St. Philip Benizi Parish was built in 1949 and dedicated as a mission in 1950. It was served by St. Margaret Parish in nearby Clewiston until 1960. In 1960, the church was named a parish and Father Francis Fenech was appointed pastor. Under Father Fenech the office, rectory, parish hall and two-story convent were completed within two years.
Father Fenech was succeeded by Father José Hernando, Msgr. José Juaristi, Father José Bardino, Father Michael Hickey and Father Paul Saghy.
The Guadalupana Sisters, a Mexican congregation dedicated to training lay leaders and assisting in the pastoral work of parishes, came to Belle Glade in 1968. They assumed the pastoral care of the migrant farm workers in the glades area under the jurisdiction of the parish and did a great amount of pastoral work while they were in the parish. The sisters left Belle Glade in 2003.
The Salesians of St. John Bosco came to Belle Glade in 1980 and undertook the running of the parish under the first Salesian pastor, Father Joseph Santa-Bibiana. He immediately set to work on a new parish catechetical center, which was dedicated in 1985. Other Salesian pastors following Father Santa-Bibiana were Father A.J. Louis, Father Daniel Morales and Father Luis Aineto.
Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament came to the area in 1982. Their pastoral care extends over the Creole-speaking parishioners and the Katherine Drexel Nursing Outreach program.
In 1995, a new youth hall, Savio Hall, was added through the mediation and generosity of Holy Redeemer Parish in Palm City. This spacious building is used for education and recreational purposes.
St. Philip Benizi Parish has been a strong Catholic presence in Belle Glade to a variety of different ethnic groups. The faces of this community comprise Haitian, Mexican, Cuban, Anglo, African American and other heritages. The parish also ministers to the two state prisons within the parish territory.
Today, St. Philip Benizi Parish serves more than 800 families and the religious education program minsters to more than 500 children and teens. The parish has a vibrant youth ministry program and outreach program to the poor. Renovation of the church to double its capacity was completed and was blessed by Bishop Gerald M. Barbarito in 2008.
Fr. Matthew DeGance, SDB is the current pastor.
St. Philip Benizi Catholic Church is located at 710 S Main St., Belle Glade, Florida 33430.
*Photo courtesy of the St. Philip Benizi Facebook page.