Early Residents of Pasco County – U


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Felix Ullrich Father FELIX WILHELM ULLRICH (1875-1953) was born June 25, 1875, in the province of Baden, the town of Freudenberg am Main. His father, Josef Michael, was a Schmiedemeister who had taught all of his sons to be blacksmiths; Wilhelm, though, had thoughts of being a priest. Perhaps his sister Elise, who had previously emigrated to the United States, wrote to him of the need for priests here. In 1891, at age 16, he came to the U. S. from the area of Germany known as Mittel Deutschland, and joined his sister in Philadelphia, where he worked for a while as kitchen helper and waiter. Then, guided on his path to the priesthood by Fr. Bernhard Dornhege, his pastor, he went to Maryhelp Abbey in Garabaldi, N. C., for his seminary studies. It was there that the Benedictines conducted Belmont College. His profession of vows was made on December 25, 1903, and, as a son of Saint Benedict, he became Felix. Bishop Kenny ordained him on December 18, 1906, at Saint Leo Abbey. His first Solemn Mass was offered on Christmas Day, at the altar of the Church of Saint Elizabeth in Philadelphia. This was the church where his beloved Father Bernhard Dornhege was pastor. One of his first missions after becoming a priest for Saint Leo Abbey was to serve the people of Cuba.

Father Felix came to Port Richey for the first time to officiate at the marriage of Mr. and Mrs. Oscar Herms on June 30, 1912. As the founding priest for the fledgling community of Catholics here, Father Felix celebrated the first Mass offered in western Pasco county in 1913 in the home of Mr. and Mrs. James H. Casey on Washington St. at Virginia Avenue in what was then Port Richey, according to a church history. For a few years, while planning and building the church which was completed in 1919, he made frequent trips from Saint Leo Abbey to minister to his flock in New Port Richey.

On March 9, 1919, the new church was dedicated by Abbot Charles, his Benedictine superior. On Mar. 27, 1919, the Port Richey Press carried this announcement: “CATHOLIC CHURCH. This church is now open for Divine Service and Mass will be said second Sunday each month. Rev. Father Felix, in charge. St. Leo Abbey, Fla.” Father Felix often stayed with friends in New Port Richey and for a time lived in the sacristy of the church before the rectory was built in 1922, when Father Felix became the first resident rector.

In 1921 the church was severely damaged by a hurricane The following is taken from ST. LEO’S, Volume IX, Number 1, June-Jan’y 1921-22:

Rev. and dear Father:

With the permission of my Superior and the Rt. Rev. Michael J. Curley [Bishop of Saint Augustine], Archbishop-Elect of Baltimore, I venture to appeal to you for help. Appointed as pastor of New Port Richey, Pasco Co., Fla., having just finished the church, I intended to build a parochial school, aiming to have it ready for the children by New Year.

The HURRICANE which swept this western part of Florida on October the 24 & 25 almost completely wrecked the church, so that I am forced to replace it. The present wrecked church, when repaired, will be the future school.

My people — about 75 souls — made heroic sacrifices for this church; now, however, with their groves damaged, the fruit nearly all destroyed, their homes suffering from the effects of the storm, and a debt of $650.00 on the church: they would rejoice as much as I and be grateful for any help you may extend me.

I was in the building before the Blessed Sacrament, when the tower, unable to resist the force of the winds longer, came crashing down, when the building left its foundations, and when the crucifix, the candles and candlesticks, the statues of the Blessed Mother, St. Joseph, the Sacred Heart, and St. Anthony were in one moment hurled to the floor, I commended my soul to God. But I am living and with your help I will try again.

Hoping that you will not forsake me in this need, and wishing you good health, I am

Yours sincerely in Christ,

Rev. Felix Ullrich, O.S.B.

This hurricane hit with such force that the building is said to have been turned ninety degrees. Family tradition has it that when parishioners gathered to return the building to its previous orientation Father Felix said, “If God wants Our Lady’s church to face the river we shall let it face the river.”

In Extension Magazine, May 1922, Father Felix wrote:

My church at New Port Richey was hurricaned last 25 Oct. By appealing to some of the clergy I was enabled to make repairs to safely hold services. Being here permanently I wish to make something of this place; have started a house; live in the sacristy; am cook and housekeeper, thus able to defray house expenses.

But! Paint, few furniture pieces, light fixtures, bathroom outfit for it, tank, gasoline engine, and a coat of paint for church will cost $550!

……A hard task before me, viz., the building of a new church so as to turn the present church into the future school [and Sisters home!]

In a fundraising appeal dated April 5, 1924, Father Felix wrote, “In this section of our country there is a great feeling against the Catholic religion. Even the Klu-klux-klan has visited this town and denounced everything Catholic, from the Italian right down through the various nations. For this reason I ask you to help a little, no matter how small, to buy a board or two for a parochial School.” On April 1, 1927, Father Felix began a campaign to raise funds for the erection of a new Catholic church on Washington Street, just north of the original 1919 building, according to the New Port Richey Press.

Father Felix was appointed professor of Spanish at Saint Leo College Preparatory School in 1932. In May of 1934 he was made pastor of Saint Anthony Church in San Antonio where he served through April of 1947. He died at Saint Leo Abbey on January 29, 1953.

In 1998 the state legislature designated the Anclote River bridge on State Road 54 as the Father Felix Ullrich Bridge. (photo)

[Most of the information for this entry was taken from Tidbits of history regarding Father Felix Ullrich, O.S.B., and OUR LADY QUEEN OF PEACE church (with an exhortation for the founding of Father Felix Ullrich School), compiled and edited by Eddie Herrmann P.O. Box 212, San Antonio, FL 33576-0212 copyright 1988.]

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