BRADENTON | Visit St. Joseph Parish in Bradenton and you will find something taking place at nearly all hours of every day of the year.
What you will discover will vary. It could be the faithful coming or going to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass; people praying in the Adoration Chapel or partaking in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. You might also find people at the Parish participating in the more than three dozen different outreach programs. Then again, maybe they are heading into the growing Catholic school and even others are there to stock shelves in the food pantry.
“St. Joseph has a certain welcoming feeling that draws people - it is a family,” said longtime parishioner and member of Parish Advisory Council, Mary Miller. “There is a connection here that people get that is down to earth. Everyone is so welcoming and warm.”
The parish’s Pastor, Father Rafal Ligenza, said that since his arrival in 2019 the faithful have been on a journey together building the Kingdom of God. Faithful come from far distances in Manatee County to attend Mass at St. Joseph, something Father credits to the faithful.
Named after the Protector of the Universal Church and foster father of Jesus, the Parish has roots dating back to 1869 when missionary priests served the area. The Parish’s was established in 1927, and the Catholic school in 1954. Bishop Frank J. Dewane consecrated the Diocese of Venice to a “Year of St. Joseph” March 19, 2020, the Solemnity of St. Joseph, in the context of the COVID-19 global pandemic. That year was extended upon Pope Francis creating a Universal “Year of St. Joseph from Dec. 8, 2020, to Dec. 8, 2021.
Bishop Dewane has often said although St. Joseph never says a word in the Bible, he is a model of obedience of what God asks of him. “St. Joseph freely and willingly accepted a vision he was given in life… to be the foster father of Jesus, but also the head of the Holy Family, the provider and the Protector.”
Father Ligenza said he is humbled to be at a Parish named after St. Joseph.
“There is so much faith in God here,” he said. “Every day we have people using the Gifts of the Holy Spirit in service to God. There is a passion about this Parish that the community has, and it is wonderful. We are growing together, obedient to the teachings of Christ.”
This support manifested itself when a big change was recently made. The tabernacle was moved to the center of the church, behind the altar. Previously, the tabernacle was in a Chapel at the back of the church building. The was because the choir sits behind the altar and no appropriate location was identified when the church was built. After some explaining and work, the tabernacle has a new home, properly at the rear center of the altar.
“Everyone understood because this puts the focus where it needs to be, on Our Lord at all times when we are in the church,” Father Ligenza said.
The Parish is home to the largest food pantry in Manatee County serving more than 1,000 families each month. There is also has a huge choir and vibrant religious education and youth program. CTG (Called to Greatness) is the parish’s middle school youth group, and it hosted a mini-retreat Nov. 17, 2021, in honor of November being the month of Holy Souls. The group talked about what living like a Saint means, what purgatory is, played a fun Saint game, focused on teamwork, and ended with a candlelight vigil for loved ones who passed away.
“There are great things happening here,” Father Ligenza said.
Miller has been a witness to many of those happenings since her family first came to St. Joseph in the 1970s, a time when the Parish was part of the Diocese of St. Petersburg prior to the establishment of the Diocese of Venice in 1984. She had tried to enroll her children into the Catholic school that was led by a religious order of sisters, but there was a waitlist. Eventually they were enrolled, and the Millers never left.
“When we came, we felt like we belonged,” Miller added. “After our children were enrolled in the school, my husband and I became more involved in the Parish and volunteered wherever we were needed.”
Miller’s husband, Walter, served many years on the Parish Advisory Council and the School Board and was pivotal in spearheading many efforts to support the Parish and school. The last major project he worked on before his death in 2020, was the installation of a new electronic sign in front of the Parish. His local ties helped make it happen and the sign is dedicated to his memory.
Miller was so involved as a volunteer in the Parish that she became a paid staff member for 20 years. When the time to retire came, she remained active in the Parish as a money counter, assisted in the food pantry and recently rejoined the Parish Advisory Board.
‘St. Joseph is where my heart is,” Miller said. “I pass other Catholic churches to come here. I know many other do as well. This is where the faith is and holds so strongly for many people.
The Parish has about 1,600 families and is located at 3100 26th Street W. Bradenton. Daily Mass is 8 a.m. Monday to Saturday, and weekend Masses are 4 p.m. Saturdays, and 7:30 a.m., 9 a.m., 11 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Sundays.