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San Sebastian Parish, St. Augustine 
Continuing the vision together  

by Shannon Scruby Henderson

Completed in 1973, San Sebastian’s first church was a labor of love by parishioners who contributed most of the labor. With a new church dedicated on Sept. 15, 2007, many of the same families chipped in to renovate the structure for its new role as a parish hall.

High above the altar is a beautiful crucifix and a tri-panel stained glass window that depicts the Trinity by Dixon Studios.

  Dedicated on Sept. 15, 2007, San Sebastian’s new church was designed by architects Don Crichlow and Sister of St. Joseph Barbara Cekosh. The church, furnishings and renovation of the parish hall cost the parish $4.1 million.

“That’s a unique feature of San Sebastian,” notes Pastor Thomas Walsh about his industrious flock. “They not only support the parish financially, they put their work into it, too. It’s the one place I’ve been where people really see the church as a source of their identity. We’ve had people in their 70s, former members of the original building committee, working very hard on the updates.”

With all signs pointing to a population explosion in the area, this total stewardship parish launched a capital campaign, Continuing the Vision Together, to plan for their new church. Doug Conlon served as project manager of the impressive building; Sister of St. Joseph Barbara Cekosh was the architect. Designed to complement the Spanish-influenced style of the original church, the new structure features a terra cotta barrel tile roof; a stucco exterior in sand-beige; and, rising three feet up from the foundation, a decorative facing of polished natural coquina.

On the main face of the church, a colorful nine-foot mosaic of Our Lady of Guadalupe created by Dixon Studios of Virginia looks out to State Road 16. “It is the only exterior mosaic of Our Lady of Guadalupe in the Southeastern United States,” comments Doug. “We chose it partly for our large Spanish congregation.”

Meanwhile, on an elevation at the circle that rings the main entrance, a statue of St. Sebastian stands guard over the faith community that bears his name. Another iconic design element, a massive bronze-colored cross, is mounted in the 42-foot parapet above the new church. “We replicated the cross that sits atop our original church, but this one is larger and higher above the ground,” says Doug. Constructed of aluminum clad in powder coat bronze, it was crafted by B & B Welding in St. Augustine.

Inside the church, an oak-and-exotic-marble altar by parishioner Eric Brock is the centerpiece for a space that seats 740 - and is expandable to seat 1170. Interior finishings are in oak, marble and polished coquina. Above the altar, a tri-panel Trinity window in stained glass by Dixon Studios depicts the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. 46 double-tiered pendant lights in opalene glass and bronze illuminate the interior. Stations of the Cross and statues of the Blessed Mother and St. Joseph with Child Jesus are by Demetz Studios of Germany.

The interior of San Sebastian Catholic Church is made of oak and exotic marble. The altar was designed by parishioner Eric Brock.

“We could see the need coming. We could see the signs,” says Father Walsh. “It’s been very encouraging to see the ‘old guard’ coming aboard with our young families to make it all happen. After all, they put so much into the first chapter of the parish.”

The old guard and the new - both English and Spanish-speaking - came together in September to usher in a new era for San Sebastian Parish. Bishop Victor Galeone and former Bishop John J. Snyder were also in attendance, as were priests and Catholics from around the diocese. “Every dedication is really a diocesan experience,” says Father Walsh. “A new church is something to be celebrated. We were happy and proud to share this important moment with our extended family.”

San Sebastian Parish at a glance
San Sebastian Parish, est. 1968
1112 State Road 16
St Augustine, FL 32084

Pastor: Rev. Thomas P. Walsh
Deacon: Deacon James Swanson
School: Pre-Kindergarten only
Parishioners: 600 families

San Sebastian Parish began in a conventional way, commissioned in 1968 by Bishop Paul F. Tanner with a mission of serving St. Augustine-area Catholics to the west of the San Sebastian River.

Its history took an unusual turn in 1980, when Bishop John J. Snyder asked Franciscan friars living near the property to take over parish administration. The Order of Friars Minor Conventual led the parish for more than a decade, during which time they also expanded the diocesan ministry for the deaf and blind. In 1993, dwindling vocations within their order prompted them to relinquish control back to the diocese. Today, the former friary serves as the parish rectory.

In the years since, the parish has found itself at the epicenter of growth in St. Johns County.

Its location, near World Golf Village and other mega residential developments, was the spur for its latest venture: a grand new church dedicated on Sept. 15, 2007.

Former San Sebastian pastors include founder Father John O’Flaherty (1968-1977); Father John M. Traynor (1978-1980); Franciscan Fathers Douglas P. Reed, George Mullin, Francis Sullivan, Nicholas Weiss, Christopher Balas and Paul Mizener, (during a period from 1980-1993); Father Peter Colasurdo (1993 to 1999); and Father Thomas P. Walsh (1999 to present).

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