Cathedral Parish commemorates founding with new book


400-THOMAS-S-WILLISFather Thomas S. Willis, rector of St Augustine’s Cathedral Parish, announced to local Historic City News reporters that Cathedral Basilica of Saint Augustine is marking the 450th anniversary of its founding with a new book, “America’s First Parish: The Cathedral Basilica of Saint Augustine”.

The book is the third comprehensive history of the parish and Cathedral and is now available for purchase at the Cathedral Basilica’s Bell Tower Gift Shop. The book has been printed in both English and Spanish editions by Éditions du Signe of Strasbourg, France. The parish’s two previous history books were written and published in 1987 and 2003. The first was by Charles Coomes, a parishioner, and the second was by Mary Cabrini-Durkin.

“We made a commitment to revise the previous edition because history is a living, breathing aspect of our parish and this great city,” Fr. Willis said in announcing the book’s publication. “Since history is changing and evolving all around us, we wanted a more up-to-date edition that was as historically accurate as possible.”

One special feature of the new edition is that it includes a complete listing of the priests who served as pastor of the parish since its founding — Father Francisco López de Mendoza Grajales, in 1565 to Father Willis. The last comprehensive listing of this information was published for St. Augustine’s 375th anniversary in 1940 by the Knights of Columbus.

Under the direction of John Garofalo, Cathedral Parish Manager, Margo Pope, a parishioner and retired opinion editor of The St. Augustine Record, wrote new text and incorporated text from two previous editions for this book; commissioned by Fr. Willis in 2012. Mrs. Pope also writes for The St. Augustine Catholic magazine of the Diocese of St. Augustine.

Glenn Hastings assisted by taking new photographs for the revised publication. Hastings, better known as St. Johns County’s Tourism Development director, is a professional photographer whose photos have been published worldwide. He is immediate past chairman of Visit Florida, the State of Florida’s tourism marketing division.

Preeminent historian Michael Gannon, Ph.D, distinguished service professor of history emeritus at the University of Florida, and a member of the federal 450th Commemoration Commission for St. Augustine’s celebration in 2015, reviewed the text for historical accuracy. Gannon was director of Mission Nombre de Dios in the 1960s and was a leader in St. Augustine’s 400th anniversary celebration in 1965. He authored several history books including “The Cross in the Sand”, “Rebel Bishop”, and was editor of “The History of Florida”, and “The New History of Florida”. He was honored in 1990 by Spain’s King Juan Carlos as Knight Commander of the Order of Isabel de Católica for his respect for the preservation of the historic record.

“The new publication also includes prominent features on the Sisters of St. Joseph, the Minorcans, and Tolomato Cemetery,” Fr. Willis remarked. “We want to show not only the full history of this great parish, but also the length and breadth of the people and places that make up such a magnificent story of faith.”