St Kieran Parish History
St. Kieran was established in 1967, and parishioners worshiped in various places (Assumption Academy chapel, Immaculata-LaSalle High School auditorium) until the parish was able to build a permanent church in its current location (just south of Vizcaya Museum and Gardens and next to Mercy Hospital) before its 10th anniversary.
The parish was initially staffed by priests of the Archdiocese of Miami as well as by Salesian priests from 1984 until 2005, when the Salesian priests withdrew and the priest of the Archdiocese of Miami was again assigned as pastor. Currently, the pastor of St. Kieran is Miami’s Father Jesus Ferras.
History of the Church of St. Kieran, Miami, Florida.
The formal document erecting the parish of St. Kieran was issued by Bishop Coleman Carroll on October 31, 1967, to the pastor, Fr. Martin Cassidy. It delineated the boundaries of the new parish which was carved out of the Gesu Church and Saints Peter and Paul Church territories. It lies L-shaped along Biscayne Bay from SW 22nd Ave to the Miami River and extends inland to Coral Way.
Masses were first celebrated in the chapel of the Assumption Academy with hopes of establishing a new parish there. This was not to be. The Assumption Chapel was to become St. Jude Melkite Church. After the sale of the Academy Chapel to the Melkites, Masses were held in the La Salle High School Cafeteria.
The dedication of the Church of St. Kieran by the Most Reverend Edward A. McCarthy, Archbishop of Miami, took place on December 8,1979 when Fr. Daniel Barrett was pastor. At the dedication, Father Barrett remarked: “For twelve years you worked and prayed and preserved to make this day possible. The building of the present church was preceded by 12 years of growing pains which included a separation from the mother churches, various transplanting, the move to the present site and the building of the church”. Archbishop McCarthy in his letter for the dedication remarked “After some difficulty and frustrations your perseverance has paid off. Now you have a beautiful, spacious church in which to praise God”.
The former pastors include Fr. Martin Cassidy, Bishop John Fitzpatrick, Fr. Donald Connally, Fr. Antonio Navarrete, Bishop Rene Gracida, Fr. Francis Lechiara, Fr. Daniel Barrett, Fr. Vincent Duffy, Bishop Emilio Allue, Fr. Javier Aracil, Fr. James Curran and Fr. Donald Zarkoski. The parish has been a source of bishops for the church and the list of former pastors includes three pastors who were elevated to the episcopacy Bishop John Fitzpatrick, Bishop Rene Gracida, and Bishop Emilio Allue, SDB.
The 10th anniversary and the mortgage burning took place on Sunday, December 10, 1989. On this occasion, Mass was celebrated by Bishop Augustin Roman, and a festive dinner was held at the Intercontinental Hotel. Building a new church put the fledgling parish heavily in debt. Two men responsible for the completion of St. Kieran Church and the subsequent retirement of the mortgage were Fr. Daniel Barrett and Father Vincent Duffy. The church was built under the direction of Father Barrett who organized a pledge system to help pay off the debt. In July 1984, he was replaced by Fr. Duffy who continued the work. Within five years the debt was paid, and Fr. Duffy was transferred on special assignment to South America.
The Salesian Fathers came to the parish in 1984 at the invitation of Archbishop Edward McCarthy. The first Salesian pastor was Fr. Vincent Duffy. He was succeeded by Bishop Allue, Fr. Aracil, Fr. Curran and Fr. Zarkoski. The present rectory was once the convent for the Sisters of St. Joseph of St. Agustine who staffed Immaculata High School. When the church was built, the convent was converted to a rectory for priests assigned to the church and to pastoral care at Mercy Hospital and at La Salle High School. The former rectory was 2355 South Miami Avenue which is now the home of a parishioner.
As the years went by many Spanish speaking people joined the parish and they are now the majority. At first, the influx was heavily Cuban but now there are peoples from all over Central and South America and the Caribbean. The integration was not without its problems however, it was always peaceful, respectful, and friendly and we continue to grow into a unified faith community. Many of the Spanish speaking parishioners were past pupils of the Salesian schools in their country of origin. They are attracted to this parish because of their Salesian heritage and their desire to keep close ties within the Salesian Family. The parish extended pastoral care to these past pupils through the Asociacion de la Familia Salesiana and promotes devotion to St. John Bosco and to Don Bosco’s Madonna, Mary, the Help of Christians.
