On the first Sunday of Advent in 1964 something that was, at once profound and monumental, was occurring in the Catholic Church. For the first time ever, the Mass was said in English. Also, instead of giving his back to the people, the celebrant began facing the faithful gathered for Mass. This was the result of the Second Vatican Council which Pope John XXIII saw as a new Pentecost for the Church which energized it with a new vitality.
Just a few months before in a quiet American suburb known as Temple Terrace, the same Holy Spirit who inspired Church leaders to embrace renewal, launched a new ministry. It would become, as it was intended, another place for the people of God to deepen their lives in Him and grow to be men and women grounded in the Gospel. So it was on a balmy Monday morning in 1964, in a special corner of God’s vineyard, Corpus Christi parish opened Corpus Christi Catholic School. With the help of the steadfast commitment of its Church leaders, educators, parents and parishioners, it would prove to be a place charged with the very Spirit of the living God till this day.
In 1964, Corpus Christi parish was a young six years old. It had been established through the efforts of its first parishioners whose missionary zeal provided the spark for a worshiping community focused on the Eucharist.
During the early 60’s, there was considerable growth in East Hillsborough County. In fact, Temple Terrace had become a booming community. While Temple Terrace still had very much of a small town feel, it was on the move and growing rapidly. In fact, in 1960, with a population of 3,800, it was named the second fastest growing city in the country.
Recognizing this growth, under the Episcopal leadership of Archbishop Joseph P. Hurley, Bishop of St. Augustine, efforts were begun to establish a school. It was Archbishop Hurley’s vision that fueled the efforts of the parish to start a school. Together with Fr. John Lawler, Principal, Mrs. Mary Binger and her teachers welcomed 96 students in grades one through four in September 1964. Once again the Gospel imperative to “go forth and teach” had resounded in human hearts and it would endure through the decades.
Mrs. Binger not only worked with Fr. John Lawler, but also in the next year, she worked with Corpus Christi’s new pastor, Fr. Brendan Lawlor. With Fr. Brendan, she established a kindergarten for the school in 1965. Principal Mary Binger provided the school with its all-important start until 1966 when the parish contracted with the School Sisters of Notre Dame (SSND) of the Baltimore province. The SSND’s were highly regarded educators who had already established themselves in other parish schools. Sister Tecla Marie, SSND (nee Joan Blocket) became the first religious to be principal of Corpus Christi Catholic School. Fr. Ned Condron worked with Sr. Tecla until a new principal was assigned. Sister Mary Zetta LaValle, SSND arrived in 1967 and would be the longest tenured principal of Corpus Christi Catholic School to date.
Amazingly, Sr. Zetta had the opportunity to work with six pastors! In addition to a brief year with Fr., Condron, Sr. Zetta worked hard to continue to build a strong foundation for the school with pastors, Fr. J.P, Moran, Fr. Frank Mouch, Fr. Joseph Wiseman, Fr. Jerome Carosella and Fr. Nicholas McLoughlin.
Fr. Jerome Carosella, with Sr. Zetta, proceeded with the expansion of the school with the addition of a new wing in 1972. Originally, only the upper wing, which currently houses grades 3 & 4 and the Spanish and music classrooms, was erected. The current middle school wing came to be in 1972.
The next pastor, Fr. Nicholas McLoughlin was a beloved priest who proved to be a pastor with a tremendous sense of dedication to Corpus Christi Catholic School and was instrumental in laying a sound foundation for education in the faith in the school’s formative years.
In 1974, Fr. McLoughlin and Sr. Zetta would proudly stand and confer diplomas on 29 students, the first ever graduates from Corpus Christi Catholic School.
After nine years of dedicated service, Sr. Zetta moved to the Diocese of Venice. Sr. Constance M. Coulter, SSND became the fourth principal of Corpus Christi Catholic School. Under the guidance of Fr. McLoughlin, Sr. Constance continued the tradition of excellence at Corpus Christi. In the last year of Sr. Constance’s administration, Corpus Christi parish got a new pastor as Fr. Michael Lydon began a three year term.
During Fr. Lydon’s term, in 1983, the Sisters of St. Francis of Syracuse, New York began their ministry at Corpus Christi with Sr. Francis Anthony Sochor, OSF. Sister was a competent, focused administrator. Under her expert leadership, the school’s initiation into the world of technology began. Sr. Mediatrice Hutchinson, OSF, also a Syracuse Franciscan to take on the principalship from 1985 through 1988. Throughout her tenure at Corpus Christi, Fr. Paul Goudreau was pastor. Fr. Goudreau remained at Corpus Christi for five years. His expertise and love for education as well as his amicable personality were assets to the school.
Sister Clarice Moyle, O.P., a member of the Dominican Sisters of Adrian, Michigan, became Corpus Christi’s seventh principal. Her time at Corpus Christi was brief but packed with innovation. Sr. Clarice introduced many new programs and was responsible for the renovation of the Media Center in what is now the Boathouse.
