The Catholic Church has been a presence in Florida for centuries, since the days of Spanish exploration in the early 1500s, and a presence in Orlando at least since Bishop John Moore arranged the 1881 purchase of a block facing Orange Avenue at Robinson Street for $1,050. From today's perspective, that was some good deal. On that downtown corner now sits St. James Catholic Cathedral, next to offices of the Diocese of Orlando, which this week is celebrating its 40th year with a big Festival of Faith -- a full program of events from Thursday night through Saturday at the Orange County Convention Center. At the festival, a history pavilion will feature a display about the whole history of the Catholic Church. The presentation was created by the Diocese of St. Augustine, which for almost a century encompassed the entire state of Florida. That's one of the things I learned from a DVD, Forty Years of Faith: The Diocese of Orlando's 40-Year History, prepared for the anniversary. Inspired by growth Florida's St. Augustine-based diocese was established in 1870, but the state's dramatic growth after World War II inspired the creation of the Diocese of Miami in 1958. Ten years later, in June 1968, the Diocese of Orlando was formed to serve nine counties in the state's center. By the way, as you might have guessed, the bishop who bought the block of what's now downtown in 1881 inspired the name of the Orlando area's Catholic high school, Bishop Moore, built in 1954. Born in Ireland in 1834, Moore immigrated to Charleston, S.C., as a teenager in the late 1840s. He served as Florida's bishop from 1877 until his death in 1901 and worked to expand Catholic schools in Florida during the late 1800s. But that's much earlier than the period covered in Forty Years of Faith, which focuses on the growth of the diocese since 1968, from 50 parishes and about 128,000 church members to 80 parishes and 10 missions serving more than 800,000 people. Churches with history From the DVD, I learned that St. Charles Borromeo Church in Orlando's College Park neighborhood was originally named the cathedral of the diocese, but after a devastating fire at the church on Oct. 1, 1976, St. James became the cathedral in 1977. The first St. James Church, a wooden building of American Gothic design, was begun in 1887 and completed in 1891; it served the parish until 1952, when it was replaced by the modified Romanesque building that remains today, according to church history at stjcc.net. Another historic church in the diocese, St. Paul in Daytona Beach, is only the second Florida church to be named a basilica, being honored with that designation by Pope Benedict XVI in January 2006. Florida's other basilica, in St. Augustine, received the designation many years ago. "Churches are selected as basilicas because of their historical significance and their liturgical life and example," according to the basilica's Web site, basilicaofsaintpaul.com, which contains a detailed description of the building at 360 N. Ridgewood Ave. in Daytona Beach. St. Paul in Daytona traces its beginnings to the 1880s; the current Spanish mission-style basilica was built in the 1920s for nearly $250,000. The first Mass was celebrated in 1927. At 181 feet long, 80 feet wide and 123 feet tall, it was the highest building on the mainland when it was built and seated 1,150 people. The walls are 3 feet thick, and it was one of the first buildings in the area with a central heat and air-conditioning system. The basilica is open to visitors daily from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., according to its Web site. Guided tours may be arranged for groups of 10 or more; call the office at 386-252-5422. For information about the Festival of Faith, go to orlandodiocese.org or call 407-246-7196. Copies of the Forty Years of Faith DVD are available at orlandodiocese.org/festival in the "store" section.
History Makers On Wednesday, former Orlando Mayor Glenda Hood will return to a podium in downtown Orlando to help honor J. Charles Gray of GrayRobinson, P.A., as he receives the John Young History Maker award during festivities at the Orange County Regional History Center. This year, the Historical Society of Central Florida will recognize three history makers: past, present and future. In addition to Gray, the late Dr. Philip Phillips will be honored (past), as well as the winner of a $5,000 History Maker Scholarship, to be named Wednesday. The annual gala is the society's largest fundraiser. In 2007, it raised about $90,000 to support exhibitions and educational programs that served more than 146,000 children and adults in the community that year. Gray has been active in Central Florida civic and political affairs for more than four decades and has played a key part in the development of Central Florida, serving in many roles, including city solicitor for Orlando and chairman of the Economic Development Commission of Mid-Florida. Always, there's shopping Maybe you read the Sentinel story about retailers rushing to offer deals that might lure you to part with your "economic incentive" tax rebate. I'm sure the Florida Humanities Council's sale is a total coincidence, not timed to the rebate but to spring cleaning. Whatever the motive, you might want to check out the books and compact discs offered at the council's online store: flahumstore.org. This site has great resources, especially for teachers, who may request free posters and other materials about "The World of Florida's Spanish Colonial Past." Sale items include a set of three CDs: Settlers by the Sea, Cracker Country and Florida's Indians, and books including Michael Gannon's excellent Florida: A Short History for $11 (not including shipping). Joy Wallace Dickinson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, 407-420-6082 or by good old-fashioned letter to the Sentinel, 633 N. Orange Ave., Orlando, 32801.
The Basilica of St. Paul (above) in Daytona Beach became the 2nd basilica in Florida on Jan. 24, 2006. St. James Catholic Church (left), which is now a cathedral, draws a crowd in Orlando in the 1950s.SARA A. FAJARDO/ORLANDO SENTINEL FILETHE FLORIDA CATHOLIC