In 1887, Pope Leo XIII gave the Florida Benedictines at San Antonio, Florida the mandate to care for the spiritual needs of Hernando County, Florida. This county was split into three counties the same year - Citrus, Hernando, and Pasco. Pastoral visits to the various settlements in the three counties were begun immediately by the Benedictine monks, who by 1890 had erected a priory at what was to become the incorporated town of Saint Leo, Florida.
The first record of Mass being offered at Crystal River is dated March 11, 1903, offered by Fr. Benedict Roth, OSB at the home of George Stratner, located on Crystal River near the mouth of Salt River. The Stratner home was accessible only by boat. Mass was later offered by Fr. Benedict in a downtown Crystal River store owned by the Allan family. By 1904 Fr. Benedict could list 26 Catholics in Crystal River, including children.
The early population of Crystal River was supported by the cedar wood industry form which pencils are made, and when the Dixon pencil factory closed most of the Catholics moved away. The Benedictine Fathers continued to visit the area regularly but no attempt was made to offer divine services in the area until the newly ordained Fr. James Hoge, OSB was assigned to the Hernando-Citrus missions in the summer of 1944. For the remaining years of WWII Fr. James offered weekly Mass at the Crystal River Radar Station, located on Cinnamon Ridge, for the Catholic Signal Corps men assigned there.
St. Benedict parish had its official start on All Saints Day, November 1, 1953. Rt. Rev. Francis Sadlier, Abbot of Saint Leo, offered the holy sacrifice of the Mass in the Springs Theatre on Citrus Avenue assisted by Fr. Ignatius McCarty, OSB, priest-in-charge.
Immediately the dozen or so Catholic families of the area purchased a plot of ground on newly constructed U.S. 19 and built a tiny concrete block chapel.
In 1975 the little chapel on the hill, long since too small for the growing parish, was sold and the parish moved three miles south to its present site. The combination hall/chapel and parish house were dedicated by the Most Rev. Charles B. McLaughlin, Bishop of St. Petersburg, on December 28, 1981. The present St. Benedict Church was dedicated by the Most Rev. W. Thomas Larkin, second bishop of the Diocese of St. Petersburg. St. Benedict Church is truly the "father church" of West Citrus County. Since 1971 four other churches have been built and parishes established.
455 S. Suncoast Blvd. • Crystal River, FL 34429 • Tel: 352-795-4479