St. Augustine Catholic
Faith in Action
What path will your faith take?
Your Catholic Voice in Tallahassee

editor's notes
saint of the month
bishop's message
from the archives
in the know with Fr. Joe
theology 101
your marriage matters
the parenting journey
spiritual fitness
parish profile
around the diocese
world news
work life
calendar of events
2005-2006 Annual Report
parish profile
San Juan del Rio:
Switzerland’s first Catholic parish dedicates a grand new church

by Shannon Scruby Henderson

The stained-glass windows of the new $6 million church depict the life of Christ. The windows were designed and manufactured by Dixon Studios of Staunton, Va.


In the manner of the Old World churches of Europe, a spacious paved plaza leads visitors to the entry of the church. It serves as a gathering area for members of the parish community.

On Super Bowl Sunday (Feb. 4) at San Juan del Rio Parish, football took a back seat to another kind of celebration. At a 2 o’clock dedication Mass attended by parishioners and priests from around the diocese, Bishop Victor Galeone, assisted by Retired Bishop John J. Snyder, formally consecrated the magnificent and long-awaited new San Juan del Rio church.

Finished in stucco and red tile roof, the Romanesque-style building with Spanish accents blends seamlessly with its neighbors: the “old” church, now the parish social hall, and the elementary school. “It was designed to look like a church that’s been there for several hundred years,” notes Pastor Edward Booth about the sprawling 1,360-seat edifice. To accomplish this objective, Architect Howard Davis of St. Augustine - whose recent projects include the diocese’s new high schools - used design elements with deep roots in Catholic tradition. In the manner of Old World churches, a spacious paved plaza leads visitors to the entry. Interior appointments are quiet and classic: gleaming Italian tile floors, rich mahogany accents, and, soaring high above the congregation at prayer, stained glass windows that depict the life of Christ. Manufactured by Dixon Studios in Staunton, Va., the color-drenched windows are a work in progress. When the final installation is completed, says Father Ed, there will be 66 in all.

Subtle references to the river theme that is part of the parish’s name and identity can be found inside and outside the church. The sound of rushing water issues from the fountain at the center of the entry plaza. Urns tipped on their sides spill water into the bottom of a frieze in bas-relief above the front doors. Water imagery sparkles in the stained glass windows themselves - and in the colors and shapes inside the borders that surround each window.

The parish that built this church for the ages reflects the fast-growing neighborhood around it. “We have a lot of children here: 288 in our school, and 700 in religious education,” says Father Ed. School and religious education are parish priorities. “At San Juan del Rio, the school is a ministry of the parish. It’s actually in our mission statement,” says Principal Jeanne Brown. “We, in turn, make a sincere attempt to collaborate with the religious education program. For example, the kids prepare for the sacraments by doing joint service projects. Most recently, the school and youth group came together for the Souper Bowl of Caring project. Youth leaders and the school try in various ways to foster a sense of community.”

For all ages, there are opportunities to get involved. Parishioner Frank Baltis, a widower, finds support and companionship in a group that meets for Mass each weekday morning. After Mass, a core group stays for coffee - an activity organized by Baltis. “I also make the coffee for the Monday morning prayer group,” he says. We meet from 6:00 to 7:00 every Monday morning.”
  The baptismal font is the first feature you see when entering the sanctuary of the church. The font is constructed of rich mahogany and Italian marble.

Sandy Shurr helps provide a special kind of outreach to the sick. The catalyst was a family crisis: “My daughter Jacque had a mastectomy last February. I ordered a prayer blanket from a ministry I knew about at Blessed Trinity Parish and mailed it to her. She told me that when she wrapped herself in it, all the pain and worry just went away. So I said that if it did that for my little girl, I’m going to do it for others.”

Today, about 30 parishioners help make blankets, while others contribute money for supplies. Included with each prayer blanket is a pocket that holds a rosary and a special prayer of healing. Each blanket is blessed - while it is being made, and afterwards, by the parish. “Almost every Sunday, three to five blankets are blessed at Mass,” notes Sandy. “Everybody stands and raises their hands in prayer. Those blankets leave here with so much love. It’s a great example of how this parish comes together to help each other and the outside community.”

Email questions and comments to:

San Juan del Rio Parish
San Juan del Rio Parish
1714-3 State Road 13
Jacksonville, FL 32259
(904) 287-0519

Pastor: Rev. Edward Booth
Parochial Vicar: Rev. Ron Camarda
Parishioners: 1,600 registered families
School: 288 students in grades Pre-K thru 8
Principal: Mrs. Jeanne Brown

The land that San Juan del Rio Parish stands on is the east parcel of a 110-acre riverfront estate that Archbishop Joseph P. Hurley purchased in 1958 for a diocesan youth camp. After the Buckman Bridge was completed in the early 1970s, the area south of Julington Creek began to grow. In late 1976, Msgr. Joseph Dawson suggested that a mission church be started on the Camp St. John property.

In the beginning, Mass was held in the game room of the old estate mansion. In 1979, Father Gregory Fay was named administrator to the mission. San Juan del Rio was raised to parish status in 1984. On Sept. 11, 1988, the community dedicated an all-purpose facility, which served as church, social hall and educational building. The parish school opened in 1995. Expanded three years later, it now includes Pre-K through grade 8. Father Edward Booth has served as pastor since June 1999.