An important project was the establishment of Mision La Purisima by former pastor Bishop Emilio Allue. The mission was established to provide pastoral service to a large group of Nicaraguans who lived in the northernmost boundary. An area between two apartment buildings covered by a tent serves as a place of worship for the celebration of Mass. An apartment was rented to serve as a meeting/prayer room and sacristy. The mission served as a center providing pastoral services and a place of Christian Unity. Many of the children enrolled in the parish CCD program had their contact with St. Kieran Church through Mission La Purisima. The mission was later terminated when the demographics changed in that area.
The parish has an active CCD program staffed by volunteers under a CCD Director. At its highest point it grew to 20 volunteer catechists on staff for 150 students. There was also a youth club under the direction of one of the parishioners which meets on Friday evenings in the parish hall and members of the group organized games on Saturdays for the children at the mission.
In the year 2000 the weekly Mass at La Purisima was discontinued because of difficulties with the Landlord. In an effort to bring the people to the Parish center meetings of the various mission groups were scheduled at the parish hall. That arrangement was beneficial to the various groups and placed the parish center at the heart of all parish activities.
A new parish council was founded and held its first meeting on February 15th, 2000 with 28 members. The council elected Eduardo Rivera as its president and developed a mission statement for the parish. It met on the third Wednesday of every month and operated through committees. The council exercises a ministry of leadership in the parish and advises the pastor regarding the pastoral and spiritual life of the parish. The parish continues to have a parish council to this day.
Several organizations are active in the parish. The St. Vincent de Paul Society, Respect for Life, Legion of Mary, Cenaculo de Maria, Christian Family Movement, Cursillos and the Friends of Jesus and Mary. On festive occasions services are bilingual. There are about 750 enrolled in the parish register and Sunday Mass attendance average about 900. Parishioners support numerous ministries within the parish as well as those that reach out to the larger community.
In its location, the church is surrounded by Mercy Hospital, Immaculata-La Salle High School, Ermita De La Caridad, the Knights of Columbus with Dixie Highway cutting right through the center of the parish boundary. Situated as it is, the church lies on the south side of the highway and most people live on the north side. It is sometimes difficult for them to get here. Many people who live in the Brickell apartment area of the parish are unaware of St. Kieran Parish and attend St. Jude Melkite Church.
The parish celebrated its thirty-year anniversary on November 9, 1997 with a Solemn Mass and a festive dinner at the Rusty Pelican. Several of the former pastors attended along with old time parishioners with joined together with the newcomers as the parish recalled its journey through the years as a community of faith.
The name St. Kieran for the parish traces back to different sources. Officially Fr. Cassidy, the first pastor, claims that he named the new parish after the seminary from which he graduated in Ireland. Sister Kieran O’Keeffe who cared for Bishop Coleman Carroll at Mercy hospital when the parish was being founded claims that the bishop told her the church would be named Kieran after her.
Both claims are valid. There is a stained-glass window in the church commemorating St. Kieran, the monk and founder of the monastery of Clonmacnoise, one of the most celebrated of Ireland’s holy place which became one of the great schools of Europe. Under his patronage the parish strives to be a center of worship, of learning and evangelization.
Throughout its history, the parish has been staffed by priests of the archdiocese as well as by Salesian priests from 1984 until 2005, when the Salesian priests withdrew and priests of the archdiocese were again assigned as pastors. Currently, the pastor of St. Kieran is Fr. Jesus Ferras, ISP.
St. Kieran’s feast day falls on September 9. Due to the season’s inclement weather here in South Florida, we gather every year as Parish Family of St. Kieran’s on a Sunday in mid-October to celebrate together in honor of our beloved patron saint. Immediately following Solemn Mass at 11:00 a.m., we hold our Parish Festival with lots of food and fun for the entire family.
Prepared with contributions from the parish archives by Fr. Donald Zarkoski, Pastor