Getting to know historical Saint Ann Church in Downtown WPB is getting to know part of West Palm Beach History itself. St. Ann Church stands proudly proclaiming its 100 plus years of service to the people of West Palm Beach. Perhaps a fitting statement can be found in the 1944 St. Ann School Yearbook: “Due to your splendid teaching and training in religion and secular knowledge, we graduates leave St. Ann’s prepared to do well in this life and the next.”
When we travel to another country, we always want to visit landmarks where we can take back home authentic memories of the spots we have been at. Museums, Art Galleries, Churches, Parks, they all can be great places to visit when you travel as they hold true statements of the destination’s heritage, culture and lifestyle.
West Palm Beach is the oldest municipality in the South Florida metropolitan area. It was incorporated as a city two years before Miami in November 1894. It has been 121 years of a community developing to become one of the most well-known cities in the word, a favorite place to live and work, a preferable travel destination for millions of people in the country and from all over the world.
The history of our beautiful city has been shaped by diverse instances and stages throughout the years, dating back as far as the historic period in south Florida marked by Juan Ponce de León’s first contact with a thriving native population in 1513. A few hundred settlers established themselves in the late 1870s and 1880 in the vicinity of what would become West Palm Beach and called it “Lake Worth Country.” By 1892, this area already had a hotel, the “Cocoanut House” and a post office.
During this time, a Jesuit father arrived by boat from Jacksonville to a mosquito infested area known as Palm Beach. The legendary developer Henry Flagler, had acquired a land from two of the area’s settlers, Captain Porter and Louie Hillhouse, as he planned to build a community to house the servants working in the two grand hotels in Palm Beach, and coinciding with the arrival of the Florida East Coast railroad.
Mr. Flagler then donated the land on which Saint Ann Church was to be built and on March 15, 1896, it was dedicated by Bishop Moore on the southeast corner of Rosemary and Datura Streets. In 1902 it was moved by members using oxcarts to its current location on what it is now Olive Ave. A larger building was built and dedicated in 1913 as the new Saint Ann Church and by that time, the old one started serving as a forerunner of St. Ann School which was finished in 1925.
Before the Diocese of Palm Beach was created, the Jesuists, an order of Catholic priests known for intellectual pursuits and belief in social justice, had established what it is today, the county’s oldest Catholic church; Saint Ann Church. It is also the oldest Parish in the dioseces of Palm Beach that covers five counties in Eastern Florida: Palm Beach, Indian River, Martin, Okeechobee and St. Lucie counties.
Historic St. Ann’s Church is a landmark of our beautiful West Palm Beach, being present in the history making of the city throughout decades of generations. A welcoming harbor that has nurtured and educated inhabitants of this coastal city since its early foundations. Many relevant people in West Palm Beach over the years and up to the present times, have professed their faith, stewardship and community commitment. Saint Ann Catholic church has been the place that has forged them into the persons they have become.
Saint Ann is the only catholic church serving the downtown West Palm Beach community. It is a parish of spirit-filled people and the seasonal parish of hundreds of residents of northern states who make West Palm Beach their winter home.
As part of a beloved community, the Church has initiated programs to reach out to the poor neighbors and the homeless women and men of the area as no other institution has done. Saint Ann Place, the Church’s outreach center for this mission is where homeless women and men are provided a comfortable, clean, safe place in a dignified manner regardless of their race, religion, or gender.
“Hygiene, Health Care Advocacy, Special Assistance, Job Support and Food Programs are the core of the mission at Saint Ann Place.”
The most vulnerable people in our city have here a place that provides them with shower and laundry services and their programs are designed to ease the burdens of living on the street. These programs are possible only through the collaboration of dozens of active volunteers in West Palm Beach, the majority parishioners at Saint Ann.
Saint Ann Church is one of the last remaining buildings of the Early Settlement Era (1884-1902) in West Palm Beach. The main building features gorgeous ornamental stained glass windows that were made by Franz Mayer & Co. of Munich, the late 19th and early 18th century principal provider of stained glass to a large number of Roman Catholic churches that were built throughout the world; the same provider responsible for stained glass windows in at least ten of Ireland’s Cathedral churches, many churches in the United States, Canada and in the rest of the world.
Saint Ann Church and its parishioners also live a legacy. Out of the boundaries of the parish, the church has also reached its place in the history of America as being the sanctuary where President John F. Kennedy attended Sunday Mass service for the last time before his death. The always smiley and very pleasant President spent time in Florida at his Palm Beach residence and used to be a regular at St. Edward’s Catholic Church where there is a label that reads ‘President John F. Kennedy knelt here at mass’ to commemorate one of Kennedy’s regular pews for parishioners and visitors. But it was Saint Ann the place that holds the memories of the mystique personality attending his last Mass celebration.
