May 8, 2019 — (Key West, FL).  Key West Art & Historical Society Distinguished Speaker guest Bob Bernreuterpresents“A History of the Basilica St. Mary Star of the Sea”

On Thursday, May 23 from 6:00-7:00pm, Key West Art & Historical Society presents Bob Bernreuter, who will discuss “A History of the Basilica St. Mary Star of the Sea,” at the Custom House Museum, 281 Front Street. Bernreuter will explore how small seeds of faith planted by 16th-century missionaries on a small island in a new world were nurtured into a parish that survived the storms of nature and war, and ultimately would earn the attention of Rome and be honored with the distinguished title of a Minor Basilica.

Though the original Saint Mary Star of the Sea on Duval Street was destroyed by fire in 1901, the new church on Windsor Street was completed within four years. Designed and constructed by Brother Cornelius Otten at a cost of $24,444, the American Victorian building featuring modified early renaissance revival structures became the first non-wooden place of Catholic worship in Southern Florida.

Along with its rusticated exterior walls, round arches, and lunettes filled with transitional gothic arches, louvered shutters and colored glass windows, the church’s construction embraced the island’s natural elements while also considering its sub-tropical climate:  stone blocks made from the oolitic limestone dug from the church grounds, wide and high doorways set along the east and west walls to provide cross ventilation when open, and natural light that adds special significance to the stained-glass window over the altar.

Bernreuter will offer stories and imagery on the only Catholic Church in Key West and its famed Grotto built by Sister Louis Gabriel containing the statues of Our Lady of Lourdes and Bernadette which was dedicated on May 25, 1922, the Feast of the Ascension and the 25th anniversary of Sister Gabriel’s entrance into the religious profession of the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary.

A sixth-generation Conch, Bernreuter graduated from Key West High in 1964 and received a BA from Florida State University in 1968.  He joined the U.S. Air Force and received his aeronautical rating as Pilot a year later and served 10 years becoming Chief Instructor Pilot for the KC-135 and Command Pilot, with three tours in Vietnam flying 67 combat missions. He has taught religion at St. Mary Star of the Sea for 31 years and is regarded as the parish historian, and currently works at Historic Tours of America as the corporate historian.  His book “The Gift,” a children’s book published in 2006, will be available for purchase and signing after the presentation.

Distinguished Speaker Series presentation tickets are $5 for KWAHS members, $10 for non-members, and are available at Early ticket purchase is recommended.  Sponsored by the Helmerich Trust and Southernmost Beach Resort, for more information contact Society Director of Education Kristina Callaway at 305-295-6616 x 115 or at [email protected].  Your Museums.  Your Community.  It takes an Island.


Sixth generation Conch Bob Bernreuter will present“A History of the Basilica St. Mary Star of the Sea” at the Custom House Museum at 6:00pm on Thursday, May 23.

KWAHS Bob Bernreuter