PORT ST. LUCIE | When Ben Inserra, a longtime parishioner of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton thinks about why he loves his community, he quickly points to the caring, warm and friendly spirit of the parish.
“You can’t come in here without someone putting their arm around you and lifting you up,” said Inserra, who is chairman of the parish council. “The parish staff is terrific too. When we started fundraising for the new church, we got great backing from everyone. It’s just a matter of time until we reach our goal.”
The faith community of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Port St. Lucie gathered Sept. 16 to commemorate the parish’s silver anniversary, and the shepherd of the Diocese of Palm Beach was there in celebration and with congratulations, praises and blessings.
“It’s evident that this is a loving and welcoming church family,” said Bishop Gerald M. Barbarito, main celebrant for the parish Mass that was standing room only.
“You are true to your mission statement, which is to invite others to the faith by the way you live yourselves. When I was here for your 10th anniversary, it was one of my first visits in the diocese,” explained Bishop Barbarito about his tour back then when he was first appointed bishop of the Diocese of Palm Beach in 2003. “Even then, a welcoming spirit and sense of faith greeted me. The liveliness and spirit that are present show you are a family of faith. And as a family we come together. Faith makes a difference in our lives in joyful and difficult times. Faith embraces us so we can embrace others with love.”
St. Elizabeth was founded Sept. 1, 1993, with humble beginnings. Father Clarence Podgorski, formerly of Holy Family Parish in Port St. Lucie, Holy Spirit in Lantana and St. Helen in Vero Beach, was appointed first administrator.
The parish facilities began in a home located on Port St. Lucie Boulevard. Father Podgorski and pioneer faithful transformed the residence into parish offices and a chapel for worship. Ministries began forming and the flock began to grow.
In 1995, the parish had firmly established its mission and identity, and Father Podgorski was officially installed as pastor. A year later, modular units and a large tent for outside worship were placed on the 10-acre parish property to better serve the growing spiritual family.
On Jan. 31, 1999, the parish celebrated the dedication of a multipurpose building constructed on parish grounds. The building was designed to meet the needs of people joining the parish from the growing southwest Port St. Lucie area which was going through tremendous development. Six months after the spiritual family celebrated the expansion of facilities, they came together to grieve the lost of their shepherd. Father Podgorski suddenly died at the age of 68, but will be forever remembered as getting the parish started and instilling the loving spirit that exists today throughout the parish.
Father Edmund Szpieg, formerly of St. Joan of Arc Parish in Boca Raton, was appointed pastor. He continued to grow the parish for the next 15 years. In 2014, Father Son Linh Hoang was appointed parochial administrator and then pastor. He helped turn a page in the parish history as he became leader and set out to continue ministries, and refurbish parish buildings and grounds. When he arrived, he told the Florida Catholic that his vision was to “continue to grow the parish in the footsteps of past leaders.”
Today, the parish has more than 1,000 registered families and last year, it launched a capital campaign aimed at constructing a new church building. The goal is $3 million.
Father Hoang and Father Andre Dumarsais Pierre-Louis of the parish, Father Charles Notabartolo, vicar general/moderator of the curia, Father Brian King, episcopal secretary, and other guest clergy of the diocese concelebrated the Mass. At the conclusion of the celebration, Father Hoang thanked Bishop Barbarito and all the clergy for joining in the joyous parish celebration.
“We gather as a family and cry together and laugh together and hopefully will do that for 25 years to come,” he said. “We gather for baptisms, weddings and funerals, in good moments and bad. We are all one family. From the bottom of my heart, I am blessed to be among you. I choke up easily, but from the bottom of my heart, for as long as I live, I want to be your pastor.”
Bishop Barbarito asked for God’s blessing for the congregation, the pastor and parish clergy, and he prayed for everyone to be blessed 25 times 25 years to come.