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History of Our Lady of the Gulf

In 1948, Father Philip Lambert convinced Bishop T.J. Toolen that he should be celebrating Sunday Mass for the few Catholics in Gulf Shores at that time. We began as a mission from St. Matthew’s Parish in Elsanor. Mass was celebrated in Romeo’s Restaurant and confessions were heard before Mass in Father’s car.Winters were poor and empty back then, so Father Lambert celebrated Christmas every July 4th when the summer crowd peaked. Sometimes using “The Little Casino” and/or a small wooden hotel, they came to realize their need for a permanent place to worship. Land was donated by pioneer realtor George C. Meyer and with a Robertsdale contractor, Alex Lennicx, and a Sears catalog, Father Lambert built the original church for only $19,000 in 1952.In 1971, Monsignor Lambert retired and Monsignor George Royer became the new Pastor. Gradually, northern guests began to breathe life into the winters. Monsignor Royer retired in 1977, succeeded by Monsignor Joseph Adams. In 1979, on September 12, Hurricane Frederick devastated Gulf Shores; but the Church stood

unharmed. Monsignor Adams died in January 1981 and Father Barry Desmond took over the reins. He started a building fund for a larger sanctuary. We were growing!

Father Desmond recognized the need for further education of the children of the parish and had a new C.C.D. building erected. He retired on October 25, 1985 and was succeeded by Father Anthony Zoghby in November.

Since 1985, many changes have taken place in our community and in our parish. The most noticeable improvement is our church building, which was dedicated on January 28, 1989. Due to the generosity of our parish family, seasonal parishioners and Lee and Nancy Bruno, our church debt of $1,500,000 was paid in full by the time Archbishop Oscar H. Lipscomb came for the dedication. The former church was renovated into our parish hall in memory of Father PhilipLambert.

Father Zoghby had a way about him that made people feel at home when they attended daily and weekend Masses. His love of God poured out over his congregation. He decided that he needed help running the church office and hired Vivian Castano, who had just moved here from New York. She had 11 years experience working at her parish in the New York Archdiocese.

In 1990, Father Lee O’Neil was sent to us. Many remember him working around the church grounds in his overalls. Since the rectory at the time was small, Father O’Neil took lodging in the building at the far northeast corner of the church property (lovingly know as the “outhouse”). The parishioners wanted Fr. Zoghby and Fr. O’Neil to live together in comfort with all the modern conveniences, so plans for a new residence got underway. To the sadness of our parish family, Fr. Zoghby died on June 18, 1994.

Father Patrick O’Connor was asked by the Archbishop to hold off on his retirement plans and take the position of Pastor at Our Lady of the Gulf. He arrived in July 1994. Since the plans for the new residence had just begun, he had the enormous task of seeing to it that the $350,000 debt was paid as well as seeing the building to its completion. The doors were ready to be opened in January 1997. Again, the generosity of our parish family and seasonal parishioners enabled our debt to be paid in full by April 20, 1998.

Since the Hire Building, which was one of the buildings that housed the children attending out Religious Education program, had to be torn down so the residence could be built, Fr. O’Connor realized the need to find a proper facility for our children. An offer was made for the property on the northwest corner of Hwy. 180 and 23rd Avenue. Again, our parish family heard the Lord’s call; and in March 1998, construction began on remodeling the building that was on the property at a cost of $150,000. In October 1998, our children had a place they could call their own, where they could come to know God better. Father Patrick O’Connor died November 28, 2000. Father O’Neil carried on as Associated Pastor until he became ill and moved to an assisted living facility in Daphne, AL. He died on March 1, 2005.

Our Lady of the Gulf was without a Pastor or Associate Pastor for three months. Our daily and weekend Masses were celebrated as usual with the help of a few retired priest in our area, such as Fr. Charles Bordenca, Fr. Brendan Keller, and Fr. Gerard McMahon. In the winter, they were assisted by a few visiting priest from the north, Fr. John Sullivan, Fr. Jerome Fortenberry, Fr. Vince Arimond and especially Fr. John Spanjers.

Father Robert Fulton was assigned to Our Lady of the Gulf on February 23, 2001. The following year, he was elevated to the title of Monsignor. (In his very typical humble fashion, he skipped the ceremony: “I am just a parish priest doing what I can for my parish. I want you to continue to call me ‘Father Fulton’.”) Father Fulton brought with him a great set of building, landscaping, and financial management skills. After saving money from Sunday collections for 10 years, he was able to design and build our new parish hall: A $1.4 million project that was paid in full out of his parish savings. The Lord had also blessed Fr. Fulton with a remarkable ability to “teach” during his homilies: The typical reaction from both parishioners and visitors was “I learned something!” After two years of declining health, Rev Msgr Robert Fulton passed away on August 18, 2013.

Reverend David Carucci was named pastor at the time of Father Fulton’s death.

Our parish history includes surviving Hurricanes Frederick (9/12/1979), Ivan (9/16/2004), and Katrina (8/29/2005) as well as brushes with others; but we are still here.

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