In 1914, none of the four Catholic pastors in South Florida was Irish born, according to the Rev. Michael McNally's book, Catholicism in South Florida. By 1940, Irish clergy predominated.
About 1,250 Irish-born priests were serving in the United States in 1997, according to a study by sociologist William Smith of Georgia Southern University.
The very uncertainty of a religious frontier was a lure for the Irish, said the Rev. Gerald Grace of Highland Beach, one of 16 foreign-born Irish still serving in the Diocese of Palm Beach. "It was the missionary endeavor, never knowing what you're going to find."
For Grace, pastor of St. Lucy church in Highland Beach and a theology instructor at St. Vincent de Paul Seminary west of Boynton Beach, the appeal of South Florida so far has lasted 41 years.
"Any time you serve the needs of others -- seeing their perspective, affirming their goodness -- it's always fulfilling," he said. "That's at the heart of the gospel."
Sunday, October 8, 2006
Irish Priests and the Florida Missions
From the Sun Sentinel: