As one of the oldest parishes in the Diocese of Palm Beach, Ascension began its history under the Diocese of Miami.
On October 25, 1968, Archbishop Colman F. Carroll of Miami officially established Ascension Catholic Church as the second parish in Boca Raton. Founding pastor Father Brian Redington was the first of four pastors to serve Ascension over its 49 year history, each of whom played in integral role in the continuing evolution of the parish to meet the needs of its parishioners, which today number over 1500 families.
In that first year, Fr. Redington celebrated Sunday Mass in the attic (which parishioners respectfully called “the upper room” of University National Bank at 3900 North Federal Highway with donated candlesticks, ciboria and crucifix and, at times, vestments made by a parishioner. Under his leadership, the congregation grew and in 1969, Ascension moved to an abandoned Quonset hut, which, following renovation initiated by the parishioners, provided an air conditioned chapel and rectory. This move attracted more parishioners and by the ’70s there were 214 families within the parish boundaries.
In 1972, Father Richard Murphy was appointed pastor and realizing the need for larger space purchased the vacant Calvary Community Church on North Federal Highway as an interim measure. By 1975, the parish had grown to 967 members and it was evident that a permanent church was needed. Following a building fund campaign, groundbreaking began at the Calvary site in September 1977, and on the tenth anniversary of the parish in 1978, the new church was blessed by Archbishop Edward A. McCarthy of Miami.
Ascension Parish became part of the new Diocese of Palm Beach in 1984 and for the next two years, continued to enjoy the leadership of its pastor, Fr. Murphy. In 1986, Fr. Murphy was reassigned and Father Matthew A. Morgan became Ascension’s new Pastor. A beloved spirtual leader who expanded parish life by initiating several new church liturgies, parish organizations and community outreach programs, Fr. Morgan also oversaw important building programs, including expansion of the Parish Family Center to accommodate the large numbers of children in the parish Religious Education program and construction of a priests’ residence and administrative offices. A successful two year building fund campaign enabled the parish to begin the expansion project and groundbreaking ceremonies were held in September of 1989. The new Family Center was dedicated in April of 1990 and three years later, the new priests’ residence and administrative offices were dedicated. Also in 1993, continuing his devotion of Mary, the Blessed Mother, Fr. Morgan commissioned the construction of a Grotto, which today still draws daily parishioners to worship.
Fr. Morgan retired in 2002 and his successor, Father Charles E. Hawkins, was installed as Pastor in July of that year. No stranger to Ascension parish, Fr. Hawkins had originally served as Associate Pastor from 1989 to 1991, working with Fr. Morgan during the renovation of the Family Center. In a twist of fate – and a hurricane named Wilma – Fr. Hawkins found his past experience invaluable when the Family Center was severely damaged and in need of another renovation in 2005. Additionally, the substantial damage to the facility’s roof had also caused damage to the church as well, and sparked plans for interior church renovation to tie into the parish’s 40th year celebration scheduled for October 2009. To offset the roofing and Family Center renovation costs, a unique parish improvement program (PIP) was undertaken by parishioners and through their fund-raising efforts, roof replacement was completed in early 2007 and a new and expanded Family Center was dedicated later that year. Currently, early developmental plans are underway for the interior church renovation.
Over the years, Fr. Hawkins has also expanded the mantra of his predecessors, “We Come to Pray, We Leave to Serve,” by implementing the Church’s late Archbishop Colman F. Carroll’s concept of stewardship as a way of life, and in September, 2003, Ascension was officially designated a stewardship parish. As the parish handbook explains, “Ascension is a stewardship parish reaching out to others through worship, fellowship and service.” Under this concept, parishioners share their time, talent and treasure to help build the Body of Christ at Ascension and throughout the community. Currently, there are fifty liturgical, community outreach, spiritual formation and parish life programs in place, with more on the horizon.
Throughout its history, Ascension has been blessed not only with shepherding and forward-looking pastors, but many associate pastors, visiting and weekend priests, pastoral ministers, deacons and retired clergy who have added their special character and assistance to the parish’s work. Most of all, Ascension has been blessed with parishioners who have risen to the challenge of seeking to be the best Christian faith community possible and who continue to make Ascension Parish their family and their home.