On Sept. 8, 1565, a small band of Spaniards celebrated Mass on the shores of North Florida in preparation for starting a settlement there. They named their new home St. Augustine in honor of the saint on whose feast day they sighted land. Thus the seeds of Catholicism were first sown in what is known today as the United States and Canada.
St. Augustine is the site of the first permanent parish church – today known as the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Augustine. The famed Santa Fe Trail originated here. It was from here that Franciscan missionaries began the trek North and West to proclaim the Good News – to evangelize! It was here that the first schools and hospitals were established.
It wasn’t until March 11, 1870, that Florida, east of the Apalachicola River, was designated as the Diocese of St. Augustine. The growth of the church in Florida from this Mother Diocese to six additional dioceses and more than 2 million Catholics is a significant part of the story of the Catholic Church in the United States.
Today, the Diocese of St. Augustine embraces 17 counties throughout northeast and north central Florida from the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic Ocean, covering 11,032 square miles, and serving more than 158,000 registered Catholics in 65 parishes and missions.
Click here for additional historical information written by Jesuit Charles R. Gallagher, Ph.D., with the New England Province and a former archivist for the Diocese of St. Augustine.