The Basilica of Saint Mary Star of the Sea
Homily preached by Archbishop Thomas Wenski May 31, 2012 at the dedication of the minor basilica of St. Mary Star of the Sea in Key West.
We gather today, on this feast of the Visitation of Mary, to give thanks for the favor shown to this historic parish church dedicated to Mary, Star of the Sea, to the Key West community and to our archdiocese. We are all extremely grateful that Pope Benedict XVI has seen fit to raise this church to the status and dignity of a minor basilica.
As a basilica, besides the umbrellino and the tinnanabulum, the special umbrella and bells, Mary, Star of the Sea, is granted the privilege to display the coat of arms of Vatican City on its façade and the crossed keys of St. Peter on all its furnishings and liturgical appointments. Having in the Archdiocese of Miami a basilica does underscore the special bond that joins this local Church to the successor of St. Peter. The unity that should exist among those who invoke the name of Jesus – that unity for which Jesus himself prayed – is realized cum Petro and sub Petro: with Peter and under Peter.
In today’s feast of the Visitation of Mary, which was just described for us in the Gospel reading, we see exemplified the sublime greatness of Mary. Before worrying about herself, Mary instead thought about elderly Elizabeth, who she knew was well on in her pregnancy and, moved by the mystery of love that she had just welcomed within herself, she set out "in haste" to go to offer Elizabeth her help. Mary proclaimed with her whole life what she had replied to the angel at Nazareth: “I am the handmaid of the Lord.” Mary’s life has been a gift of self to God and to neighbor. And now Mary in heaven carries out a ministry of intercession on our behalf – ever in communion with her Son. And, in Key West, generations of Catholics instructed in the faith by the good priests and holy nuns who served here, heroically braved isolation, storms and disease by entrusting themselves to Mary and her maternal protection. The Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary, especially Sister Louis Gabriel who built the grotto, taught their charges to pray with them the words of the Memorare: “Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to thy protection, implored thy help, or sought thy intercession was left unaided.”
A small plaque with a painted image of Mary recovered from the 1901 fire that destroyed the earlier church built by Father Kirby in 1851 had an inscription written by Father Hunincq that describes perfectly the significance of this parish and the faith that has sustained it over the years: “Since it first shed its light in Key West, it has been like a star of the sea for the wandering mariner; it has been a star of hope and comfort in times of despair and sorrow and a star of joy to those who have lived in its teachings.”
“Blessed are you among women,” Elizabeth tells Mary. Yet, Mary remains the humble maiden of Nazareth: She is not weighed down by pride or selfishness. She never forgets that she is the handmaid of the Lord, nor does she forget the gratuitous goodness of God. That we, too, might not forget, the Church entrusts to us her canticle of praise, the Magnificat, which we pray every evening at vespers.
Only by accepting God’s love and making of our existence a selfless and generous service to our neighbor can we joyfully lift a song of praise to the Lord. This parish’s present commitment to its school as well as this parish’s commitment to social ministry, seen in its outreach to the homeless and the hungry, represent “a selfless and generous service to our neighbor” that has always characterized the Catholics of Key West since the very first settlement of this island.
"My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord." Mary recognizes God's greatness. This is the first indispensable sentiment of faith. It is the sentiment that gives security to human creatures and frees from fear, even in the midst of the tempest of history.
This song of Mary, her Magnificat, is, in the words of Pope Benedict XVI, “an authentic and profound ‘theological’ reading of history: a reading that we must continually learn from the one whose faith is without shadow and without wrinkle.”
Going beyond the surface, Mary "sees" the work of God in history with the eyes of faith. This is why she is blessed, because she believed. By faith, in fact, she accepted the Word of the Lord and conceived the Incarnate Word. Her faith has shown her that the thrones of the powerful of this world are temporary, while God's throne is the only rock that does not change or fall.
With the eyes of faith, we too can see the work of God in the history of this state and this city. We see it in the short-lived mission of the Jesuits in Upper Matacumbe Key in 1568; we see it in the early 1700s when Cuban fishermen living here in Cayo Hueso were attended to by priests traveling from Havana 90 miles away. We can see it in the 1820s in the Catholic faith of Stephen Rustle Mallory and his mother – and he, a graduate of Springhill College, would later write his son at Georgetown, urging him to “cling to your religion, my son, as the sheer anchor of life here and to come. Never permit yourself to question its great truths, or mysteries. Faith must save you or nothing can; and faith implies mystery.” With the eyes of faith, we can see God at work when Mass was celebrated in City Hall in 1846, and when Father Kirby built the first Mary Star in the 1850s.
Mary’s example of readiness and generosity in the service of others, seen in her visitation of Elizabeth, has been imitated by the selfless and generous service of the priests who died of Yellow Fever while ministering here in Key West. Her example has been imitated during the century long presence of the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary in teaching the young and in ministering to the sick and wounded during the Spanish American War.
As the Second Vatican Council taught, Mary is the Mother of the Church and is therefore the model for us as we try to live our Christian vocation in the world. This Basilica of St. Mary Star of the Sea, the southernmost parish of the United States, stands as a beacon of faith, hope and love. It stands as an invitation written in brick and mortar to all who visit this community – an invitation to trust in God and to imitate Mary in what she herself said: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.”
