“For the past 35 years, the center of our parish and diocesan life has been the Eucharist,” said Bishop Gerald M. Barbarito at the Diocese of Palm Beach’s 35th anniversary celebration Mass. “This brings us together as a family—as a Eucharistic people—transcending time to connect us with all the faithful who came before us. Everything we do in our faith flows to the Eucharist and from the Eucharist.”
Staff from the diocesan pastoral center were invited to commemorate the diocese’s 35th anniversary with Mass celebrated by Bishop Barbarito on Oct. 24, the day when the Diocese of Palm Beach came into existence, on which it celebrates its Patroness, Our Lady Queen of the Apostles. The Mass took place in the chapel aptly named after the patroness of the Diocese at the Cathedral of St. Ignatius Loyola in Palm Beach Gardens.
“Today we celebrate what we’ve been, who we are, and where we’re going as one Catholic people of the diocese. We move into the future with Mary as our example of being first among the apostles. Without Mary, without her ‘yes,’ we are not the Church. Like Mary, we must be brave in saying ‘yes’ to be witnesses of Christ,” said Bishop Barbarito.
Among those who have been “witnesses of Christ” since the founding of the diocese in 1984, is Consuelo Minutoli, administrative assistant in the Office of Vocations. Minutoli has seen 28 seminarians through the process of discernment since she first took the position in 2000. “For me, the greatest joy in my work over the years has been seeing these young men become leaders of the faith. To see them transform upon entering the seminary and then grow in formation is so rewarding and humbling,” said Minutoli.
Jeanne Clark, diocesan liturgy coordinator, recalls the overwhelming feeling of attending the first official Mass held at the Cathedral of St. Ignatius Loyola as a new diocese. “I remember watching the cathedral be constructed and feeling so excited to be our own diocese. There was a special feeling of coming home at the first Mass held there. It was a privilege to be a part of the choir at that Mass,” said Clark.
Lorraine Sabatella, current victim assistance coordinator for the Diocese of Palm Beach, began working with the diocese from its very beginning as director of the marriage tribunal. She proudly recalled the date of her first day of work. “I started with the diocese on January 2, 1985. The most rewarding part of my job, both in the tribunal and later as chancellor of the diocese, was being able to assist people – both laity and clergy. We have wonderful clergy and it was an honor to serve them. And it was a mixed blessing that I became chancellor shortly before the 2002 clergy abuse scandals came to light. Mixed because of the heartache involved for all of us, but a blessing that I was able to help set up stronger policies and procedures to educate and prevent this kind of abuse. I am proud of the Safe Environment Office in our diocese and know that we are doing everything in our power to protect children and all vulnerable people now and for years to come.”
The Diocese of Palm Beach, a history
The first recorded history of Catholicism in what are now the five counties of the Diocese of Palm Beach dates back to the 1800s. In 1889, Bishop John Moore of the Diocese of St. Augustine invited the Jesuits to assume pastoral care of the lower third of Florida, an area sparsely settled at that time. In 1892, Jesuit Father Conrad M. Widman arrived in Lake Worth by boat from Jacksonville. He stayed at the home of Irish immigrant and local pioneer, John Purcell McKenna. He baptized McKenna’s son and celebrated Mass with the family.
St. Ann Catholic Church was built in West Palm Beach on land donated by legendary developer Henry Flagler. Flagler was building his Royal Poinciana Hotel nearby, and the construction of this enormous wooden structure attracted engineers, laborers and carpenters who were Roman Catholic. The church was dedicated March 15, 1896 by Bishop John Moore and quickly thereafter a larger church was built in 1913 to accommodate the growing numbers of Catholics in the area. The original building is now preserved as a historic church and used for parish offices.
Fort Pierce also became a hub for the increasing growth of the Catholic population in what is now the Diocese of Palm Beach. In 1905, Father P.J. Bresnahan, a priest from the Diocese of St. Augustine, conducted a mission for both Catholics and non-Catholics there. Subsequently the small, mostly German-speaking, Catholic community built a church and needed a pastor. In 1910, Benedictine Father Gabriel Ruppert established St. Anastasia Parish.
