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Florida, Catholic Church in


Admitted (1845) to the Union as the 27th state, Florida is a peninsula between the Atlantic Ocean on the east and the Gulf of Mexico on the west. It is bounded on the north by Georgia and Alabama. The capital is Tallahassee. Miami is the largest city. In addition to the Metropolitan See of Miami there are six dioceses in the state (Orlando, Palm Beach, Pensacola-Tallahassee, St. Augustine, St. Petersburg, and Venice) which together form the ecclesiastical Province of Miami.

The tribes who inhabited Florida before the coming of Europeans hunted animals and gathered roots and shellfish. They lived along the extensive coastline and waterways, using the dugout canoe, and moved continually according to food supply. These natives were known as the Apalachees (in the Panhandle), Timucuas (north central), Tequestas, and Calusas (both in south Florida). As Europeans arrived, the Seminoles rebelled and were defeated. Most were forcibly removed to Oklahoma, but small bands fled to the Everglades and the Lake Okeechobee area to live on reservations.

The first recorded European in Florida was the Spaniard Juan Ponce de León. In 1513 he landed on Florida's northern Atlantic coast during the Easter season and named the newly discovered land Pascua Florida. Subsequently, Flordia's history falls into three distinct time periods. The Colonial period, beginning in 1565, was dominated by the Spanish, and lasted about 200 years. During this period, for a brief time between 1763 and 1821, Spain ceded the territory to Britain. Later, Florida came under American control.

The Colonial Period. In 1549 the Dominican Luis Cancer made the first real attempt to evangelize Florida. He encountered the native Tocabaga near Tampa Bay, a people who disliked the Spanish because of previous unsavory encounters with them. The Tocabaga bludgeoned Cancer to death, and he became the first in a series of martyr missionaries in colonial North America.

On Sept. 8, 1565, Pedro Menéndez de Avilés founded St. Augustine, the first permanent European settlement

in what would become the United States. Menéndez's 1,000 colonists included four diocesan priests, who founded America's first parish (San Agustín ) and its first mission to the Native Americans (Nombre de Dios ). In 1566 Menéndez enlisted Jesuits to evangelize Florida's nativesthree came. Pedro Martínez, S.J., was martyred by aborigines near the mouth of the St. John's River. Francisco Villareal, S.J., established a mission on the shores of Biscayne Bay (Miami), while Juan Rogel, S.J., founded San Antonio de Padua Parish (near Ft. Myers Beach) among the Calusa in March 1567. However, various unfavorable conditions forced the Jesuits to leave Florida by mid-1569.

The Franciscans arrived in 1573 to take up the missionary enterprise. By 1595 they claimed 1,500 converts among the Timucuans of Northeast Florida and the Guale of coastal Georgia and South Carolina. Headquartered at their St. Augustine convent which was constructed in 1605, the Franciscans created a separate province, Santa Elena, for the Florida missions in 1612. That same year, Francisco de Pareda, O.F.M., published a catechism and confessional guide in Spanish and Timucuan. The friars' linguistic studies led them to produce catechetical and devotional works, as well as dictionaries and grammars in native languages. By 1675 the Franciscan missions reached their apex with about 75 friars serving in 38 missions (doctrinas ), which extended as far north as the South Carolina coast, as far south as modern-day Ocala, and as far west as present-day Mariana, and included about 30,000 baptized natives from four major tribal groups.

In Florida, Native Americans lived a sedentary village-based lifestyle when the Spanish arrived. Following the previously established model of reducción first implemented in Mexico, the friars created separate autonomous native Christian enclaves, largely segregated from what was considered the corrupting contact with Spaniards. Besides evangelization and pastoral care, the friars were engaged in teaching European arts and crafts, as well as improving agricultural techniques. The Apalachee were so successful as agriculturalists that they not only fed Spanish Florida, but also exported foodstuffs to Cuba.

After 1675, the Florida missions declined. The native population decreased due to 17 major epidemics between 1513 and 1675. Moreover, fewer friars were sent to Florida and those who did come were less capable than the first. The Florida missions came to an end as a result of Queen Anne's War (17021708). Governor James Moore of Carolina, with a force of approximately 500 English colonists and 1,000 Creeks, systematically destroyed them all. Consequently, about 10,000 to 12,000 Christian natives were carried off to South Carolina as slaves. Others escaped to neighboring tribes, while nearly 3,000 were killed and about 300 found refuge in St. Augustine.

