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, corrected dates in lines 1 and 2, 8/2/07
May be reproduced in whole or part with appropriate source credit
Wilhelm Ullrich had come to America in 1891 from the area of Germany known as Mittel Deutschland. He was born, June 25, 1875, in the town of Freudenberg am Main in the province of Baden. His father, Josef Michael, was a Schmiedemeister and had taught his sons to be blacksmiths; but Wilhelm had thoughts of being a priest, feeling he could be more help to people in that vocation. Perhaps his sister Elise, who had previously emigrated to the United States, wrote to him of the need for priests here.
He came, at the age of sixteen, and joined her 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 the town of Garabaldi, North Carolina) 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.
Because one of his first missions after becoming a priest for Saint Leo Abbey was to serve the people of the Isle of Pines (Cuba), I will tell a little bit of the history of the Ullrich family there.
Father Felix was enthusiastic about the opportunities for a blacksmith there and enticed his brother Ludwig to come and open a shop. Uncle Louie liked the tropical life so well that he married Meta Gabriel, his island sweetheart, and raised a family there.
According to Elena Ullrich Cleveland, their daughter, the youngsters completed the schooling that was available on the island and then came, one by one, to the “States” for further education. They came to the Atlanta area where the Gabriel family had relatives. Gertrude, Elena, Alma, Luis, and Theresa liked life in the United States and settled down to begin their own families. The second child (the oldest son), Arthur, remained in the town of Nueva Gerona, where his shop was located just a few minutes drive from his father’s farm.
After the Castro revolution they remained as long as they thought prudent. Finally, life under Communist rule became unbearable so they applied for permission to come to America. In October of 1966, after a long government imposed delay, they left their homes and the shop for the promise held out by the United States. By this time they were penniless but, at least, and at last, they were able to join Arthur’s siblings in the Atlanta area.
Father Felix had also convinced his brother Max, my grandfather, to leave Freudenberg and come to the Isle of Pines to work with Ludwig. But when Abbot Charles (Mohr, O.S.B.) called Father Felix back to Saint Leo Abbey in 1912, Max came instead to San Antonio where, he was assured, a good blacksmith was also needed. That change in plans is what has placed me here where I have lived all of my life, for Rose, one of the daughters of Max and Babette (Barbara), grew up in San Antonio and married Joe Herrmann. I am the eldest child of nine; five boys and four girls.
As the founding priest for the fledgling community of Catholics in New Port Richey in 1913, Father Felix said the first Holy Mass there on the dining room table of William and Mary Casey. He had a special devotion to Our Lady and it was very fitting that the name chosen for the new mission was, — OUR LADY, QUEEN OF PEACE.
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. Abbot Charles Mohr, O.S.B., S.T.D. (Doctor of Sacred Theology), his Benedictine superior, dedicated the church March 9, 1919 and Father Felix became its first resident “rector” in 1922.
Although the mission priests were commonly referred to as pastors, the only resident “pastor” at that time (in the three county area served by the Order of Saint Benedict) was in San Antonio at Saint Anthony of Padua Church. The other churches were not canonical parishes until much later.
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.
Father Anton Ullrich, Stadtpfarrer (pastor) at Tauberbischofsheim, Germany when Father Felix died in 1953, had answered his call to the priesthood because of the influence of Father Felix. He prepared a tribute from the “Familie Ullrich” in the home town of Freudenberg.
The information that follows comes from sources which are identified. Since this is a continuing project, I solicit input from persons with knowledge of other facts or anecdotes. If you have information that counters what I have, I would be interested in receiving that as well. The spelling, grammar and capitalization are true to the original material being quoted. You will find frequent use of the letter “P” to indicate “Father”. (P=Pater=Father)
from THE ST. LEO CADET, Volume I, Number 2, June 1919
In a later paragraph under the same heading:
A series of Lenten sermons were preached in St. Anthony’s Church, San Antonio, Fla., by Rev. Fr. Francis, O.S.B., Rev. Fr. Augustine, O.S.B., Very Rev. Fr. John, O.S.B., Rev. Fathers Felix, and Matthew, O.S.B.
from THE ST. LEO CADET, Volume II, Number 2, June 1920
Later under the same heading was this:
Under “PERSONALS” in the same publication we find:
from ST. LEO’S, Volume IX, Number 1, June-Jan’y 1921-‘22
from ST. LEO’S, Volume IX, Number 1, June-Jan’y 1921-‘22 3
Editor’s note: This hurricane hit with such force that the building was turned ninety degrees. Family history 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.”
