The Canonization Cause of the Martyrs of La Florida

The Canonization Cause of the Martyrs of La Florida dates back to 1704, when Pope Clement XI established a Commission to take sworn testimony about the Apalachee Indian martyrs. The Commission testimony would expand to include Franciscan martyrs and one Spanish soldier martyr. The devotion and fame of martyrdom continued through the decades and centuries, and is well-recorded. Florida’s first resident bishop, Bishop Augstin Verot, was devoted to the Florida martyrs, and bought Nombre de Dios in St. Augustine because he believed it a 1597 martyrdom site.

Archbishop John Mark Gannon and his impressive team of Catholic priest historians, on behalf of the US Bishops, submitted the Cause of the US martyrs to the Vatican in the early 1940’s. Because of the war, however, the Cause was delayed.

[The Causes for the martyrs of La Florida of present day Georgia and Virginia have been opened.]

Bishop Rene Gracida, first bishop of the Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee, with the support of all the Florida bishops, took steps to open the Cause of the martyrs of the present state of Florida in the early 1980’s. Franciscan General Postulator, Fr. Cairoli, in Rome was to be the Postulator, and Monsignor William Kerr, the Vice-Postulator. The Diocese bought land that Bishop Gracida and Monsignor Kerr identified as close to martyrdom sites on Mahan St (E 90) in Tallahassee to build a shrine to honor the martyrs. Bishop Gracida was transferred to the Diocese of Corpus Christi before the Cause was formally opened in Rome.

The effort was renewed in 2005 through a 78-acre parcel of land (two miles from original shrine site). Land was purchased on the east side of Tallahassee to build a neighborhood. Unknown to the neighborhood families, the land was in former mission territory. This land included an adjacent yet separate 78-acre piece of rolling hill and grand oaks, and an old mansion formerly belonging to Dr and Mrs. Charlie Wall, accessed from Chaires Cross Road and near Interstate 10.

The bank required an early sale of this parcel. Yet, people began to feel called to this land, both spiritually and through researching archaeological work and historic documents. With the help of community guarantors and the formation of the Martyrs ministry, the land was held with the prayer that it will become a shrine. The site is named Shrine of Mary, Queen of the Martyrs. After the canonization of the martyrs, the name may be changed to Shrine of Mary, Queen of the Martyrs of La Florida.

On the east side of the present Tallahassee vicinity, the English lead brutal assaults on the Catholic faithful of the Apalachee missions, martyring Spanish and Native alike. The attacks began on January 25th, 1704 at the mission La Concepcion de Ayubale, and again on June 23rd/24th at the mission San Pedro y Pablo de Patale. After these attacks that led to the martyrdoms or enslavement of many, the once thriving Apalachee missions had lost more than half of their people. The survivors then grouped at the head mission, Mission San Luis, and with Christian zeal decided to try to regain San Pedro y Pablo de Patale Mission (site of the martyrdom of Fr Manuel de Mendoza). On July 4th, 1704, they would take what would become the last stand for the Faith, in a battle that began ½ league west of the Patale chapel off El Camino Real, on or near the Shrine of Mary, Queen of the Martyrs.

Following the loss of this Last Battle, the Spanish burned down Mission San Luis. The Faithful began the heartbreaking trail away from their homeland – some west to Mobile and the others eventually back to St. Augustine with the other Catholic Indian survivors and their priests.

Early in 2009, Monsignor Kerr announced during the homily of a Mass at the shrine site that he had found a benefactor for the project. On May 13, 2009, Monsignor Kerr passed away. His expectation of help from the benefactor was unfulfilled. Two years after his death, the Martyrs organization signed a lease/purchase agreement on a mortgage with community guarantors and prays for the assistance of generous benefactors.

“Florida which has been bedewed in the East and the West, in the North and in the South with the purest blood of martyrs!” Bishop Augustin Verot, first resident bishop of Florida. 1858

The Martyrs organization continued to research and network with Catholic historians, and is preserving and honoring the history of all the Florida martyrs: Native, Dominican, Jesuit and Franciscan. The ministry is transcribing and collecting the necessary documentation to serve the canonization, and plans to share the great history at Shrine of Mary, Queen of Martyrs.

In January of 2014, the Martyrs hosted a Martyr Conference for Catholic historians and theologians. The participants of the conference were tremendously helpful. Following the conference, on February 14th, Bishop Parkes agreed to take steps to open the Cause. On January 16, 2015, Dr. Waldery Hilgeman of Missio Pastoralis in Rome accepted the appointment of Postulator for the Cause. He did so only after consideration of the likelihood of success. After much consultation and prayer, he agreed to be the Postulator and to God willing, “shepherd the Cause to its happy conclusion.”

The four Vice-Postulators for the Cause are Father Alberto Rodríguez López, O.P for the Dominican martyrs; Fr. Wayne Paysse for the Native martyrs; Sixto J. Garcia, PhD for Fr. Martinez SJ; and Fr. Bill Wilson for the Franciscan martyrs.

Please join us in gratitude to the holy martyrs; ask for their friendship and intercession! Thank you for your prayers and assistance. Holy Martyrs of La Florida, pray for us!

For a diagram illustrating the Process of Canonization, please click here.