Tampa’s Christ the King Church rediscovers the home where it was born

Published April 6 2018

As Christ the King Catholic Church expands to prepare for its future, leaders of the 77-year-old place of worship recently learned about a forgotten piece of its past: a stucco home less than a mile away that once held great significance.

April 2 marked the final Mass inside the South Tampa parish’s church until Christmas as the building undergoes expansion to push capacity from 620 to 1,000. The church’s McLoughlin Center will be used in the meantime.

Following that Mass, pews from the 1970s were put up for sale. Among those to buy a bench was Andrea Gebbia, whose 3,791-square-foot, Spanish revival-style home at 3721 W Barcelona Ave. is a fitting residence for one.

After all, the 90-year house was the first building Christ the King owned, the location of its initial rectory and the place where the original parishioners gathered to fundraise for their inaugural church.

Gebbia and her husband Christopher learned the history a week ago, despite owning the home for seven years and being parishioners.

"I’m in shock," Gebbia said. "Something special happened in my house."

The significance of the Gebbias’ house was even news to Christ the King’s pastor, the Rev. Len Plazewski, who said that element of church history had been lost as the parish grew to 3,500 families from the initial 25 in 1941.

Christ the King was founded as Tampa’s sixth catholic parish.

The inaugural Mass was celebrated on Dec. 22, 1941, but, without a church of their own, the congregation met at the Academy of Holy Names, according to Christ the King’s website.

Tampa Tribune archives say the Academy was rented for weekday Mass and St. Ignatius in Port Tampa, for Sunday service. A 1991 documentary the church produced for its 50th anniversary states that on other occasions parishioner homes were used, with the example given being 3721 W. Barcelona Ave.

So, that is what the Gebbias believed was the extent of the role their residence played in the church’s history.

But Gebbia family friend Ken Cauthorn asked the Tampa Bay Times to look through archives for mentions of the home, certain there was more to the story. He was right. It was where the church was started.

Months before that December 1941 service — as early as March, according to Tribune archives — parishioners were meeting at the rectory for bridge games, tea parties, weddings, Mass and fundraisers to purchase or build a church.

The rectory address: 3712 W Barcelona Ave.

Among those to have used that rectory as a wedding chapel was Robert A. McKay, son of former mayor D.B. McKay.

Gatherings were held in the "reception center," a 30 by 20 room with seven arched windows that double as doors.

Today, that area is the Gebbia’s family room.

"It’s the most gorgeous place in the house," Gebbia said. "I can understand why people would want to get married there."

By August 1943, according to Tribune archives, the rectory had relocated to 2910 Villa Rosa Park.

In 1944, parishioners purchased a surplus Army barrack and moved it to a Dale Mabry property to be used as a place of worship.

Since then, Christ the King has grown to encompass 13 acres of property on Dale Mabry and 11 buildings, including a church, school and rectory.

"Even when fixing up our home and opening the walls, we never found anything that gave us clues of the historic importance of this home for our church," Gebbia said. "It seems different now. I love it more."

Contact Paul Guzzo at [email protected] Follow @PGuzzoTimes.

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