While the Franciscans ministered to the natives, diocesan priests maintained pastoral care of the colonists and soldiers at St. Augustine (1565) and at Pensacola (1698). Florida was under the ecclesiastical authority of Santiago de Cuba until 1763, when Havana took over jurisdiction. The first episcopal visitation to Florida was in 1606, when Juan de Altamirano confirmed 981 colonists and mission natives. Florida's second episcopal visitation was made by Gabriel Calderón during ten months in 167475, when he ordained seven creoles to the priesthood in St. Augustine. About one-third of the Franciscans of Santa Elena Province in the 17th century were creoles, that is Florida-born Spanish colonials. Visiting the doctrinas north and west of St. Augustine, Calderón confirmed 13,152 natives, commenting favorably on their piety, devotion, and practice. Florida's third episcopal visitor was Bishop Dionisio Resino, who arrived at St. Augustine in 1709, but remained only three months. When Francisco de San Buenaventura y Tejada came to St. Augustine to take up episcopal residence in 1735, he quickly set about to ameliorate the spiritual decadence he found. In 1736 he confirmed 630 colonists, along with 143 slaves and free African Americans. Buenaventura left in 1745 to become the bishop of Yucatán. Florida's next resident bishop did not arrive until 1754, Pedro Ponce y Carrasco, whose poor health limited his stay to ten months. The last colonial resident bishop was Pedro Agustín Morell, the bishop of Santiago de Cuba, who after having been made prisoner by the British who invaded Cuba, was eventually shipped to St. Augustine in December 1762. That spring he confirmed 639 persons before returning to Cuba.

In 1687, 11 fugitive slaves escaped from South Carolina to St. Augustine. Spanish authorities granted them their freedom, but required them to become Catholic and work on fortifications, especially St. Augustine's Castillo. By 1738, 38 households of former slaves were settled by authorities two miles north of St. Augustine at Santa Teresa de la Gracia Real de Mosé, the first legally free African-American community in what became the United States. Eligible males served in a free African-American militia stationed at nearby Fort Mosé, St. Augustine's first line of defense against an English land attack.

British Control. When Spain ceded Florida to Britain in 1763, Fort Mosé and its adjacent settlement was abandoned. Its 87 residents, along with about 300 remaining Catholic natives, as well as most Spanish colonists from St. Augustine and Pensacola, were transported to Havana, along with church records and furnishings. The British disposed of church property in St. Augustine as they saw fit. The Franciscan convent was converted into barracks (today the site of the Florida National Guard Headquarters); the provisional parish church of La Soledad was renamed St. Peter's Anglican Church.

As a British possession from 1763 to 1783, Florida lacked both priests and Catholics. In 1768 Andrew Turnbull founded New Smyrna as an indigo and cotton plantation. Collecting 1,403 Italians, Greeks, and mostly Minorcans as indentured servants, Turnbull, whose wife was Catholic, enlisted a Minorcan priest, Pedro Camps, to care for the spiritual needs of the colony. The enterprise soured; with inadequate food, clothing, and shelter, the colonists died at alarming rates. Frustrated with Turnbull's malfeasance, the plantation's residents set off on foot for St. Augustine to seek redress. The British governor released them from their indentures and allowed them to settle in St. Augustine. By November 1777, the British permitted the opening of San Pedro Catholic Church for the spiritual care of the refugees. Camps remained their pastor until his death in 1790. The descendants of this group, many of whom still reside in St. Augustine, provide a direct link between contemporary Florida Catholicism and its colonial past.

At the end of the American Revolution, both East and West Florida were ceded back to Spain, beginning the second Spanish colonial period from 1783 to 1821, during which time Pensacola usually had only one priest, whereas St. Augustine had as many as five Irish priests in the 1790s. As early as 1597, Richard Arthur served as pastor in St. Augustine, the first of a long line of Irishborn priests in Florida. The Irish had the advantage of being bilingual, a fact that was especially useful when Irish soldiers of the Hibernian Regiment were stationed at St. Augustine during the 1780s.

There had not been a permanent parish church in St. Augustine since 1702. In 1784 two priests from the Irish College at Salamanca, Thomas Hassett and Michael O'Reilly, arrived. Soon thereafter, Hassett lobbied royal authorities for a new parish church. The edifice was formally opened on Dec. 8, 1795, not by Hassett, who had been transferred to New Orleans, but by O'Reilly. In another major contribution, Hasset founded a free Catholic school for the Minorcans in 1787, probably the first such school in what is now the United States.

