By Lorraine Thompson
Amid occasional cannon booms and the screeching of wild animals, student ambassadors from 29 Catholic schools in the Diocese of St. Augustine, along with educators and administrators, gathered at the Rustic Altar on the grounds of the Mission Nombre de Dios in St. Augustine for a Jubilee Mass, April 23.
The event was part of the diocese’s celebration of the 450th anniversary of the founding of St. Augustine. It also commemorates the anniversary of the first permanently established Catholic parish in the United States – St. Augustine’s Cathedral Parish.
The Mass was concelebrated by Fathers Richard Pagano, Ivan Carrillo-Paris and Sal Di Fazio and assisted by Deacon Robert DeLuca. Music and readings were led by students.
In the absence of Bishop Felipe J. Estévez, who was in Chicago for the funeral of Cardinal Francis George, Father Ivan delivered the homily. The Columbian-born priest serves as rector of the Shrine of Our Lady of La Leche and his words imparted his knowledge of the history of the landmark location.
“This is where faith began,” said Father Ivan. “I know you’ve heard that before, but look around you.”
Father Ivan noted that the early settlers were given “this land from God and were destined to share their faith.”
“This is the way it was then,” the priest quipped after he was interrupted by a cannon blast that came from the neighboring Fountain of Youth.
For the past eight months, students in each of the diocesan schools participated in devotional ceremonies in preparation for the Jubilee celebration.
Since August 2014, students, their families and school faculty members held similar devotional programs at each school, which focused on the history and influences on the growth of the Catholic Church and Catholic schools in the Diocese of St. Augustine.
The theme of the school devotions – fire and treasure – came from the writings of St. Augustine of Hippo who, in his Confessions wrote, “You touch me, and I am set on fire to attain the peace which is yours.”
The symbols of fire and treasure, which are represented in the form of a torch and treasure box, traveled from school-to-school beginning in the order in which each Catholic school was founded. Schools selected a picture or symbol significant to the history or mission of the school to be placed in the treasure box.
St. Joseph Academy, the oldest Catholic high school in Florida founded in 1866, began the treasure collection and then passed it on to the next school on the chronological list. On April 13, the diocese’s newest school, St. Francis High School in Gainesville, established in 2004, was the last to receive and contribute to the treasure box.
The unique treasure box contains information on the patron saint of each school with words, witness and works. It is expected to be presented to the bishop at a later date.
The combined treasures also appear in a just-published book called Reflections. The 64-page full color book will soon be available for purchase. For information, visit www.dosafl.com/educationalservices.
There are now more than 11,000 students enrolled in the 29 Catholic schools of the Diocese of St. Augustine schools that include four high schools.