Since 1565
There is an unbroken path in St. Augustine that leads back to the origins of the Catholic faith on our shores. On that distant Saturday, September 8, 1565, the founding pastor of St. Augustine, Father Francisco López de Mendoza Grajales, celebrated the first parish Mass in what is now the United States.

Two hundred and twenty-two years later, another pastor of St. Augustine, Irishman Michael O’Reilly, who studied for the priesthood in Spain, dedicated the new parish church, which is now our Cathedral-Basilica. Fifty-six years after that, his protégé, Felix Varela, a gentle Cuban priest, who saw the entire world as his family, died in a building next door. Today, his statue stands nearby in the Cathedral’s East Courtyard. After spending most of his life in New York City – as an exile from his native Cuba – fighting tirelessly with his pen for peace and freedom for the human family, this Vicar General of New York and thinker decades ahead of his time, returned to his boyhood home. Today, as 150 years ago, he is revered and his cause for canonization is underway.

Five years after Varela’s death, another thinker ahead of his time came to St. Augustine, Augustin Verot. The future first bishop of St. Augustine would follow in the footsteps of these men and greatly influence the course of Catholic education throughout what would soon become the Diocese of St. Augustine. Following the American Civil War, he recruited the Sisters of St. Joseph to come from his hometown of Le Puy, France, to teach newly freed African-American children. They came and took up residence, and began teaching, in a house located in the oldest section of St. Augustine. It was the house in which Father O’Reilly had taught a young Felix Varela 70 years earlier, and then left in trust for an order of teaching nuns.

These men and woman, directly or indirectly associated with the O’Reilly House, have helped carve the unbroken path of faith that each of us walks today who are in someway connected to St. Augustine, Florida. We invite you to learn more about them by clicking on the links to the right.

© 2004 Sisters of St. Joseph, St. Augustine, Florida