From 1783, Florida was under the supervision of Louis William Du Bourg, bishop of Louisiana and the Floridas. In 1787 East Florida had 900 whites and 490 African-American slaves; Pensacola, the capitol of West Florida, had only 265 inhabitants, while St. Augustine had 469. Catholics represented less than 50 percent of the total population of the two Floridas. Conversions to Catholicism were few, despite legal incentives. The practice of the faith was even less encouraging. In 1790, only seven people made their Easter duty in Pensacola, which had an overall population of 572. The following year, even after strenuous efforts by a visiting bishop, only 70 completed their Easter duty. The Spanish colonial enterprise in Florida was declining politically and spiritually.

Early American Period. Florida became a U.S. territory in 1821 and a state in 1845. With the creation of the Diocese of Charleston in 1820, Florida was included in the jurisdiction of the bishop of Charleston, John England, until 1825, when the apostolic vicariate of Alabama and the Floridas was created under Michael Portier. By 1827, Portier had "sublet" his Florida jurisdiction to Bishop England until 1829, when the Diocese of Mobile was created, with Portier as its head. As a result, neither Portier nor England had the means to oversee Florida effectively. During this period, Pensacola's St. Michael's Parish erected its first permanent church building in 1833. When the Diocese of Savannah was created in 1850, its first bishop, Francis X. Gartland, oversaw Catholicism in Florida. In February 1852 Gartland traveled by ship from Savannah to dedicate St. Mary, Star of the Sea Church in Key West.

In 1857, territory east of the Apalachicola River became the apostolic vicariate of Florida (land west of the river remained with the Diocese of Mobile until 1968). The vicar apostolic, Augustin verot, a 53-year-old French Sulpician, who had taught at St. Mary's College, Baltimore, then later was pastor of St. Paul's Parish, Ellicott Mills, arrived in St. Augustine in June 1858. The vicariate contained four parishes, eight missions, several stations, but only three priests. Pastorates at Tallahassee and Key West were vacant. The biggest parish, St. Augustine, had 952 white and 376 African-American Catholics, while St. Mary's in Key West had about 350 parishioners. Florida's Panhandle, under the Diocese of Mobile, had three parishes, two missions, and two priests. The state had neither parochial schools nor any other Catholic institutions. Despite these privations, which only increased with wartime conditions, Verot energetically undertook the challenges of his widespread mission territory.

In May 1859 he traveled to Europe in search of personnel. With the seven priests he recruited from France, he was able to assign pastors in Tallahassee and Key West, and by 1860 founded new parishes in Tampa, Fernandina, and Mandarin. He journeyed to New England and French Canada in 1859. In Hartford, CT, he enlisted five Sisters of Mercy, and in Montreal, three Christian Brothers, who proceeded in the fall of 1860 to open schools for girls and boys in St. Augustine, which served Catholics, Protestants, and free African Americans. When the war between the states broke out, Verot supported the Southern cause and in July 1861 was appointed the bishop of Savannah, while retaining charge of Florida.

The war wrecked havoc on Verot's development plans. Both Catholic schools in St. Augustine closed. By the war's end, Verot characterized the pastoral situation in Georgia and Florida as "a heap of smoking ruins." Four churches were ruined and the people were demoralized and impoverished. Not only did the war liquidate his assets, but debts remaining from his prewar expansion left him a pauper.

Undaunted, Verot initiated a physical and spiritual reconstruction program. He begged money from the Society of the Propagation of the Faith in France and from parishes in the Northeast, some proceeds from which he invested in a series of successful parish missions conducted by the Redemptorists during 1868 and 1869. He also commenced a limited experiment to educate newly freed slaves by recruiting from France the Sisters of St. Joseph, who opened in 1867 their first Catholic school for African Americans in St. Augustine. By 1876 they had over 360 students in seven such schools. In 1868 he engaged the Sisters of the Holy Names, of Montreal, to found in Key West a similar school. At first the Sisters opened an academy for whites, but by 1876 they had also opened St. Francis Xavier School for African Americans.

A Frontier Diocese. After relinquishing Savannah, Verot became the first bishop of St. Augustine in 1870, governing territory created from his former apostolic vicariate. Following his death in 1876, Irishman John Moore was named bishop in 1877. William Kenny, the first American bishop (190213), was, in turn, succeeded by Irish-born Michael Curley, who served from 1914 to 1921, when he was translated to Baltimore.

In 1880 Florida had almost 269,500 residents; 50 years later it had just under 968,500. During this period, Florida Catholics numbered about 3 percent of the state's population. New urban centers developed, the result of the introduction of the railroad along both of Florida's coasts by the 1890s, an improvement which brought commerce and tourism. Whereas, in 1880 only 10 percent of the population lived in cities, about 36 percent lived there by 1920. In 1900 Jacksonville was Florida's largest city with 28,249 persons, followed by Pensacola (17,747), Key West (17,144), and Tampa (15,839).

