St. Augustine Catholic
The Nativity Story
Covered in Prayer
All May be One

in this issue... 
editor's notes
saint of the month
bishop's message
from the archives
in the know with Fr. Joe
theology 101
your marriage matters
parenting journey
spiritual fitness
parish profile
around the diocese
calendar of events

parish profile
St. Benedict the Moor Mission and Prince of Peace Votive Church
Part II of our profile on the Cathedral-Basilica of St. Augustine
by Shannon Scrubby-Henderson

St. Benedict the Moor Catholic Church is a mission church of the Cathedral-Basilica of St. Augustine and is located in the historic neighborhood of Lincolnville. Built in 1910, the church is located next door to St. Benedict Catholic School.
Prince of Peace Votive Church in St. Augustine was built in 1965 following the aftermath of the Cuban Missile Crisis. The church is located on the grounds of Mission Nombre de Dios and was dedicated as a place of prayer.

The oldest parish in the United States boasts another distinction as well: within the parish are three separate churches. At the center stands the imposing, Moorish-style Cathedral-Basilica. Not far away - at the San Marco Avenue entrance to the Mission of Nombre de Dios - the quiet Prince of Peace Votive Church is a pilgrimage site for residents and visitors. To the south down Martin Luther King Street stands St. Benedict the Moor Mission, set in the Lincolnville Historic District. Founded to serve African-American Catholics in the early years of the 20th century, St.Benedict has played an active presence in the community ever since.

Prince of Peace Votive Church

Prince of Peace was commissioned by Archbishop Joseph P. Hurley and completed in 1965; the new church crowned a gala celebration that commemorated the 400th anniversary of the Mission Nombre de Dios. The only votive church in the diocese - and one of only a handful in America - it was built in the aftermath of the Cuban Missile Crisis, an event that was particularly threatening to Northeast Florida. The church was dedicated as a place of prayer - a prayer that God will deliver mankind from atomic warfare.

As the former director of the Mission Nombre de Dios, historian Michael Gannon, Ph.D. oversaw the 1965 building project. Created by a Boston architectural firm, “it was the first modern church to be built from solid block St. Augustine coquina,” he says. Unlike the nearby Castillo de San Marcos, also built of local coquina, the walls of Prince of Peace are marble-smooth, Dr. Gannon adds. “They were cut with diamond saws, so they have very few rough edges.”

Prince of Peace opens occasionally for weddings, funerals and special liturgies, but not for weekly Masses. However, thanks to volunteers from the Cathedral-Basilica, adoration is held weekdays from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. High points inside the church include a modernist stained glass window depicting the Holy Spirit and a simple chapel dedicated to Our Lady of Fatima, who begged mankind to pray for peace during her apparitions in Fatima, Portugal.

St. Benedict the Moor Mission and School

Amid St. Augustine’s historic neighborhoods, Lincolnville (a 45-block section bounded by Cedar, Riviera, Cerra, Washington and DeSoto Streets) stands as the center of African-American culture. At its heart is St. Benedict the Moor Mission. Named for a Sicilian friar (1526-1589) who was dubbed “The Holy Negro” for his charitable work, the church has roots in the St. Benedict Benevolent Society, founded before the Civil War and incorporated in 1872 by St. Augustine’s black Catholics. Currently, Father Christopher Liguori is leading a pledge drive to renovate the nearly century-old church (built between 1909 and 1911). So far, the first two of the churches 14 colorful stained glass windows have been returned to their original beauty, and the interior is nearing completion. More than $80,000 has been donated by Cathedral-Basilica parishioners to fuel the effort. Sunday Mass is still celebrated at St. Benedict, drawing a congregation of 60 to 100 worshippers from all around the parish.

A second renovation project is also in progress next door. The oldest surviving brick schoolhouse in St. Augustine, St. Benedict Catholic School was built in 1898 - a gift of Mother Katharine Drexel. The famous Philadelphia heiress also founded the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament for Indians and Colored People and established more than 60 Catholic schools across America. When Pope John Paul II canonized Mother Drexel in 2000, former St. Benedict student Barbara Vickers was there to witness the event - one of two representatives sent by the parish. “It was just awesome,” she says of the experience in Rome, where she was treated to an audience with the pope.

From its inception, the Sisters of St. Joseph ran the school. On Easter Sunday 1916, three of the nuns - Sisters Mary Thomasine Hehir, Mary Scholastica Sullivan and Mary Beningus Cameron - were arrested for violating a 1913 law that made it a criminal offense for whites to teach in a black school in Florida. The nuns prevailed, serving many generations of students (of several religions) from kindergarten through eighth grade. St. Benedict School closed in 1964, when local Catholic schools were integrated.

Hank White, chairman of the Friends of St. Benedict School Restoration Project, has tirelessly championed the cause for saving the schoolhouse. “It would be a shame not to have this building and complex restored,” he says. “It serves as a testament to all that happened here. I will always treasure my memories of Sister Mary Helen, Sister Louise and the Josephite priests. It was a wonderful experience.”

The restoration has been a slow and steady effort: “We friends of St. Benedict have kept working gradually,” says Hank. “We got a matching grant from the state in 2005, but then we had to remove lead-based paint and asbestos and repair termite damage, so that wasn’t enough. We’ve got a second, larger grant now, and we’re studying just how to use it. Our goal is to get the building closed in. Then we’ll have to start looking for more funding, but we’ll get it all done.”

When it is complete, the three-room schoolhouse will house a museum - complete with memorabilia and a roster of students who attended St. Benedict School; offer a multi-purpose room with computers where volunteers can offer tutoring assistance to area children; and in the upstairs auditorium, contain a space for meetings and wedding receptions. “The hope is that by leasing space, we can help generate income to cover expenses,” says Hank.

The approach makes sense: St. Benedict School has long been a neighborhood amenity. “When I was growing up in Lincolnville in the 1940s, the kids in the neighborhood could go upstairs after school and play the piccolo,” remembers Otis Mason, a former St. Johns County school superintendent who is one of the neighborhood’s biggest promoters. “On social occasions, young people were allowed to meet there and dance to the jukebox. I wasn’t Catholic, but I remember the nuns and priests. St. Benedict was always there for the young people, even if we didn’t attend the school. It would be nice to see that happen here again.”

st. benedict the moor mission and
prince of peace votive church at a glance

St. Benedict the Moor Mission, est. 1911
86 Martin Luther King Street
St. Augustine, FL 32084
Sunday Mass: 8:00 a.m.

Prince of Peace Votive Church, est. 1965
101 San Marco Avenue
St. Augustine, FL 32084
Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament: Monday-Friday 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Pastor: Rev. Timothy Lozier
Parochial Vicar: Rev. Christopher Liguori

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