In 1916, Catholics in Stuart built St. Joseph Mission. The first pastor was Father Joseph J. Fahy, who lived in residence at the parish in 1928.
Similarly, several Catholic families settled at Canal Point on the shores of Lake Okeechobee in 1920. They established a church at a private residence, but by 1924 their congregation had grown to 30 and the settlers built a small church. The building was destroyed, however, by a hurricane in 1928. As the population grew, residents raised money for a new church, which is now St. Mary Parish in Pahokee.
As the years progressed more and more parishes rose out the flourishing Catholic community in the area. Five parishes were established by 1930, and by 1950 there were nine in total.
When the Diocese of Miami was established in 1958, the counties of Palm Beach, Martin, Okeechobee, St. Lucie and Indian River came under the jurisdiction of this new diocese. Indian River, Okeechobee and St. Lucie counties later became part of the Diocese of Orlando in 1968. That same year, the Diocese of Miami became an archdiocese, and Martin and Palm Beach counties were included within its jurisdiction.
During this time, St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary in Boynton Beach was dedicated in 1963 under the care of the Vincentian Fathers. It is owned and operated by all seven of Florida’s dioceses.
On June 16, 1984, Pope John Paul II created the Diocese of Palm Beach with the counties of Palm Beach and Martin taken from the Archdiocese of Miami and the counties of Okeechobee, St. Lucie and Indian River taken from the Diocese of Orlando to comprise its territory. The diocese formally came into existence on October 24, 1984, when Bishop Thomas V. Daily was installed as the first bishop. The diocese began with 38 parishes and served approximately 103,000 Catholics.
The same year, the parish of St. Ignatius Loyola in Palm Beach Gardens was chosen to become the cathedral of the newly formed Diocese of Palm Beach. Founded in 1970 with 400 families, the St. Ignatius Loyola community had outgrown its multipurpose building and began to design a permanent church. Now designated as the cathedral, it was built to hold 1,000 worshippers and was designed with the bishop’s chair as the focal point. The design also utilizes natural light and has stunning stained-glass windows and native Florida coral rock walls.
In 1990, Pope John Paul II appointed Bishop J. Keith Symons as the second bishop of the Diocese of Palm Beach. At this time, the diocese had 46 parishes and five missions, serving a Catholic population of nearly 200,000.
Bishop Anthony J. O’Connell was appointed the third bishop of the diocese in 1998, and Bishop Sean O’Malley was installed as the fourth bishop in 2002.
In 2003, Bishop Gerald M. Barbarito of the Diocese of Ogdensburg N.Y. was installed as the fifth bishop of the Diocese of Palm Beach. Bishop Barbarito had served in Ogdensburg since 2000, and prior to that he served as auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of Brooklyn, his home diocese.
Today, the Diocese of Palm Beach serves a Catholic population of 233,741 who worship in the 50 parishes and three missions. Students throughout the diocese receive a Catholic education through the two pre-schools, 12 elementary schools, two private elementary schools and three high schools. The diocese is home to one Hispanic pastoral center and one Catholic cemetery, Our Lady Queen of Peace Cemetery.
Currently, there are 110 diocesan priests, 31 religious priests on assignment, 38 extern priests with faculties, 105 permanent deacons, five religious brothers and 72 religious sisters.
To read more about the offices, ministries, and community events in the Diocese of Palm Beach, visit diocesepb.org. Stay in the know about the growth of the diocese by following the nine main Facebook pages: @DiocesePB, @DoPBCatholicSchools, @DPBYouth, @CYAPB, @DiocesePBFamilyLife, @DPBVocations, @CatholicCharitiesPB, @ChancellorPalmBeach, and @DiocesePBHispanicMinistry. Get an inside look of the history of each parish in the diocese by reading the Parish Profiles on social media and on the website.