Founding of America’s First Catholic Parish
St. Augustine proudly calls itself the first permanent European settlement and city in the continental United States. It was founded by Pedro Menéndez de Avilés for Spain 450 years ago, on Sept. 8, 1565. The Spaniards named their new home St. Augustine in honor of the saint on whose feast day (August 28) they sighted land.
According to historian Michael Gannon, Ph.D., distinguished service professor emeritus of history at the University of Florida, Menendez’ expedition, “made a landing somewhere in the vicinity of the site where Mission Nombre de Dios (Name of God) stands today. Accompanying him were 500 soldiers, 200 sailors, four parish priests and 100 civilian settlers.”
Father Francisco Lopez de Mendoza Grajales was one of those priests. He celebrated the first Mass of Thanksgiving and is the first pastor of our country’s pioneer city.
St. Augustine celebrates a number of firsts! Not only is it the site of the first permanent Catholic parish, the famed Santa Fe Trail originated here. It was from here that Franciscan missionaries began their trek north and west to proclaim the Gospel message. It was here that the first schools and hospitals in this country were opened. And Our Lady of La Leche Shrine at Mission Nombre de Dios is the oldest Marian devotion in the country.
The Catholic Diocese of St. Augustine and the City of St. Augustine have worked collaboratively to commemorate the founding of this historic Spanish settlement and the early beginnings of the Catholic faith in this country. The festivities include a five-day celebration from Sept. 4 to 8, at various locations throughout downtown St. Augustine.
On Founder’s Day, Sept. 8, the diocese will host the following events:
- 8:00 a.m. – The Countdown Clock will tick down and signal the arrival of St. Augustine’s 450th Anniversary at the Visitor Information Center, 10 W. Castillo Drive.
- 9:00 a.m. – Historical re-enactment of the landing of St. Augustine’s Founder Pedro Menéndez, Mission Nombre de Dios, 27 Ocean Avenue. Open to the public. Those attending include Catholic hierarchy from throughout the country, state and local government officials. A souvenir booklet will be given out to the first 3,000 guests to arrive.
- 10:00 a.m. – Grand Procession to the Cathedral Basilica with the Bishop John Snyder High School Band from Jacksonville leading the way. The procession will begin after the re-enactment. Cardinal Sean O’Malley – special envoy for Pope Francis, Bishop Felipe Estévez of St. Augustine and other dignitaries will ride in front in horse-drawn carriages. The public is invited to join the procession.
- 11:00 a.m. – Mass of Thanksgiving with Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley, OFM Cap., as the principal celebrant at the Cathedral Basilica, 38 Cathedral Place. Due to limited seating, the Mass is by invitation only. There will be a Jumbotron screen available in the west courtyard of the Cathedral for the public to view the Mass and Communion will be available. Seating will also be available at Flagler Auditorium to view the Mass on television monitors inside with air conditioning. There will be more than 20 bishops attending, clergy from through Florida and Savannah, women religious, state and local government officials, faith leaders from other denominations, representatives of the Seminole Tribe of Florida, among others.
- 5:30 p.m. Solemn Vespers (Evening Prayer) with Cardinal Sean O’Malley as the principal celebrant at the Cathedral Basilica, 38 Cathedral Place. Open to the public.
In June, after more than four years of planning and coordination with officials in Italy and at the Vatican, the Diocese of St. Augustine acquired a first-class relic of our patron saint, Augustine of Hippo. It is on loan to the diocese for the 450thanniversary celebration. The public is invited to attend “Wednesdays with Augustine” in August and September at 7 p.m. at the Cathedral Basilica. There will be time for veneration of the relic, a teaching about Saint Augustine and intercessory prayer.