and African-Caribbean people to move into many areas of North Miami-Dade and Broward Counties. Once more the face of Saint Stephen Catholic Church was changed. Today Hispanics and African Caribbean Islanders make up the majority of the worshipping community of this parish family. Under the motto of "ONE LORD, ONE FAITH, ONE BAPTISM" we have brought this multi-ethnic / multi-language Catholic community together into the Twenty-First Century.
The pastors that assisted in guiding this community of faith to this day are: • Rev. Robert Schleffen (diocesan) • Rev. T. J. Geary (diocesan) • Rev. James F. Nelan (diocesan) • Rev. Vincent Cashman (diocesan) • Rev. William McGuire, OMI (religious) • Rev. Joseph Schwab, OMI (religious) • Rev. Joseph Milford, OMI (religious) • Rev. John Hanley, OMI (religious) • Rev. James Taggart, OMI (religious) • Rev. Stephen Conserva, OMI (religious) • Rev. Alejandro Roque, OMI (religious) and currently Fr. Patrick Charles (diocesan).
A history is the ‘story of the past’… yet ‘the past can say much about the future’. Our ‘half-a-century’ legacy is one that contains the key elements of faith, sacrifice, dedication, vision, and love. With such a heritage our future certainly seems bright and we can continue to claim that St. Stephen is "OUR LITTLE CORNER OF GOD'S KINGDOM" well into tomorrow!