Saturday, September 9, 2017
Florida Catholic staff - Florida Catholic
KEY WEST | Just before a mandatory evacuation of the Florida Keys took effect, residents and visitors to the Conch Republic gathered for an early morning Mass at the grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes, on the grounds of the Basilica of St. Mary Star of the Sea.
The grotto is where Key West natives, "Conchs," gather to pray for protection from destructive hurricanes. It’s a tradition dating back to 1922, when the grotto was erected and dedicated at the direction of Sister Louis Gabriel, one of the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary who served at the parish for 115 years.
The Sept. 7 Mass was celebrated by Father John Baker, rector of the basilica, his parochial vicar, Father Juan Rumin Dominguez, and Deacon Peter Batty, all of whom chose to stay and ride out the expected landfall of Hurricane Irma.
“Many Key West Conchs do not evacuate. Therefore, it is important to be present to them,” Father Baker told the Florida Catholic in an email Sept. 6.
The Sisters of the Holy Spirit who currently serve at the parish also decided to stay.
Irma, one of the strongest storms ever recorded in the Atlantic basin, was expected to cut across the Keys and make landfall somewhere in southern Florida the weekend of Sept. 9-10. As its track moved further west over the weekend, the expected landfall was predicted to be in the Tampa area.
Read more about the Mass and Father Baker’s plans for Irma in this article from Catholic News Service. For a more detailed history of the grotto, click on this story from the files of the Florida Catholic’s Miami edition.