VERO BEACH | A letter from the late Msgr. Irvine Nugent, pastor of St. Helen from 1976 to 1999, was just one treasure among an array of memorabilia pulled from a time capsule unearthed by St. Helen Parish and showcased Sept. 16 after the 12:15 p.m. Mass.
Although he passed away in 2014, Msgr. Nugent’s spirit was momentarily brought to life when Deacon Joe DiMauro of St. Helen read the letter aloud at the special time capsule event, one of many activities planned over the next months leading up to the parish’s 100-year anniversary.
In the letter, Msgr. Nugent spoke of his gratitude toward those who built the parish, as well as his hopes for what the future would hold. “But we will keep planting the seeds of faith in our children, and we will keep watering and nurturing, knowing that God will provide the results,” the monsignor wrote.
He also wrote encouraging words for current parishioners, paraphrasing a famous quote from Charles H. Spurgeon, “The day we find the perfect Church, it becomes imperfect the moment we join it. Stay in the race, press on toward the horizon, and may the joy of the Spirit be present in all you do.”
Old newspaper clippings, photographs of priests and parishioners, and the other items of the container’s contents were set on display, while the Hispanic ministry served food and refreshments to the approximately 120 parishioners who attended. People chatted and shared stories as they looked through the items.
Deacon DiMauro read a second letter from the time capsule, written by Father Michael W. Edwards, pastor of St. Helen from 1999 to 2016. Father Edwards, now retired and living in Vero Beach, placed his letter in the time capsule when it was unearthed to celebrate St. Helen’s 90th anniversary before being buried again.
His letter praised the parishioners of St. Helen for their faith, generosity and hard work, encouraged people to unite for the benefit of the Church and asked for prayers for himself, as well as all the priests and parishioners. “I wish all of you the blessing of continuing discernment in the Holy Spirit, who is the guarantor of proper guidance in our life of faith,” he wrote.
After reading both letters aloud to parishioners, Deacon DiMauro was a bit overwhelmed and deeply touched. “What an honor it was to read that.”
The time capsule marks just one of many events the parish will be holding each month until June 2019 to celebrate the 100-year anniversary. The yearlong celebration began in June with a potluck. According to Laura Lewis of parish communications, the festivities will continue in full swing until June of 2019, when Bishop Gerald M. Barbarito will visit the parish and celebrate Mass to conclude the festivities.
Looking ahead, the parish is planning a harvest festival in November, a Christmas concert in December, a centennial gala in February and much more, building on the excitement of the centennial. Lewis speculated the parish may add more current mementos to the time capsule and rebury it in June for the generations to come.
St. Helen’s history began when Louis and Anna Schlitt moved to Vero from Missouri in 1918 because of Anna’s respiratory problems. The following June, the couple organized a small Mass in their home, and by the end of the year, this tiny celebration of the Mass was built into the first Catholic Church in Indian River County.
Nearly a century later, Louis and Anna’s granddaughter, Dolores Schlitt Barth D’Amore, still attends St. Helen Parish. According to the 88-year-old, the original St. Helen Church was built thanks to her mom and dad’s love story.
John Schlitt, one of six of Louis and Anna’s children, met Florence Miller while she was visiting from out of town. John immediately knew he would marry Florence, said D’Amore. But, Florence said she couldn’t live in Vero because there was no Catholic church. According to D’Amore, he said, “Oh, I’ll take care of that.”
By December 1919, St. Helen was established and built. While the parish has since relocated to an updated building, the original St. Helen structure is still standing and serves as a kindergarten classroom for St. Helen Catholic School.
Florence was an only child whose mother died when she was 3 years old. But in 1923, she joined the Schlitt family when she married John. And before her death in 1991, she was mother of eight, grandmother of 47 and great-grandmother of 52.
“She just wanted a family around her,” D’Amore said. “So, this made her life the best, best life she ever wanted.”
Almost 100 years later, Florence and John’s legacy continues. Many members of the family still live in Vero Beach and are parishioners of St. Helen, like D’Amore. She remembers when they buried the time capsule nearly 25 years ago, and she didn’t think she’d be around to see it unearthed.
“I’m just grateful to God that I’m still around to enjoy it all,” she said.