After years of construction, a grand structure greets the eyes of drivers passing by along Cross Creek Blvd. in New Tampa. By the time you’re reading this, St. Mark the Evangelist Catholic Church should be holding worship services in its massive new sanctuary.
On June 6, Diocese of St. Petersburg Bishop Robert Lynch officially dedicated the $10.1-million, 35,000-sq.-ft. sanctuary, along with many of the sculptures and religious relics inside it, in front of a crowd of more than 1,600 people.
“It’s a big load off my mind,” says St. Mark’s pastor, Father David DeJulio. “We’ve been at this (fund raising) for a number of years and finally we got a chance to put up this beautiful building and make the dream a reality. The dedication (ceremony) was absolutely beautiful. Bishop Lynch did a wonderful job dedicating the altar, the tabernacle and everything else. It was a magic moment in our history.”
It’s almost hard to believe that nearly 20 years ago, the church began in a storefront in the City Plaza shopping center (located off Bruce B. Downs [BBD] Blvd. in Tampa Palms), before holding services at Tampa Bay Presbyterian Church, also located nearby off BBD, and then in the Paul R. Wharton High gymnasium.
The original worship space at St. Mark’s, measuring 28,000 sq. ft. and with seating for 1,100, was built in 2000, three years before Fr. David came to the church. With more than 3,500 families currently in the congregation, he says the church finally has some extra space to breathe.
“We’re always packed out at the seams (during services),” Fr. David explains. “Space is always an issue here. Now that we have the new building, it’s going to create more space and be a wonderful place to worship.”
The new building features a huge sanctuary capable of seating 1,325 people, as well as a 225-seat daily chapel that church members will have access to 24 hours a day. Although separated by a removable glass partition, during the major holidays, that area can be opened up as overflow seating, expanding the new sanctuary’s seating capacity to 1,550.
And, much of the custom artwork that will adorn the walls and floors of the sanctuary was brought in from Italy, including a 13-ft. sculpture of the Crucifixion that is secured to a 35-foot, 40-ton cement cross positioned overlooking the altar. The sanctuary also includes a baptismal font that people will be able to step down into to be baptized one day per year. The font will be covered in glass the rest of the year. The new building also features sculptures of the “Prodigal Son” and the “Burning Bush.”
Ironically, a 1.5-acre brush fire caused by an actual burning bush briefly endangered both St. Mark’s buildings in May, which Fr. David admits made him pretty nervous.
“It got much closer than I thought it was going to,” he explains. “It was so dry out there and it just exploded.” The fire was quickly extinguished by Tampa Fire Rescue (TFR) crews from New Tampa Stations 21 and 22, both of which also are located on Cross Creek Blvd.
While the new sanctuary was dedicated three weeks before this issue came out, worship services just recently made the transition.
Fr. David says that workers still were finishing up putting some final touches on the new building at the time of the dedication, so he decided to keep services in the old building for a few more weeks. But, he said that services should be held in the new sanctuary as you’re reading this story. As for the original building, it will undergo a transition to become a community center and banquet hall for local events during the next six months.
Fr. David says that, if the church has enough money left over from its loan to build the new sanctuary, it will go about installing a full-service catering kitchen to the old building, which has the capacity for more than 500 banquet tables. He says that the church hasn’t yet decided on a name for the community center, but that regardless of its intended uses, it likely will still incorporate the church’s name into the name to honor the community that helped pay for its construction 15 years ago.
St. Mark is located at 9724 Cross Creek Blvd. For more info, please visit StMarkTampa.org or call 907-7746.