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Office Hours: Mon - Fri: 9 am to 1:00 pm
Saturday: Mass in Spanish 7:30 pm
Sunday: Mass @ 9:30 am
Confessions: 15 minutes before all Masses and by Appointment
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About San Juan Mission
THE HISTORY OF SAN JUAN MISSION CATHOLIC CHURCH
San Juan Catholic Mission has a long and fascinating history. It all began when Franciscan missionaries first came to Florida in 1573 and launched an all-out effort to convert the native people. They somehow succeeded in that effort where the Jesuit priests before them had failed. In all, the Franciscans may have established up to 140 missions throughout Florida, and converted around 16,000 Indians to Christianity. The Indians were sincere in their newfound faith, and many missionaries were amazed at the extraordinary piety of these people.
San Juan is named after a mission established between the years 1609-1612 on the banks of the Suwannee River at a site called Baptizing Spring. There the Spanish Franciscan missionaries built a mission to serve the Timucuan Indians of this area, naming it after St. John. The mission at Baptizing Spring was commonly known as San Juan de Guacara”---“Guacara” being the Timucuan name for the Suwannee.
It was a small mission that, at times, did not even have a resident priest. In 1656, the mission participated in an Indian revolt and suffered heavy losses. The next year it was moved from Baptizing Spring 7 miles west to a site at Charles Spring, and may also have been repopulated at that time by Indians brought in from other areas. The reason for the move was to place the mission at the point where the “Camino Real” crossed the Suwannee. The “Camino Real” was the “Royal Road” built by the Spaniards that stretched 350 miles westward from St. Augustine. The Governor wanted to use the Indians to ferry travelers across the river by canoe. Many Indians actually deserted the mission due to the great amount of work that was placed upon them. By 1675, San Juan’s population lists for the last time, and in 1691 it was attacked and destroyed by Apalachicola Indians. It had been in existence for approximately 80 years.
A long time passed before the next episode in the Catholic history of Branford. In 1905, Fr. P.J. Bresnahan, a missionary who traveled around Florida on horseback, arrived in the Branford area. He said Mass at a local school and administered the Sacraments to Catholics who had not seen a priest in many years. He wrote of his experiences in a book entitled, “Seeing Florida with a Priest”. Aside from Fr. Bresnahan’s visit, there is little evidence of any other missions preached, Sacraments given, or Masses celebrated in this area from 1691 to the late 20thcentury.
In the year 1976 the idea began to formulate that Branford could have its own Catholic mission again. The dream began with twelve families from the Branford area, along with Father William Kelly of Epiphany Church, Lake City, and Father Roland Julien of St. Madeleine’s, High Springs.
Not having a building in which to start this new mission, they approached the Branford United Methodist Church, whose pastor, Reverend Bruce Williams, graciously gave his permission for Masses to be celebrated there until a Catholic Church could be built. The first of these Masses took place on February 14, 1976, with about 25 people present. Fr. Julien became the pastor of the makeshift mission and continued as such until Fr. Thomas Gordon and his assistant Fr. Patrick Carroll, of Epiphany Church replaced him, in October of 1977. Under Fr Gordon’s leadership, by 1979 the Church had grown to 45 members and by 1981 it had reached 125.
In January of 1980, Bishop John J. Snyder visited the mission, and in response to requests from the Ladies’ Guild, promised his support in the building of a new Church. Soon a five-member building committee was elected to begin the planning for the structure. Rudy Smith became the chairman of the committee, along with members Winston Huff, Muriel Boyd, Charles Shirley and John Siedner.
In October of 1981, the dream began to take shape. The shape that it took was that of an old grocery store building! The G & H Grocery on Plant Street was purchased and the crew set to work on converting it into God’s home. Money for this project was raised through barbecue dinners and various other fund-raising events, a grant from Florida Missions, and a lot of help from the Diocese of St. Augustine.
Local contractor Scott Johnson was employed to renovate the building and Building Committee Chairman Rudy Smith led a group of volunteers who worked on the interior, doing everything from carpentry to electrical work to plumbing. Other parishes in the diocese contributed by donating furnishings and vestments.
Once the construction was completed it was decided to christen the new church on December 6, 1981. Many people gathered for this wonderful occasion. Led by Bishop Snyder, many priests, dignitaries, benefactors, guests, and members celebrated the first Mass together. In all, some 236 people attended.
In his homily, Bishop Snyder declared, “What we are witnessing today is something of a miracle.” He was right---a miracle of faith and perseverance. The new church was named after the old Franciscan mission of San Juan. With so many years between the establishments of the two missions, it is a testament to the enduring spirit of the Catholic faith that the connection with the past was maintained and passed on.
"Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see"