Father Michael J. McNally on the History of the Diocese of St. Augustine

By Savanna Kearney

Wednesday, March 11 marked the day that Pope Pius IX signed the papal decree that formally established the Diocese of St. Augustine – Florida’s oldest diocese – in 1870. To honor this special 150th anniversary, Bishop Felipe Estévez, tenth bishop of the diocese, opened a special event with vespers. Msgr. Christopher Schreck, a priest of the Diocese of Savannah, and the rector and president of the Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus, Ohio, gave the homily, in which he praised the diocese’s rich faith history.

Following Vespers, Father Michael J. McNally, a Catholic historian from the Diocese of Palm Beach and author of the newly released book, John Moore: Catholic Pastoral Leadership during Florida’s First Boom, 1877-1901.

In his talk, titled “Blessed Beginnings: The Episcopal Leadership of Augustin Verot and John Moore,” Father McNally took the audience through a brief history of the life of Augustine Verot, first bishop of the Diocese of St. Augustine, followed by the life of Bishop John Moore, his successor.

He then compared and contrasted the two former bishops of our diocese. Verot, a Frenchman, was loud, outspoken, and, at times, controversial. He had big ideas and spoke his mind. Moore, on the other hand, was a practical and quiet Irishman. Yet both contributed to the rapid and massive growth of the diocese after its founding.

“However,” said Father McNally, “they were far more alike than different, especially in their leadership styles.”

Both of these bishops were personally affected by the Civil War and reconstruction. Both constantly visited their parishes and missions. Both faced financial constraints, having to plead for money to keep up with the rapid growth of the diocese. Both faced a shortage of clergy during their times as bishops. Both supported women in education, especially when the Sisters of St. Joseph traveled to the diocese from France to teach both black and white children. Both men ministered to the marginalized and held a keen responsibility for the greater church.

And finally, their most outstanding similar qualities lay in their responsible, energetic and resourceful leadership style. McNally described both Verot and Moore as “men of high intelligence, keen vision, mock sanctity, and driving zeal.”

“Our first two bishops were a blessing for Florida Catholics, then and now. For, in them, we have outstanding examples of shepherds in the person of Jesus who gave their lives for their sheep without counting the cost.”

To learn more about the 150th Anniversary of the Diocese of St. Augustine, visit www.150years.dosafl.com.