Thursday, February 16, 2012

Key West's Catholic Church is now a minor basilica

It may seem a bit odd to be blogging about something religious in a hard-partying tourist town that is known for its “raffish charm”, as I think I put it somewhere on our new website.  But something has happened here that I think is pretty cool.  I really love the historic aspect of Key West, and this has to do with that.
Situated right on Truman Ave, aka US1, every tourist accessing Old Town passes by St. Mary Star of the Sea Catholic Church.  Its presence -- at once graceful and commanding -- is undeniable.
Since 1846, the church has been the spiritual center of the local Catholic community, bearing witness to the joys and sorrows, rites of passage, celebrations, and mournings of life’s journey of the faithful.  It is the oldest Catholic church in South Florida and the second oldest in the state.  Its affiliated Mary Immaculate Star of the Sea School, founded in 1868, is Florida’s first Catholic school, educating generations of local children.  And it even serves the community at large as a voting station.
Also on the grounds is an interesting feature, the historic Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes.  Legend has it, the grotto has protected the island from hurricanes since its construction in 1922 by Sister Mary Louis Gabriel. Before it was built, 300 Key Westers lost their lives in the hurricane of 1919; since its dedication, Key West has experienced nothing greater than a category 2, and no lives have been lost.
St. Mary’s, in one way or another, touches the entire community, even those not “official members" of its 1300-family congregation.  Now, in one of the highest honors bestowed by the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Benedict XVI has designated St. Mary Star of the Sea Catholic Church a minor basilica – one of only 72 in the United States.
The basilica title is bestowed on churches in recognition of their historical and spiritual importance. With the new designation, St. Mary’s joins a small handful of minor basilicas in Florida.  There are only four major basilicas, all located in Rome.  As part of the change, St. Mary’s will become known by a new name:  The Basilica of St. Mary Star of the Sea.  The designation ceremony is to take place on May 31.
In its official announcement, the Archdiocese of Miami (comprising Miami-Dade, Broward, and Monroe counties) recognized Key West's penchant for revelry in its statement: "May we not overlook the local pilgrimage from the local people of Key West ... (who) desire to find peace in this place with 283 bars."  Too bad that statement came off somewhat condescendingly.  Perhaps the diocese is unaware of Key West visitors who balance the party with piety alongside locals at St. Mary’s Mass many a Sunday morning.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

St. Patrick's Day, Key West Style!

Do locals and tourists alike need a reason to party in KW?  Are you kidding?  Does that “reason” make it easier to legitimize the over-indulgence?  Maybe, but who really needs an excuse?

Key West is a melting pot, not particularly known for its Irish heritage.  But come March 17 -- Saint Patrick’s Day -- everyone is Irish.  And, like every other special occasion, Key West puts its unique spin on the annual celebration.

While there is no officially sanctioned parade, there is an impromptu one, highlighting  the LGBT community and called the “Pink Paddy’s Day Parade”.  It’s essentially a pub crawl with everyone wearing pink and drag queens leading the way!  While other cities bar LGBT groups from their St. Patrick’s Day Parade (citing the religious origins of the event), Key West takes pride in its diversity -- no “holier-than-thou” here!  With the Pink Paddy’s Day Parade, Key West joins San Francisco in being the only American cities with a LGBT themed St. Patrick’s Celebration. 

This year also marks the 34th Annual St. Patrick’s Day Bar Stroll.  Starting at noon at the Southernmost Beach CafĂ© (upper end of Duval Street), it proceeds from the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico, hitting multiple bars along Old Town’s main drag.  $30 buys a ticket for the stroll and a commemorative T-shirt that has a unique design each year.  Proceeds go to the Cancer Foundation of the Florida Keys and Boys & Girls Clubs of the Keys Area.  This is one of the locals’ most attended events, but if you’re on vacation, jump right in -- they will definitely treat you as one of their own!

And if you are Irish – certifiably so or just in search of a true Irish experience while in Key West for St. Patrick’s Day -- there is no substitute for Finnegan’s Wake, Key West’s only truly Irish owned and operated pub.  Authentic in every detail, it is located at the corner of Grinnell and James Streets in Old Town.  This is THE place to be on St. Patrick’s Day in Key West.  The celebration draws thousands, necessitating the intersection to be cordoned off for the event.  The beer flows freely, there is great live Irish music, and  traditional  food is served on the street because it’s nearly impossible to actually get inside.
So, come to Key West this St. Patty’s day and celebrate your “Irish” heritage in true Key West style!!!