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Nov 12th
Gesu Catholic Church PDF Print E-mail
Written by Paul S. George, Special to the BT   
November 2015

A view of our past from the archives of HistoryMiami

DPix_PictureStory_11-15owntown Miami’s Gesu Catholic Church has been a city landmark since its completion in 1924. But the congregation and its rich history predate that period by many years. The oldest Catholic congregation between Key West and West Palm Beach, Gesu, the Italian word for Jesus, was founded in 1896.

The church sits on property awarded to the Catholic Church by Henry M. Flagler, the great oil and railroad baron -- and a Presbyterian -- who helped create modern Miami.

The original wood-frame church was constructed in 1897 on the site of today’s church but proved unable to accommodate a growing congregation, as well as rising numbers of seasonal worshippers -- necessitating the construction of today’s beautiful Mediterranean-style building designed by Owen Williams.

From its downtown vantage point, Gesu has been a participant in the rich history of Miami. The parish opened a black mission/congregation, St. Francis Xavier, in “Colored Town” (today’s Overtown), in the late 1930s.

Years later the Gesu School was one of the first in the county to desegregate. During World War II, worship services drew hundreds of men and women in uniform, while the school’s rooftop hosted United Service Organization (USO) activities several nights a week.

In the 1950s, the parish hosted Centro Hispano Catolico to assist a rising number of Hispanics migrating to Miami. In the early 1960s, it became the first home of the Belen Jesuit Preparatory School after the institution’s Jesuit leadership was expelled from Cuba and its property confiscated by Fidel Castro.

The church’s beautiful sanctuary has drawn the likes of Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk and famed writer, poet, and activist; and the Blessed Mother Theresa, who was given a key to the City of Miami in 1974.

Today this proud National Register property and parish look out over a revitalized downtown.

 

To order a copy of this photo, please contact HistoryMiami archives manager Dawn Hugh at 305-375-1623, This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

 

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