Monday, May 22, 2023
Araceli M. Cantero - Florida Catholic
KEY BISCAYNE | Step by step, the Catholics of Key Biscayne are building their dream, and doing it with “joy.”
On May 15, 2023, Archbishop Thomas Wenski blessed a new sports and multipurpose building that is part of a total redevelopment of St. Agnes Parish. The redevelopment is being carried out in stages under the motto “Building with JOY,” and with an approximate budget of $18 million. (JOY stands for Jesus first, Others second, Yourself last.)
Before a small number of guests gathered at the porch of the new construction, Mary M. Spencer approached the podium and with the help of St. Agnes’ pastor, Father Juan Carlos Paguaga, she unveiled a bronze plaque attached to the wall at the entrance to the two-story building. The plaque, engraved with the names of Mary M. and Sash A. Spencer, will be, for posterity, a reminder of those who have made this construction possible.
“This really is a dream come true,” Spencer said in a brief interview. “It's a wonderful thing for the city of Key Biscayne.” She added that “St. Agnes has a long tradition of giving back to the community.”
Remembering her husband Sash, who died June 10, 2008, she acknowledged that "it is a great honor for my family that our name appears in this building."
Minutes before, at the start of the event, Father Paguaga acknowledged the presence of Archbishop Wenski, Key Biscayne Mayor Joe Rasco, the Village Council, and collaborators in the parish’s Building Committee, noting “our gratitude to the generous individuals who have made this possible.”
He also recognized Mary Spencer for her generosity. “We are humbled by her support, and we are privileged to call our donors pillars in this important endeavor,” he said.
After the unveiling, everyone went up to the second floor to cut the ribbon that would open the doors to the sports and multipurpose center. Again, Spencer did the honors, cutting the blue ribbon to everyone’s applause.
Inside, chairs and a podium were in place for a blessing rite, with prayers and music.
Father Paguaga thanked God “for the many generations who have given so much of themselves to St. Agnes Church and Academy: Those present here and the many who have gone before us.”
He acknowledged their efforts and vision, as well as the benefits of the gymnasium for the academy and the community, as a safe place to exercise, play sports, and engage in healthy activities.
“It will be a place where we will strengthen our bodies, our minds, our souls, and our relationships with God and one another,” Father Paguaga said.
Archbishop Wenski, accompanied by Father Andrzej Foltyn, St. Agnes’ parochial vicar, then toured the gymnasium, blessing it with holy water.
At the end of the prayer, Amy Easton, who chairs the parish’s Construction Committee, said a few words explaining the project. Archbishop Wenski commented that the blessing of this new building was like a rehearsal for the great event that will be the consecration of the new temple in August.
The archbishop presented Spenser with a brick from the stained-glass window of the old — now demolished — St. Agnes church, showing a candle “since she has been shining Christ’s light with her generous heart in this community.”
Among those attending was Jorge Fleitas, principal of St. Agnes Academy, who called the new building "a great opportunity for students."
Andres Trujillo, with his violin, provided the music, accompanied by Maria Isabel Carrera on piano. She has been a volunteer at the parish since 1986 and is now the church’s music director. She recognizes that the parish has grown and that it was necessary to make expansions. “There are as many children in catechism as there are in the school,” she said.
In 1952, the Mackle brothers — Elliott, Robert and Frank, Jr. — real estate developers, donated the first property to the parish. It was named in honor of St. Agnes, their mother's patron saint. On Easter Day 1954, about 75 families celebrated the first Mass in the first temporary building.
In 1973, Msgr. James Nelan, then pastor, admitted a small group of seventh and eighth graders to what would become St. Agnes Academy. For the 1974-75 academic year, the original school building was added, now housing PK3.
In 1990, another pastor, Msgr. William McKeever, added the lower school and a new building was completed for the 1991-1992 academic year.
In 1996, under then pastor Msgr. José L. Hernando, the school year began in a new building complete with a large library and computer lab, four new classrooms and administrative offices. In 2002, the Academy added a new 15-classroom building, auditorium and dining hall.
Since 2014, with the arrival of the current pastor, Father Paguaga, the school has implemented the STREAM Lab and Spanish Immersion programs and raised over $17 million in pledges for the Building with JOY project.
Today, after 60 years of life, the parish serves more than 1,500 families and some 3,000 faithful attend Masses. The Academy has 500 students, 600 are enrolled in religious education, and the parish has 23 ministries that involve some 800 parishioners.
After much study and consultation with the archdiocese, the Village of Key Biscayne, architects, focus groups, contractors and finance professionals, it was decided that remodeling the parish church was not feasible. A new church would have to be built according to new building codes.
The Building with JOY project will address the following needs:
- A new church with capacity for 600
- A multipurpose center and gymnasium
- Security and safety for the school by enclosing the campus
- Improvement of the grounds for better parking and traffic.