Stella Maris, Latin title for Mary the Mother of Jesus, means Star of the Sea
There are 20 to 25 Catholics residing in Cayman Brac who regularly attend Sunday services when no priest is available to say Mass. But 10 times that number of people attended a special service on Saturday, 5 February, when the key to the first purpose-built Catholic church on the Island was handed over to the Archbishop of Detroit, whose pastoral responsibilities include the Cayman Islands.
The Brac Catholic community was joined by 120 parishioners from Grand Cayman, who flew over on a Cayman Airways charter for the day. Catholics from as far away as Tampa and Washington, DC, plus well-wishers from among their Brac neighbours, were among the attendees.
In a simple but significant ceremony outside the church, architect Elie Kozaily presented Archbishop Allen Vigneron with the building plans and the front door key attached to a ring with a caymanite pendant in the form of a cross.
Mr. Kozaily, who also served as project manager, confirmed to the archbishop that the building had been completed and everyone involved in its construction had been paid. The response, he said later, was a heartfelt “Thank you”.
The rest of the Mass of Dedication and Blessing took place inside, except when the archbishop walked around the outside of the building to bless it and the portion of the audience seated outdoors.
More than 10 years of planning
The church is in Cotton Tree Bay, on the Bluff, just west of Alta Vista Drive. Its steeple and the five-foot cross that tops it are readily visible from the road below.
The worship area of the church can seat 150 to 160 people comfortably, Mr. Kozaily said. The “footprint” of the building covers a total of 3,355 square feet. That includes the foyer, a church office, a cry room that can double as a chapel, and living quarters for a priest. A cistern under a portion of the building can hold 3,000 gallons. Everything has been finished except the interior of the living quarters, known as the rectory, for which more fundraising will be needed. The work completed to date, including a paved car park with 48 spaces, cost $629,000.
The site itself is 1.8 acres, Mr. Kozaily said during a pre-service check that everything was in place for the event, the culmination of more than 10 years of planning. Those plans began with then late Monsignor John Meaney, pastor in Grand Cayman in the 1980s and ‘90s. He retired to Cayman Brac and did his first fundraising for a Brac church with parishioner Gerry Kirkconnell.
A Kirkconnell family cottage, next to the Brac Museum, served as Monsignor’s residence until his death in 2003, and continued to serve as a chapel for the Catholic community. Until now.
Construction took almost exactly one year, with Executive Homes under the management of Todd Davey submitting the successful bid. Subcontractors included experienced specialists from both Grand Cayman and the Brac. Some of the essential furnishings were donated. As his personal gift, Mr. Kozaily imported Jerusalem stone for the altar top, and Ian Lambert contributed the altar base and tabernacle.
During the dedication ceremony on Saturday, Archbishop Vigneron paid tribute to everyone who had a part in realising the building dream. He noted the work of former pastor Father Michael Molnar, who advanced the project, and present pastor, Father Paul Ballien, who saw it through to completion.
The liturgy of the Mass was augmented by rites reserved for the blessing of a new church, including the placing of a saint’s relic in the altar and the anointing of the altar with holy chrism, a blend of olive oil and balsam. For this task, he removed his outer vestment, donned an apron and rolled up his sleeves to work the oil into the altar top. After washing his hands with water and lemon slices, he re-robed and bathed the altar in incense to symbolise the prayers offered there rising like the smoke. Assistants lit candles and put the altar cloths in place, after which the Mass continued.
Before the final blessing, Father Paul invited Deputy Premier Juliana O’Connor-Connolly to address the gathering. She offered congratulations on behalf of Government and also as a fellow Christian, calling the church another light in the lighthouse that shines for souls on the billowing seas. Churches have an important role to play in the process of nation-building, she pointed out, even as they work for the Kingdom of God.
After Mass, the Archbishop was presented with a relief carving in beach coral, portraying the church, a thatch palm and his personal insignia. It was made by resident artist Juliette Medeiros. Everyone was then invited to a reception in the courtyard of the Alexander Hotel. Guests of honour included Archbishop Vigneron, his secretary Father Charles Fox, Father Mike, Father Paul and Father James Teeling, a friend of Monsignor Meaney from England.
In recent years, priests resident in Grand Cayman have been going to the Brac to visit with members of the community and say Mass on a monthly basis. When there is no priest, a Sunday service is held, usually at 11am, with Scripture reading, prayers and distribution of Holy Communion. Tourists are generally informed and everyone is welcome.
Stella Maris, Latin for Star of the Sea, is the title given to Mary the mother of Jesus because she can guide people to her Son, as the stars guide sailors.