Founder of St. Jude Parish retires

There was an overwhelming show of love and support for Father Celestino Gutiérrez, founding Pastor of St. Jude Parish in Sarasota, as he celebrated his final public Mass at noon on Feb. 25, 2024, before a crowd that overflowed out into the parking lot.

Father Gutiérrez, who is retiring after nearly 60 years of service to the Church, 17 of those at St. Jude, and 39 within the Diocese of Venice, celebrated his farewell Mass. The large crowd did not deter anyone who wished to offer their gratitude to the man who had served as their spiritual leader for many years.

“I have been blessed by the Holy Spirit to have served the wonderful people of St. Jude for so many years, but it is time for me to step away,” Father Gutiérrez said. “I love you all. You are my family; you are my life.”

Bishop Frank J. Dewane said “Father Celestino’s tremendous influence on St. Jude Parish and indeed, the Diocese of Venice, cannot be overstated. His great joy, which he always credits as a gift of the Holy Spirit, is contagious, and has been a bright light in our Catholic community.  Father Celestino’s pastoral guidance for almost 40 years here in the Diocese has brought many closer to Christ, especially those in the Hispanic community. He had a clear passion for service and taught that so much can be learned about faith through the simple act of helping others.”

A native of Bercimuel, Segovia, Spain, Father Gutiérrez, 83, entered seminary at age 12. He was ordained on June 24, 1964, in Madrid, Spain, and shortly after was sent to Guatemala to serve the poor indigenous population during the civil war. It was there that he developed a passion for serving and working with the poor, whom he said taught him so much about faith, hope and joy, especially in the face of terrible persecution.

“It was a tough experience, but the faith of those people helped me grow in my own faith,” Father said. “There I experienced the gift of the Holy Spirit – joy – that has helped me be a better servant to the People of God throughout my life. When I came to Sarasota (in 1985 at St. Martha Parish), I knew I had found a home.”

While at St. Martha, Father Gutiérrez served the growing Hispanic American Catholic community in Sarasota. He celebrated Mass for migrant workers, created a Christmas program for the needy and focused his efforts to ensure the children took part in religious education programs.

The growing Hispanic Catholic community warranted the establishment of a new Parish and St. Jude was formally erected in May 2006. Hundreds of children participate in the religious education program. Each year as many as 100 receive the Sacrament of First Holy Communion and nearly as many teens receive the Sacrament of Confirmation.

A signature event at the Parish has been the Hispanic Festival, which for 19 years has attracted more than 10,000 on the first Saturday in November, in a grand celebration of the cultural heritage of the diverse community. The day includes musical performances and ethnic dancers as well as food from many nations. The proceeds of the Hispanic Festival support the various outreach efforts of the Parish, including a food pantry two days a week and other direct support as needed.

Many expressed their sadness at Father’s retirement, but joy for having been blessed to have him serve as their spiritual leader for so many years.

Maria Sanchez received her First Communion from Father Gutiérrez while he was serving at St. Martha. She was married at St. Jude in 2006, and each of her four children were baptized and received their Sacraments at the Parish.

“This was a sad day, because Father has been part of my life for so long,” Sanchez said after having a photo taken with Father at a post-Mass reception. “He has served this community with all his heart and that is what we will all miss; his big heart, and the joy he brought to the community.”

Father Gutiérrez, who is recovering from a recent illness, said he is not leaving the area or the Parish forever, and will return when he can for special occasions. “I love you all. Thank you for your prayers and support throughout the years. God bless you all!”