History of Espiritu Santo


The History of Espiritu Santo begins with the history of the Catholic faith first being carried to Florida’s west coast in 1539 by Hernando Desoto. In his search for wealth, Desoto landed on the shores of what is now known as Tampa Bay on Pentecost Sunday, where he discovered five mineral springs near a large Tocabago Indian village. He named the body of water Bahia Espiritu Santo (Bay of the Holy Spirit) in honor of the holy day and because the inhabitants of the nearby Indian village believed the springs had healing properties, a legend that persists today.



1539 Hernando DeSoto discovers Bahia Espiritu Santo (Tampa Bay)
1567 Pedro Menendez de Aviles came to Espiritu Santo Springs to establish a mission
1960 The mission church of Espiritu Santo was established in Safety Harbor.
1964 The first Mass was celebrated in Espiritu Santo Catholic Church.
1987 The first Mass was celebrated in the present-day church.
2001 Espiritu Santo Catholic School was dedicated.

In 1567 Pedro Menendez de Aviles came to Espiritu Santo Springs, later to be known as Safety Harbor, where he negotiated with Carlos, a Calusa chief, in an effort to convert the natives to Christianity.

Menendez sailed on, leaving behind a blockhouse mission, a captain, thirty soldiers, and Father Rogel, a Catholic priest.

The Indians destroyed the mission, however, and drove the Spaniards out. Though their initial effort proved unsuccessful, the seed of faith had been planted at the springs, and in time would blossom and flourish, according to the will of God.

Over 400 years later, this seed of faith found expression in a mission begun under the direction of Monsignor John F. McNulty, V.G. Responding to the need for a Catholic parish in the growing community of Safety Harbor, a mission church was established in 1960 on the present site.

The mission thrived. It soon became apparent that a church building and parish hall were needed. On Christmas Eve, 1964, the first Mass was celebrated in Espiritu Santo Catholic Church.

Through the years the parish grew rapidly. The need for a new, bigger church was apparent, and on April 18, 1987 the first Mass was celebrated in the new church, which seats approximately 1,000 people. The original church building is now the Parish Center.

The Espiritu Santo Catholic School was dedicated on August 19, 2001. The mission of the school is to pass on the beliefs and teachings of the Roman Catholic faith, to teach students to reach out to each other in a caring, Christian way, and to offer students an academic, Christ-centered education in a disciplined environment. The school serves Pre-K 3 through the 8th grade, Sunday morning and weekday evening Religious Education, and Adult Education programs.

The former Education Building has been remodeled and named the St. John Bosco Center. It is available for a variety of parish uses. In the life of the Espiritu Santo Catholic Church community, the seed of faith planted by the Spanish missionaries in 1539 has borne much fruit and continues to flourish.

The following two videos describe Espiritu Santo's long history in becoming the thriving community it is today: