St. Augustine House to Show Church History; Building Embodies Catholic Influence in America

Article excerpt

Byline: Alliniece T. Andino, Times-Union staff writer

ST. AUGUSTINE -- After being closed for about 20 years, the Don Miguel O'Reilly House Museum will again be open for perusal starting tomorrow.

At different times, the 2 1/2-story house on Aviles Street was a rectory, a convent, a boarding house and a temporary home for retired people. In 1974, the structure was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

The house is seen as an embodiment of the history of the Catholic Church in America, the history of the Sisters of St. Joseph and the history of one of its dwellers, an 18th century priest.

The Sisters of St. Joseph of St. Augustine now own the house, which abuts the back yard of their convent.

But Sister Thomas Joseph McGoldrick, museum curator, said the sisters believe history belongs to everyone.

"We believe that the history does belong to the people. We believe that people have a right to share what we have," Sister McGoldrick said. "I hope they appreciate it."

The house dates to the first Spanish period and is one of the oldest buildings in the city. But it is difficult to peg an exact date on when the house was constructed, historian David Nolan said.

"In 1763, Florida switched from Spanish to British control and took records away with them and haven't come back," Nolan said. "About 10 buildings go back to that period."

The fact the O'Reilly House was made of tabby and coquina and a confirmation by a forensic architect date the house to circa 1691,Sister McGoldrick said. A portion of the house wall is cut back to reveal the coquina, a natural aggregate stone found in coastal places, and tabby, a cement and oyster shell mix.

For about four years, the dwelling has been prepped for its reopening with the help of three state grants. The museum will teach visitors about the nuns who first came to Florida to teach freed black slaves, about the Catholic Church that intended to spread its faith to the New World, and about O'Reilly, who mentored the Rev. Felix Varela, a candidate for sainthood.

The O'Reilly House is filled with artifacts such as pottery and tools, and shoes once worn by Pope Pius X.

Also inside are two unique statues. Neither statue stands taller than 4 feet. One is a pregnant Madonna, a rare image of the Virgin Mary with a swollen belly and solemn countenance. The wooden statue was made in Belgium in the 16th century, Sister McGoldrick said.

The other statue is known as the Hurricane Lady, which was given to the sisters about 25 years ago by Hazel Crichlow, who died in May. Crichlow was of Minorcan descent.

Sister McGoldrick told the story of a Spanish cargo ship headed to Florida that was caught in a hurricane, possibly in the early 1800s. …

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