from ST. LEO’S, Volume IX, Number 1, June-Jan’y 1921-‘22
(The article is accompanied by a photo of the relatively undamaged church with the note, “Tower blown down; Church moved from its base.”)
from ST. LEO’S, Volume IX, Number 2, Jan’y-June 1921-‘22
from ST. LEO’S, Volume X, Number 1, June-Jan’y 1922-‘23
Editor’s note: P. Kiissel may be Peter Kissel
(Vol. X, No. 1 also had the following reprint of a letter of solicitation that was accompanied by a photo of the church and followed by a printer’s note: “25,000 of these Appeals were issued 2 Nov. ‘22 on 2-ply Urano cards 3½ x 5½, which stacked up, measured 25 feet.”
Included in the “MINUTES, Conference of the Clergy of the Diocese of St. Augustine”
also from ST. LEO’S, Volume XI, Number 1
(A reprint of a letter dated 4-5-‘24. A printer’s note showed that 2,000 were addressed “Dear Friend:” while 18,000 were sent to “Rev. and dear Father:”)
From his nephew, Franz Anton Ullrich of Wauchula, FL, April 1988:
“I can’t say for sure if it was ever completed, but Father Felix had plans for a Lourdes Grotto that was to be built in a ‘sinkhole’ about half-way between the church and the river. It was a beautiful spot for such a shrine and was one of his dreams. This would have been sometime in the mid 1920s. I know it was after the big hurricane of 1921.”
Franz also told of “rows and rows” of Amaryllis (lilies) that Father Felix had in a garden near the church. Franz was there in the early 1920s to give Father a hand with his gardening and one of the chores was to hoe the beautiful rose garden and the Amaryllis rows. He said that Father Felix was successful in crossing and hybridizing the flowers to produce new varieties.
FOLLOW-UP: On a visit to the sinkhole I found that it was virtually filled with limbs, leaves, and other compostable materials that the City of New Port Richey had placed there to keep it from being a hazard. I could find no one that knew of a shrine having been built there. There is a shrine, dedicated to the memory of Father Felix and located on the grounds of the old church, that was built by Father Aloysius Dressman, O.S.B., during his tenure as pastor.
My mother, Rose Ullrich Herrmann, said it was funded by donations that were collected mainly by “Tante Lieschen” (Aunt Elizabeth). She was Mrs. Peter Kissel, nee Czaska. I grew up calling the couple Onkel Peter and Tante Lieschen, even though they were not actually related to the family.
They made frequent trips, from their Massachusetts Avenue home, to San Antonio and Saint Leo to visit Father Felix and all of the Ullrichs. For a while, Tante Lieschen served as Father’s housekeeper when he was pastor at Saint Anthony parish.
“Uncle Pete” had known the Ullrichs in Germany where he worked in the mines. When the miner’s chisels needed to be sharpened he would bring them to the Ullrich shop in Freudenberg where Max worked in the “Ullrich Schmiede”.
from the SOUVENIR OF THE SILVER JUBILEES booklet, 1927
(Regarding a trip to the missions served by Saint Leo Abbey.)
Later in the same booklet:
from the book, SAINT LEO GOLDEN JUBILEE, 1890-1940
It was a remarkable coincidence that one of those who cared for him in his last days was Frater Michael Leap. Later, as Father Michael Leap, O.S.B., he was the last Benedictine pastor of Our Lady Queen of Peace when the parish began to be staffed by clergy of the Diocese of Saint Petersburg.
The following paragraphs are quoted from my 1984 paper,
PRIESTS SERVING THE PEOPLE OF SAINT ANTHONY OF PADUA PARISH
Fr. Felix Ullrich, OSB, May 1934 [thru April 1947]
Remembered as having said that if he hadn’t been called to the priesthood he most certainly would have been a horticulturalist, Fr. Felix began his pastorate in May of 1934.
