A well-known landmark in downtown St. Petersburg, Saint Mary Our Lady of Grace Parish, is turning 100 this year! This parish was the first to be established in St. Petersburg in 1920. Before that, priests from Tampa crossed the bay by boat to celebrate Sunday Mass at a local hotel.
“We’re known as the Mother Church of St. Petersburg,” said Father Damian Amantia, T.O.R, the ninth pastor of Saint Mary’s. “Throughout its history, the Catholic community here has been diverse and eclectic, made up of people from varying backgrounds, ethnicities, and ages joined together to celebrate Mass as a faith-filled people.”
In 1929, a newer, larger church was built to accommodate growth. Its stunning exterior is modeled after San Stefano Church in Rome and includes distinctive Byzantine and Romanesque features.
“We are a remarkable architectural gem in our city,” said Wendy Luck, parish business director. “The people are the parish, but I believe so many come to Saint Mary’s due to her unique beauty. When you walk through her doors, you feel this intimate sacred space and you realize you are at home.”
Saint Mary’s is ideally situated to meet both the spiritual and the physical needs of its neighbors. Monsignor John McNulty, pastor from 1972-1986, allowed the parish to be used as a cold night shelter and soup kitchen. He started the Daystar Life Center in 1982 to provide basic necessities to those in need. Today, Sister Alice Belanger, outreach director, continues this legacy of care and service.
“Staffed by Franciscan Friars, Third Order Regular since 1988, Saint Mary’s is a place of compassion and outreach, reflecting the Gospel values of St. Francis himself,” said Father Amantia. “Three years ago, we began an outreach to refugees. We accompany over 90 refugees, providing friendship and assistance as they work toward self-sufficiency. We are a church surrounded by hospitals, and so we also serve the sick and the homebound, bringing the sacraments of mercy to the infirmed.”
Father Amantia reports that nearly 50 percent of registered parishioners are involved in parish ministries and contribute to a lively parish life. At only 425 registered households, the community may seem deceptively small, but the pews are filled each week by parishioners and visitors from nearby medical centers, college campuses and businesses. Plus, the tourists make a point of being there for Sunday Mass.
“There is no greater feeling then to look out into the assembly and see a church filled with so many of the faithful gathered from all kinds of backgrounds, each having their own story to share as to why they are here at Saint Mary Our Lady of Grace. Truly a blessing,” said Father Amantia. “We will continue to grow and adapt over the next hundred years because our doors, arms and hearts are open to welcome all to beautiful and historic Saint Mary Our Lady of Grace.”
This historic parish is also known for its Winter Concert Series, which is celebrating its tenth year in 2020. The first concert on Sunday, January 12 at 3:00 p.m. will inaugurate their centennial anniversary with a presentation of Magnificat by John Rutter, featuring the voices of Saint Mary our Lady of Grace, staff singers of the Episcopal Cathedral of Saint Peter and local orchestral musicians. To learn more about the Winter Concert Series, visit: https://www.stmaryolg.org/winter-concert-series-2020