Moore enthusiastically responded to Florida's first growth spurt. When he took over in 1877, he was responsible for eight parishes, 12 missions, and eight diocesan and two religious priests; by his death in 1901, the diocese contained 15 parishes, 25 missions, 14 diocesan priests, and 17 religious priests. He introduced several important initiatives: the on-going recruitment of Irishborn priests; the ordination of the first native diocesan priest (Edward A. pace in 1885); the requirement of an annual report from each parish; the introduction of the Benedictines of St. Vincent Abbey to pastorally oversee three West Coast counties (where some German-speaking people resided) and to start a college in 1887 (St. Leo's College, Florida's first Catholic college); and the recruitment of the New Orleans Jesuits in 1888, to whom he gave exclusive pastoral care of the southern half of his diocese in 1889. Headquartered in Tampa, the Jesuits also opened a high school for boys there in 1899. By 1920, 21 Jesuits served six parishes, 12 missions, and 46 stations in South Florida.

Moore also changed the focus of the diocesan Sisters of St. Joseph from teaching African Americans to running academies for whites, and from being a predominantly French community to being a predominantly Irish one. Also under his direction, in 1882, the Sisters of the Holy Names began work in Tampa, where they founded an academy.

Immigration was different in Florida compared to many other states. European immigrants were not numerous. Beginning in 1868, Cubans emigrated to Key West, as a result of a war of independence on their island. In response, the Holy Name Sisters, in 1873, opened a school for Cuban girls. By 1885, Key West had the largest concentration of Catholics in the state: 7,000 Cubans, 648 whites, and 70 African Americans. In 1886 Cubans, as well as Spaniards and Italians, began settling in Tampa, attracted to work in the cigar industry recently translated from Key West. By 1890 about 3,000 people from these three ethnic groups resided in Tampa; by 1920 there were 9,000. Tampa's Jesuits responded to this multilingual and multiethic challenge by founding new parishes. Meanwhile, both the Sisters of St. Joseph and the Sisters of the Holy Names inaugurated academies in the 1890s to serve these immigrants.

As was typical throughout the South, many Florida Catholics lacked access to a church or a priest on a regular basis, hence the domestic church was essential in keeping Catholicism alive. Wealthy benefactors, such as Edward Bradley, Kate Jackson, Mother Katherine Drexel, Mrs. Edward Morrell (Louise Drexel), and James McNichols played an indispensable role in the building of churches and schools, as did the benefactors of the Catholic Church Extension Society.

World War I to World War II. Bishop Michael Curley was so successful at recruiting priests from his native Ireland that by 1920 about 80 percent of Florida's 38 diocesan priests were Irish-born and over 50 percent of them were under 35 years of age. By 1921 Curley had enough secular clergy to begin to entrust the pastoral care of South Florida to diocesan priests, and not just to the Jesuits.

In 1920 Florida's largest parishes generally did not exceed 650 households, the average parish having about 500. By 1940, although the largest parishes contained around 2,000 households, the average parish still held only about 350. In 1920 the diocese had 30 parishes, with a Catholic population of approximately 51,000; in 1940, 62 parishes served an estimated 66,000 Catholics, a modest 29 percent increase. In the same period, the state population jumped from 968,470 to 1,897,414, a substantial 96 percent increase. Catholics represented about 5 percent of the state's population in 1920, but only about 3.5 percent in 1940. In 1920 only 36.5 percent of Floridians lived in urban areas, while 55.1 percent lived there in 1940.

Curley's successor was Irish-born Patrick Barry (192240). By 1937 he had 127 priests, 71 of whom were diocesan, and 60 percent of whom were Irish-born because Barry continued recruiting priests from Ireland. He introduced into the diocese the Adrian Dominican Sisters and the Allegany Franciscan Sisters, who soon made contributions in Catholic education, hospital administration, and ministry to African Americans. In 1940 the Adrian Dominicans founded Florida's second Catholic college, Barry College for women at Miami Shores.

Individuals, mostly from the Northeast, and the Extension Society, continued as important benefactors during this period. By far the biggest challenge for Barry, the pastors and parishioners was managing the effects of the Depression. A parish building boom of the 1920s created a diocesan debt of $1.6 million by 1928. In response to the problems exacerbated by the Depression, Barry collectivized and centralized parish finances so that the diocese might refinance parish debts. Yet despite his diocesan consolidation, pastors still (up to 1940) maintained a significant amount of independence and discretionary power.