The Historical Saint Ann School
Also embedded in the history and legacy of Saint Ann Church in the community of West Palm Beach has been Saint Ann Catholic School, founded in 1925. There was no convent in the area in September 1923, the day Sisters Angelica O’Brien, Superioress, Rose Dominic LeBlanc, Alma O’Reilly, and Angela O’Brien arrived here. They were invited to come to West Palm Beach by Fr. John D. Brislan, S.J. in order to set up a school. Staying at a private house, they began to serve the Saint Ann School, planting a seed that has reaped the most humble results of excellence in education and Christian spiritual development.
Today, Saint Ann School is an International Baccalaureate World School offering primary years and middle years Programmes; as Principal Mrs. Susan Demes says “seeking to educate children spiritually, intellectually, morally, physically and socially; aiming to make the message of the Gospel a way of life so once they graduate they could be global citizens who respect and care for God’s creation, working independently and cooperatively in solving the problems as active examples who serve and participate in local national and international communities”.
The IB programmes at St. Ann Catholic School work to cultivate intercultural awareness, holistic knowledge and communication skills within a dimension of Catholic education. Now more than ever, Saint Ann School highly embraces community events, eager to be involved socially in a global and nurturing environment.
Mrs. Karen Brennan Brusca (1971), an alumni of Saint Ann School says: “I came to St. Ann when I was in the 5th grade and it may sound sappy, but I just remember feeling such a sense of happiness. My previous school experience had been somewhat harsh and when I arrived in Sister Maria Veritas’ 5th grade classroom, I immediately felt the warm and nurturing nature of the school. My time at St. Ann did not end when I graduated, my three children attended St. Ann and I came to work here “temporarily” – that was nine years ago!” Karen Brusca is now the Administrative Assistant of Saint Ann School.
One of the biggest draws at Saint Ann Catholic School in addition to the rigorous academics is their Fine Arts Program. The school offers a unique Music program where students from PK3 to Grade 4 attend General Music classes. In their 5th Grade they begin to explore other musical options including voice and instrumental music, performing at concerts and events both in and out of school throughout the year. Music education at Saint Ann School is a part of the student’s regular curriculum.
The Art and Drama curriculum is also a unique and creative blend of both visual and performing arts, allowing students to learn how to effectively communicate with others and express themselves through arts.
Cynthia Rosa appreciates Saint Ann School dearly as she says: “Thank you Saint Ann Church for providing an environment that has influenced generations of young people to think big, to stand tall and to make substantial marks in the world around them. That is a legacy worthy of respect”.
Wedding Celebrations at Saint Ann Church
Downtown West Palm Beach Historical Saint Ann Church is also a preferable landmark in the city for weddings. Many couples choose this beautiful, classic church for its magnificent stained glass windows when they plan a classic wedding theme.
“Historic Saint Ann Roman Catholic Church is the mother church of Palm Beach’s Diocese and is proud to have been recognized as Palm Beach’s number one destination wedding ceremony venue for seven consecutive years!” says Adriana Samargia, Music Director and Wedding Liaison at Saint Ann Church. “The church’s “All Are Welcome” tone matches that of Pope Francis who speaks strongly about how important it is for doors and hearts to stay open. St. Ann regularly invites guest couples to become part of the extended parish family and celebrate their nuptials in South Florida’s tropical paradise. The church’s head, Very Rev. Nestor L. Rodriguez, V.F., makes it possible for guest priests to officiate at these joy-filled celebrations.”
Exclusive is the church’s history, breathtaking architecture and one-of-a-kind music; everything from elegant and understated for smaller weddings to “royal palace” style music including soloists trained in Europe, an internationally renowned choir that sings from the historic loft, philharmonic quality string orchestra, harp, organ, piano, timpani, and “even regal trumpets upstairs announcing the bride as she enters”, Adriana says.
Saint Ann Church is also a parish that has greatly welcomed the vastly Haitian community which has immigrated and settled in West Palm Beach, creating programs of Evangelization that speak of faith, prayer and love in a commitment to securing justice and fair treatment to all.
The Historical Saint Ann Church in Downtown WPB is also the oldest Catholic Church and parish in the Diocese of Palm Beach stands tall in the history of West Palm Beach, with more than a century of service to residents and visitors since after the Early Settlement Era of the city through education, community outreach and spiritual guidance. Its building walls are part of a pilgrimage center that speaks the language of love, faith and stewardship to make this growing city a better place to live.
WPB Magazine is a quarterly publication focusing on arts, entertainment, places of interest, things to do, and the latest news about West Palm Beach as a preferred travel destination and a great city to live and work in.