Yes, as Pope Benedict says, “Her Magnificat, at the distance of centuries and millennia, remains the truest and most profound interpretation of history.” For all human history – without faith – is incomprehensible. As the Pope writes in Spe Salvi, “Human life is a journey. Towards what destination? How do we find the way? Life is like a voyage on the sea of history, often dark and stormy, a voyage in which we watch for the stars that indicate the route…Holy Mary, Mother of God, our Mother, teach us to believe, to hope, to love with you. Show us the way to his Kingdom! Star of the Sea, shine upon us and guide us on our way!” (Pope Benedict XVI, Spe Salvi)
Vatican names Saint Mary Star of the Sea Church a Minor Basilica
February 11, 2012, The feast day of Our Lady of Lourdes, Saint Mary Star of the Sea Church was named as a Minor Basilica by the Vatican. Archbishop of Miami Thomas Wenski made the announcement to the parishioners via a video shown at all the weekend Masses.
St. Mary Star of the Sea, the oldest Catholic church in South Florida and one of the oldest in the state, is now the first basilica in the Archdiocese of Miami.
Archbishop Thomas Wenski conveyed the “news from Rome” to parishioners of the Key West landmark via a video played at all the Masses the weekend of Feb. 11-12. The official designation ceremony will take place May 31, feast of the Visitation.
“Last year, I made the request for this honor through the Holy See’s Congregation for the Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments and, at that time, I submitted the necessary documentation as to why St. Mary Star of the Sea was worthy of consideration,” Archbishop Wenski said in the video. “This beautiful and historic church (established in 1846) becomes the first Minor Basilica in the archdiocese and only the fifth in the state of Florida.”
The archbishop noted that its status as a Minor Basilica now makes St. Mary Star of the Sea “the pope’s ‘parish church’ here in the archdiocese,” and as such ”should link all Catholics here in South Florida most closely to the person of the Holy Father.”
“Basilica” is a title of honor bestowed on a church of historical and spiritual importance by the Holy Father. Churches honored with the title basilica belong to two classes, major and minor. There are four major basilicas in Rome (St. Peter’s, St. John Lateran, St. Mary Major, and St. Paul Outside the Walls) and 72 minor basilicas in the United States, in addition to more than 1,500 other minor basilicas throughout the world.
St. Michael the Archangel Church in the Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee — the oldest parish in Florida — became Florida’s fourth minor basilica this January. The other three are the Cathedral Basilica in St. Augustine, Basilica of St. Paul the Apostle in Daytona Beach, and the Basilica of the National Shrine of Mary, Queen of the Universe, in Orlando.
“This designation is ultimately the consequence of your faith in Jesus Christ, and the faith of those who have been here before us,” said Father John Baker, pastor, in his homily to parishioners this weekend, when the church’s new status was announced.
Father Baker’s new title is rector of the Minor Basilica of St. Mary Star of the Sea. He became St. Mary’s pastor in 2007 and said he noticed immediately a certain “good energy” or “karma” of holiness around the historic parish. “But what is the name for it?” he asked.
He said Archbishop Wenski, the first native son to be named a bishop in Florida, captured it precisely when he began working, two months into his tenure as archbishop of Miami, on securing for the church the status of minor basilica, “the ecclesial word which describes precisely what you, and I and he, sense and perceive at St. Mary Star of the Sea,” Father Baker told his parishioners. “It is faith enfleshed in love which gives hope to others.”
To be named a minor basilica, a church has to demonstrate that it deserves the rank, both in terms of its historical significance, its architectural uniqueness and its spiritual characteristics.
Father Baker described the process, which required answering 120 questions in Latin, as “a hybrid of a doctoral thesis, a grant application and a coffee table pictorial book.”
“We had to separate fact from fiction and document everything,” he said.
The Basilica of Saint Mary Star of the Sea in Key West is talked about in Rome
The Coat of Arms
Based on the coat of arms of the Archdiocese of Miami, the position of the sand indicates that this Parish was the beginning of the Archdiocese of Miami and is at the end of it. The conch shell is the traditional symbol of Key West. The Star above the conch is for our Patroness. Below the cross and above the ombrellino is a conch pearl.
The Mosaic to be placed in the Narthex of the Basilica
The Motto: SPE SALVI
Pope Benedict XVI introduced his second Encyclical Letter with the same title
"SPE SALVI facti sumus"
in hope we were saved, says Saint Paul to the Romans, and likewise to us
Pope Benedict XVI concludes SPE SALVI
with a comprehensive reflection on our Patroness, Stella Maris,
Mary Star of the Sea.
Mosaic to include
Papal Coat of Arms
The Mosaic to be placed in the Tympanum
The façade of the portico
Archdiocese of Miami
Coat of Arms
The Mosaic to be placed in the
Narthex of the Basilica
Is a part of the papal regalia. The use of an ombrellino is one of the honorary symbols of a basilica and may be used in the basilica's coat of arms, and carried in processions by the basilica's Canons. This ombrellino is normally made of alternating red and gold fabric, and is usually displayed in a partially unfolded manner.
The ombrellino of The Basilica of Saint Mary Star of the Sea will have the coats of arms of Pope Benedict XVI, the Archdiocese of Miami, The Basilica of Saint Mary Star of the Sea and a couple of others to be determined.
The eight-segment umbrella is 2'-6" wide and 3' high. The support pole is standard gauge and 8' in height, 3' fall within the umbrella portion, and 5' are exposed below.
The lambrequins are 12" in width 6" in height.
A Tintinnabulum is a bell mounted on a pole, placed in a Roman Catholic Basilica to signify the church's link with the Pope.
The shape of the bell enclosure is based on the gold medal our Convent School awarded to valedictorians which pays tribute to the work of the Sisters and the role of Catholic education in creating and sustaining the faith of the community.
The total height of the Tintinnabulum