Archbishop of Miami Celebrates St. Michael Parish 150th Anniversary
February 24, 2022 • Savanna Kearney

On Sunday, Feb. 20, Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami traveled to the northern side of the Diocese of St. Augustine to celebrate the 150th anniversary of St. Michael Parish in Fernandina Beach.

“One hundred and fifty years might not seem like a long time for a church that is almost 2,000 years old; but here in Florida, where almost everything seems to have been built the day before yesterday, 150 years is certainly something to celebrate!” said Archbishop Wenski.

The archbishop celebrated Mass alongside Father Jose Kallukalam, pastor of St. Michael, and other clergy of the Diocese of St. Augustine.

Archbishop Wenski began his homily by tracing the roots of the parish back to the 1500s when the earliest Spanish missions came to Amelia Island and Franciscan Father Miguel de Aunon was martyred.

“The Catholic faith has deep roots in this part of Florida, its soil nourished by the blood of martyrs,” he explained.

Archbishop Wenski celebrates Mass at St. Michael Catholic Church in Fernandina Beach. (photo by St. Augustine Catholic/Woody Huband).

He went on to compare the people of a parish are like “sojourners called forth by God. Our parishes, where the community of sojourners meet, are then like way stations, rest stops, along our pilgrim way.”

“St. Michael Parish is much more than just a simple way station or rest stop,” said the archbishop. “It is truly an oasis.”

Long before this oasis was a parish, the congregation was a mission, a series of missions: Santa Maria de Sena (1597), Santa Maria de Yamassee (1675) and Santa Catalina (1686).

The congregation of about 100 families was served by visiting priests. They included Father Pedro Camps, pastor to the Minorcan community in St. Augustine, and Fathers Thomas Hassett and Miguel O’Reilly, who helped restore the church in St. Augustine during the Second Spanish Period.

In 1872, Father Bertazzi built the present church, which was the first brick building in Fernandina and eventually had a steeple and stained-glass windows, and the parish was dedicated under the patronage of St. Michael the Archangel, in remembrance of Fray Miguel de Añon, a Franciscan missionary to the area who was martyred by Guale Indians.

St. Michael’s continued to grow and in 1882, a convent and St. Joseph’s Academy were built. The Sisters of St. Joseph closed the school in 1971, but Father Mark Waters reopened it in 1999 as St. Michael’s Academy under the leadership of the Sinsinawa Dominican Sisters. About 40 percent of the student body is non-Catholic.

Father Jose Kallukalam and Archbishop Thomas Wenski (photo by St. Augustine Catholic/Woody Huband).

Fernandina has continued to grow. The parish, which had 320 families in 1994, had grown to 1,200 families by 2002. Under its present pastor, Father Jose Kallukalam, the church was expanded to accommodate the growing parish. A new parish hall was built in 2013. As of 2015, over 1,500 families were registered.

For 150 years, St. Michael has welcomed God’s pilgrim people. Over the years, thousands of people have met Christ in Word and Sacrament. For 150 years, here at St. Michael, the Lord has fed you and met your needs,” concluded Archbishop Wenski. “So, as we celebrate this jubilee today, may we remember the past with gratitude, live the present with enthusiasm and look forward to the future with confidence.”