Postwar Consolidation. During Joseph Hurley's episcopacy (194067), Florida Catholicism grew in population and developed in complexity. In 1940 Florida was the 27th most populated state with 1.9 million residents, by 1960 it was the tenth most populated with 4.9 million people. At that time Florida Catholics represented 11.9 percent of the state's population. Catholics increased in number from approximately 66,000 in 1940 to 753,000 in 1968, an increase of 1,041 percent. Already by the late 1940s the suburban parish had become the model for new parishes, and by 1968 the average parish increased to about 1,000 households, with the largest at 3,500 households.

Hurley consolidated power by means of heavy taxation of parishes in order to fund his extensive real estate purchases for parochial and institutional expansion and to centralize diocesan services. He assumed much of the former discretionary power of pastors. Although he continued to recruit priests from Ireland, he also stressed native vocations. Nevertheless, Irish priests reached their apex in numbers and influence under Hurley's leadership. The number of diocesan priests doubled, as did the number of parishes. By the late 1950s, Hurley had founded a diocesan hospital, organized a system of diocesan high schools, and established missions for Latino farm workers.

In 1958 the southern one-third of Hurley's diocese was erected as the Diocese of Miami, with Pittsburgh native Coleman Carroll as its first bishop (195877). Like Hurley, Carroll was a consolidator and builder. Within his first ten years, he presided over the establishment of 45 parishes, 17 parish schools, 58 new churches, 11 new high schools, and introduced 35 religious communities. He also invited the Vincentian Fathers to staff two seminaries he founded as a stimulus to native vocations. St. Vincent de Paul Seminary produced its first ordination class in 1968. Carroll was also a prominent community leader, responding to Cuban exiles with several creative programs and organizing a Human Relations Board for Miami to address racial injustice.

Changing Times. Both Hurley and Carroll attended the Second Vatican Council, and in the years after Vatican II, both favored gradualism and caution in the implementation of the letter and spirit of the Council. The postconciliar period coincided with major shifts in American culture, the papacy of John Paul II, and the continued growth of Catholicism in Florida.

In 1968 Miami became an archdiocese, with St. Petersburg and Orlando created as new dioceses. The Panhandle, long under the jurisdiction of Mobile, AL, became part of the Diocese of St. Augustine. A fifth Florida diocese was created in 1975, Pensacola-Tallahassee, and a sixth and seventh in 1984, Palm Beach and Venice. In 1969 the dioceses joined together to form the Florida Catholic Conference, an agency designed to represent the Church's position on policy and social issues and to coordinate its action statewide. It works with government agencies, as well as other religious groups, in addressing such matters as immigration, education and right-to-life issues.

This multiplication of dioceses in Florida reflected the rapid population and institutional growth. By 1990 Florida was the fourth largest state in population, with 13.2 million residents, of whom 1.7 million or 13 percent were Catholic. The 2000 census counted 15.9 million Floridians, of whom approximately 2.1 million or 14 percent are Catholic. Miami has the highest percentage of Catholics with 21 percent, while Pensacola-Tallahassee has the lowest with 5 percent.

At the dawn of the 21st century Florida Catholicism faces a number of challenges, some of which include: secularism, the size of parishes (the average parish is about 2,000 households); fewer priests per Catholic; multiculturalism (the 2000 census reports that Florida is 16.8 percent Latino, 14.6 percent African American, 1.7 percent Asian, and 3 percent other ethnic groups); increased bureaucratization on the diocesan and parish levels; the continued implementation of Vatican Council II, especially evangelization, ecumenism, interfaith dialogue, and lay spirituality and initiatives. Florida Catholicism's long tradition of adaptability, flexibility, and creativity, derived from its frontier missionary past, may be expected to serve it well in the future.

Bibliography: h. p. clavreul, Notes on the Catholic Church in Florida, 15651876 (Saint Leo, Abbey, FL, n.d.). m. j. geiger, The Franciscan Conquest of Florida, 15731618 (Washington 1937). l. g. de orÉ, The Martyrs of Florida, 15131616, ed. and tr. m. j. geiger, Franciscan Studies 18 (St. Bonaventure, NY 1936). v. f. o'daniel, Dominicans in Early Florida (New York 1930). m.v. gannon, The Cross in the Sand: The Early Catholic Church in Florida, 15131870 (Gainesville 1965); Rebel Bishop: The Life and Era of Augustin Verot (Milwaukee 1964). m. j. mcnally, Catholic Parish Life on Florida's West Coast, 18601968 (St. Petersburg 1996); Catholicism in South Florida, 18681968 (Gainesville 1984). g. r. mormino, The Immigrant World of Ybor City: Italians and Their Latin Neighbors in Tampa, 18851985 (Urbana, IL 1987).

[m. j. mcnally]

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