Mrs. June Vento, a longtime teacher at Corpus Christi, served as the school’s next principal beginning in 1990. Also in 1990, Fr. Alan Weber became pastor of Corpus Christi. He and Mrs. Vento were instrumental in starting a Pre-Kindergarten program in 1991. Mrs. Vento also began the Extended Day Program which has become indispensable, even today, for so many families.
While Temple Terrace flourished in the early 1960’s, the northernmost part of the parish was uninhabited until the 1980’s. It was then that this area rapidly grew with the development of Tampa Palms and other large subdivisions north to the Hillsborough-Pasco county line.
Fr. Weber began a weekly Saturday vigil Mass in this booming area, soon to be well known as “Tampa Palms.” Fr. Weber’s initiative eventually developed into the establishment of St. Mark the Evangelist Parish.
Mrs. Vento was followed by Mr. Paul Archer who still serves on the faculty. Mr. Archer only worked with Fr. Weber for one year. Then in 1996, Fr. Brendan Lawlor returned to Corpus Christi to be its pastor once again. According to many of his “fans,” Fr. Brendan gave definition to the word “Pastor” as he was a true pastoral presence in the school.
Mr. Archer had a brief prinicipalship and was followed by Mrs. Margaret Penn who came to Corpus Christi from the public school system. Mrs. Penn brought many creative educational programs to the school. With Fr. Lawlor, she launched the initiative for a new wing in the lower northeast quadrant of the campus. The project came to completion under the auspices of Corpus Christi’s new pastor, Fr. Joseph Waters who arrived in 2000.
In 2005, Dr. Carmen Caltagirone, a long-time Catholic educator, became principal of Corpus Christi. Known to the children as Dr. Cal, she brought a wealth of experience and expertise to Corpus Christi. She and Fr. Waters teamed up to acquire accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (Advanced Ed), a distinction held by very few elementary schools. Dr. Cal introduced Convocation as an added prayer opportunity for students, electronic grade reporting, the Early Drop-off Program and other initiatives. With Fr. Waters, Dr. Cal was instrumental in a major renovation of the Parish Center.
Fr. Waters left Corpus Christi in 2009, having been appointed as rector of our diocesan cathedral. The school community welcomed Fr. Robert Cadrecha as its new pastor. A native son of the Tampa Bay area, Fr. Cadrecha brought a new spirit of Christian joy to the parish.
In 2015, Fr. Michael Smith was appointed as Pastor of Corpus Christi Parish. Fr. Mike excels in many areas as a pastor and has brought not only pastoral skills but also many management skills that have positively impacted the parish and school.
It is absolutely certain that God rewards the efforts of those who care for his children. The small inconspicuous school nested among the oak trees in Temple Terrace has seen over 1,000 young men and women graduate and go on to high school. The vast majority of those graduates went on to graduate from Tampa Catholic High School, the Academy of the Holy Names and Jesuit High School. The seeds planted at Corpus Christi Catholic School have blossomed into great things for many of its graduates. They have gone on to great institutions of learning including but not limited to the University of Notre Dame, Harvard University, Catholic University of America, Georgetown University and Penn State. Corpus Christi graduates include physicians, nurses, attorneys, heads of business, professional athletes, law enforcement officers, stock brokers, teachers, journalists and college professors.
Over the half century, Corpus Christi has weathered many storms, especially those economic hard times which seriously impacted enrollment and threatened its continued viability. But the people of Corpus Christi always came through. The riches of this school lie in the hearts of the individuals and families who have joined as the Body of Christ to provide children with a quality faith-based education.
Corpus Christi has stood tall for over 50 years, maintaining a strong Catholic identity and fiscal soundness. Undoubtedly, it is God’s grace that has brought us to this moment of celebration of one-half century of serving His people!
With little fanfare on that summer day in 1964, there began a school that was to touch the hearts of hundreds of students and plant the seeds of the Gospel. In fifty years, there is no doubt that the men and women who have ministered at Corpus Christi were busy being the Church that Jesus founded; that they took seriously the Gospel mandate “to go forth and teach.” They have done so on good days and on bad days, when there was discord and when there was peace. Even when they were weary and spent, they remained faithful.
The measure of the school’s success does not lie in its standardized test scores or in the elaborateness of its technology or in the number of graduates who eventually moved on to great universities. It lies in fidelity to God and in how well it has nurtured in students a deep abiding love for Jesus Christ.
Corpus Christi continues to maintain a strong culture for learning always rooted in its Catholic Identity. Over the previous 50+ years, its Catholic identity has been authenticated by its immersion in the Catholic Church. As the school begins its second half-century, we acknowledge the gift of God’s grace which has sustained us for 50 years. May God continue to be honored and praised in this place. And, we ask all the faithful to pray with us, asking God to help us to continue to be, in the words of Pope Benedict XIV, “a place to encounter the living God who in Christ Jesus, reveals his transforming love.” (April 7, 2008 address to Catholic educators in Washington D.C.).