Victory Baptist Church, 309 N. Monroe, had two recent revivals: four days of old-fashioned evangelizing by Dr. Larry Bell, and a dedication of the historic sanctuary built more than 100 years ago as the first Catholic church in Southwest Florida!
Having preached the gospel for 35 years and served as a pastor in Michigan and Ohio, Dr. Bell led the revival April 14-17. The N. Monroe building that was once St. Paul Catholic Church was dedicated that Monday evening.
Victory Baptist pastor Stuart Swanberg said, “I’m excited about the future and where the Lord will take us,” adding that he mourned the loss at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris because Arcadia’s first Catholic church has a similar traditional design.
Victory Baptist traces its history to Catholic priests ministering to the “spiritual needs of the people of DeSoto county as early as 1882,” according to a history of St. Paul Catholic Church. From 1890 to 1912, the Jesuits of Tampa established and maintained a mission in Arcadia, one of 20 cities—including Fort Myers, Jupiter, Kissimmee, Lakeland and Miami—in a territory “260 miles long, 150 miles wide.”
The P. R. Read Construction Co., owned and operated by Peyton R. Read and Ed Murrell, built St. Paul Catholic Church on N. Monroe in 1915, according to the June 11, 1915, Enterprise newspaper. Construction costs were $3,500. (Note of interest: Read was contractor for the 1889 wooden DeSoto County courthouse and the present masonry courthouse built in 1912.)
The Rt. Rev. M. McNally, pastor of the Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Tampa, dedicated the church on June 7, 1915. “The Bishop, priests, and visitors were entertained at the DeSoto Hotel for dinner and an automobile trip in the afternoon was very much enjoyed ... The Bishop, parish priest, and [church] members wish to thank the mayor, citizens of Arcadia and others who so kindly helped financially and otherwise in the building of the church.”
After the present St. Paul sanctuary, 1208 E. Oak St., was built in 1968, the old church on N. Monroe was sold to various organizations—Pentecostalists owned it for many years.
Swanberg recalled that George Iverson, a preacher, acquired the historic church about five years ago. Victory Baptist bought the structure—even though opening the front door a rat ran across the street—he and church members could see a future for the building, Swanberg said.
“I saw the same potential,” Swanberg said of the vision, “even though the termites and rats had left the place in rough shape.” He became the pastor about 18 months ago.
Swanberg estimated that 35 people had worked on the structure, scraping and painting the exterior in December to restore its traditional white. He invites those wishing to help with ongoing repairs to phone. 863-399-0233.
A talented pianist and vocalist, Swanberg at the dedication led the singing of hymns and the tune “This Ole House” by Stuart Hamblen—on a baby grand piano that he had found on Craigslist. Faith Presbyterian Church in Cape Coral ended up donating the instrument. The online marketplace was also a platform for the church pulpit and altar that originally furnished a Punta Gorda house of worship.
“The Lord has blessed us,” Swanberg said. “We dedicate this auditorium for the Lord’s work ... and we dedicate our lives to His work.”