By Margo C. Pope, St. Augustine Record Correspondent
Solemn vespers and a historical talk on Florida’s pioneer bishops will mark the 150th anniversary Wednesday of the Roman Catholic Diocese of St. Augustine. The public is invited to this free event.
The new diocese was established on March 11, 1870, by Pope Pius IX to serve Florida, east of the Apalachicola River. It is Florida’s oldest diocese and one of seven today serving the state’s Roman Catholics. Florida’s Catholic population at various times in its history was also part of other dioceses including Cuba, Louisiana and Alabama.
Bishop Felipe J. Estévez, 10th Bishop of the Diocese of St. Augustine, will open the 6 p.m. celebration in the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Augustine with vespers — prayers and hymns to God.
“Blessed Beginnings: The Episcopal Leadership of Augustin Verot and John Moore” will follow vespers and be presented by Catholic Church historian Father Michael J. McNally of the Diocese of Palm Beach. Verot’s and Moore’s tenures covered 1870 to 1901.
“Verot and Moore were different in temperament but remarkably similar in the pastoral concerns and creativity,” McNally said in an interview with The Record. “Who was more suited for the work of building parishes, Verot or Moore?
“Verot found himself responding to a Frontier and Missionary Catholicism,” McNally said. “On the other hand, Moore needed to react to a rapidly developing Florida during its First Boom (1880s-1900) with rising urbanization, population increases and new pastoral challenges. Both men were outstanding leaders, especially in their ability to size up the needs presented to them and come up with creative responses.”
McNally also is the author of “John Moore: Catholic Pastoral leadership during Florida’s First Boom, 1877-1901.” The new book was published by the Diocese of St. Augustine for its 150th anniversary. A book- signing will follow the talk. A limited quantity of the books will be available for purchase at that time.
Estévez invited McNally to speak to create more public awareness of the diocese’s early leaders.
“Moore and Verot reveal the beauty of our legacy and the incredible challenges the community of faith lived under their remarkable guidance,” Estévez said. “Contemporary audiences need to be better aware the state of Catholicism then to appreciate the huge development and growth we have experienced. It is a wonderful story of growth and support.”
Rev. Thomas S. Willis, pastor/rector of the Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine, welcomes McNally’s book on Moore.
“The 14 years that Moore served as bishop were certainly challenging amid rapid growth and challenges that everyone in Florida were experiencing,” Willis said. “McNally’s new insights are a welcome addition to the long Catholic history of this region.”
McNally was ordained in 1973 after graduating from St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary in Boynton Beach, where he received a Bachelor of Arts, Master of Divinity and Master of Theology degrees. He received a Master of Arts and a Ph.D. from the University of Notre Dame. He taught in seminaries and was pastor of St. Mark Evangelist Catholic Church, Fort Pierce, for 13 years. Since his retirement in 2018, he has been chaplain of the Poor Clare Monastery of San Damiano, Fort Myers Beach.
McNally’s previous books are “Catholic Parish Life on Florida’s West Coast, 1860-1968” (Catholic Media Ministries 1996, St. Petersburg) and “Catholicism in South Florida, 1868-1968″ (University of Florida Press, 1984, Gainesville ).