216 19th Avenue South East St. Petersburg, Fl 33705

The Vedanta Center of St. Petersburg, Florida

A Brief History
  “The opening of this beautiful new Center in 1959 fulfilled a far-reaching religious ideal. With every 
detail – its luxurious tropical setting, its majestic palms overlooking Tampa Bay, its modern 
air-conditioned temple, its gracious class and meeting rooms – it offers unique haven to 
serious seekers.” 

The above was from the first bulletin announcing the opening of the new Center at 216 – 19th Ave. SE.

 In 1951, Rev. Malcolm McBride Panton came from New York to 
St. Petersburg with his wife Earnly to become the Minister at the 
Church of Spiritual Philosophy, located in the south side of the 
city, near the present location.  Both were disciples of 
Swami Nikhilananda of the Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Center 
of New York, and used to attend the classes held by 
Swami Nikhilananda regularly at the New York Center. They were 
highly accomplished people when they arrived at 
St. Petersburg and were respected by many. Among other 
accomplishments Earnly was a fine artist, and Malcolm was an 
advertising copy writer at the New York Times and art critic for the 
New Yorker Magazine.

A separate initiative in the mid 1980’s was made by late Swami Bhashyananda of Vivekananda Vedanta 
Society, Chicago to start a Vedanta Society in South Florida. A condominium in West Palm Beach was 
donated by a devotee, and monks (including Swami Sarveshananda, Swami Yogeshananda and Swami 
Varadananda) were sent by him to conduct regular classes.   But that attempt at starting a Vedanta 
center was short lived and St. Petersburg became the only official center of the Order in the east coast 
of United States south of Maryland. 

 The Vedanta Center of Saint Petersburg, Florida, is the newest branch outside India of the Ramakrishna 
Order. Officially started in May 2006 it became the fourteenth branch of the Order in North America. 
The Center is located in the beautiful Old Southeast neighborhood of the city and is situated on its own 
one acre property, one-half block from Tampa Bay and surrounded by lovely landscaped grounds and 
gardens with varieties of fragrant flowers: oleanders, hibiscus, azalea, wisteria, jasmine, and beautiful 
tropical trees such as magnolia, mango, pine, oak and varieties of palm. The Center is especially proud 
if its large collection of Bel Trees spread throughout the gardens.

After the death of Rev. Panton in 1976 and Mrs. Panton in 1983, Swami 
Adiswarananda, who became the minister in charge of the 
Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Center in New York, became the de facto 
spiritual leader of the congregation.  The small group of dedicated 
followers, several of whom were his disciples, continued to maintain 
the regular services of the center under his direction. Also, they 
approached the Ramakrishna Mission with prayer that the center be 
accredited as a branch of the Order. Their prayer was granted finally 
after 23 years of wait.  Meanwhile many illustrious monks of Ramakrishna 
Order continued to visit the center, which included Swamis 
Ranganathananda, Gahanananda, Atmasthananda, and Smaranananda 
Maharaj. The General Secretary of the Order, Swami Prabhananda 
Maharaj, and most of the heads of centers of North America and Europe, 
both past and present, have visited the center since.

The bulletin continued: “There is a ‘highest common factor’ wherein all the Religions of Humanity meet and 
become one. It has been named variously “The Eternal Gospel”, “The Perennial Philosophy”, etc. The 
name is unimportant: ancient sages of India long ago observed, “Truth is one, Humanity calls it by many 
names”. To this highest Truth, this new Center is dedicated.”

 “The purpose of this Center is to stimulate the growth of spiritual understanding through all pathways, in 
order that each individual may, to paraphrase Saint Paul, be “transformed in the renewing of his or her mind”, 
and so more fully realize his or her innate at-one-ment with God. To advance this end, the teachings of 
Vedanta are offered, especially as illustrated and made dynamic in modern times by Sri Ramakrishna and 
his disciple Swami Vivekananda of India. Vedanta reveals the underlying harmony of all religions and 
philosophies, all arts and sciences, and points out that they are different approaches to one and the same 
Reality. It proclaims the potential divinity of all men and women, 
which is to be manifested through appropriate spiritual disciplines.”

 Rev. Panton relocated his church to the present neighborhood in 1958 and changed its name to the 
Church of Spiritual Philosophy and Vedanta Center.  All his lectures and classes drew inspiration 
from Vedanta in general and Sri Ramakrishna in particular.  During this time Swami Nikhilananda was an 
inspiration to them.