Before coming to St. Anthony parish, he had been successful in New Port Richey. He had been the founding pastor there in 1913 and used profits from his greenhouse to help build OUR LADY QUEEN OF PEACE church. Many of the palm trees around New Port Richey are said to have been raised by Fr. Felix from seed. His name appears on the list of those signing the “petition for incorporation” of that municipality. He would, of course, build a greenhouse in San Antonio when he came here. This allowed him to raise a large percentage of the flowers and plants needed at St. Anthony Church. The greenhouse is now the classroom which is located behind the church. He is also remembered as being responsible for several other major improvements. Some of them are mentioned in the Saint Leo Golden JUBILEE, p. 78, where it states, “Under his capable administration an attractive grotto, shrine of Saint Anthony, and concrete walls [i.e., stone walls (eh)] have been erected, as well as a magnificent liturgical altar in the church. A fine pipe organ was recently installed.”
He replaced the amber “milk-glass” windows with stained glass. The “magnificent” altar was later removed and replaced with the one still in use today. Old-timers, most notably the Legeres, tell of his introducing several species from the Isle of Pines. Among them were the pink flesh guava and the “lady palm.”
Editor’s note: You can see from the numerous references in his correspondence that Father Felix had a dream that could still come true; the establishment of a parochial school. With the population explosion in western Pasco County, the Catholic religion is no longer the kind of minority it once was. Many Catholic parents are willing to, and do, make the sacrifices necessary to send their children to distant Catholic schools. They know, as Father Felix did, of the advantages for children receiving such an education.
With the many Catholic parishes that are spinoffs of OUR LADY QUEEN OF PEACE parish, it seems that an attainable goal would be the establishment of an inter-parochial school — FATHER FELIX ULLRICH SCHOOL. Such a school could provide quality education for mind and soul and be the realization of a dream. Let’s pray for, and work towards, this goal.
The Knights of Columbus of western Pasco County would the logical group to spearhead this drive. Knights throughout the country have a reputation for being involved in projects like this and members of Father Felix Council #5869, which was instituted in 1965, certainly would have a vested interest in this endeavor.
In closing, it would be appropriate to give credit to several persons who made a paper like this possible. My initial interest in local history had come from looking at the collection of Saint Leo College yearbooks that my father had saved. Then, around 1950, Father Edgar Lang, O.S.B., returned from his teaching position at Catholic University of America to become Prior at the abbey and to teach at the Saint Leo College Prep School (where I was a student). He remembered having taught my father and took a liking to me. My interest was piqued when he gave me his collection of ST.LEO’S and ST. LEO CADETs. He said that he thought it would be better to give the books to someone with an interest in them than to add them to the abbey collection where they would be duplicates. What a stroke of good fortune for me!
These books from Father Edgar have provided a mountain of information on many topics that are of interest to our community at large as they contain data on a myriad of subjects. In fact, you will notice that much of the information contained in this paper came from the books Father Edgar gave me. The Saint Leo Abbey collection that Father Edgar spoke of, stems from the Benedictine tradition of abbey archives being a repository of historical data. For instance, the first available records of Saint Anthony parish, the pioneer parish of the Order of Saint Benedict in Florida, were placed there. They were written by Mr. Josef Kast, one time Saint Anthony sacristan, in his compilation called CHRONICK, and by Father Gerard Pilz, O.S.B., the first Benedictine priest to serve San Antonio Colony. Then, Father Benedict Roth, O.S.B., started the reportedly immense abbey scrapbook collection. The Kast, Pilz, and Roth works were later used by the editors of the publications for both the silver and golden jubilees at Saint Leo Abbey. You can see that the archives at Saint Leo Abbey could be a Godsend for those researching our local history. Let us give thanks for those who have gone before us who had the foresight to document these important historic materials.
+May their souls Rest In Peace!
1. The original decretum, dated June 1, 1887 at Rome, Italy, entrusted all of Hernando County to the spiritual care of ‘the Fathers of the Order of Saint Benedict.’ Since Pasco and Citrus counties were formed from Hernando on June 2, 1887, the priests of Saint Leo Abbey became the spiritual fathers of the three counties.
2. The article was accompanied by a photo of Father Felix Ullrich, O.S.B., and by a photo of the Washington Street church building. The same article was published in the SOUVENIR OF THE SILVER JUBILEES, published November 24, 1927 to memorialize the raising of Saint Leo Priory to the status of abbey and to honor Abbot Charles Mohr, O.S.B., S.T.D., who was the first Abbot.
3. This undated letter of solicitation was reprinted in ST. LEO’S, Volume IX, Number 1, June-Jan’y 1921-’22.