SAN LUIS REY CATHOLIC CHAPEL IN CAT CAY
The Chapel of Saint Louis IX, King of France
Bishop Paul Leonard Hagerty OSB stands with three Sisters of Charity in a photograph taken in Nassau in the 1960s. As "Father" Hagerty he met John Levarity in 1940 and when John said he wanted to become a Catholic and form a parish in Bimini it was Father Hagerty who encouraged him to do so. While Father Hagerty could not visit Bimini himself in early 1941 he sent Fr Bonaventure Hansen, OSB to visit the pioneering Catholic congregation and celebrate Mass, perform several baptisms and three weddings. Fr Hansen celebrated the first Bimini Mass on Januaury 19, 1941. Father Hagerty was later appointed Bishop over the entire Catholic community in The Bahamas.
The first church is seen here in a rare photo from the 1960s which also shows the Holy Name Catholic School (right)which was begun in 1943 by Mrs Rosa Levarity. The school remained open for over sixty years and educated hundreds of island children. The old church and the old school building have long since been demolished.
On Janaury 19, 1941 the first Mass in Bimini was celebrated here in a make-shift chapel on the Levarity property. This was the "house church" used by the small Catholic congregation until 1946 when the first church building was built following the plan of Msgr Jerome Hawes.
In 1987 the old church was in need of extensive repairs. It was also too small for the growing congregation and it was torn down.
The current structure was completed and consecrated in 1988 by Bishop Lawrence Burke, SJ the bishop of Nassau.
Pope Saint John Paul II embraces Monsignor Simeon Roberts at an audience in Rome. Nassau's Archbishop Lawrence Burke looks on. The monsignor was born on Bimini and attended our parish. He was ordained a priest in 1982 and was named a monsignor in 1999.
Mr John Levarity was the man who brought Catholicism to Bimini beginning in 1938. He was born in 1895 and died in 1966.
The interior of the original church built in 1946.
Our parish story begins in 1938 when John Levarity of Bimini was in Nassau and met Father Paul Leonard Hagarty, OSB, a Benedictine monk, who was working in The Bahamas. Mr Levarity and Father Hagarty got along well and he told the priest that he wanted to become a Catholic and that he would establish a Catholic community on Bimini. Father Hagarty told Mr Levarity to go back to Bimini and form a community and when he did so he was to let Father Hagarty know and he would come celebrate Mass and initiate the new Catholic parish. Mr Levarity came back to Bimini and with his wife, Rosa, began to gather his family and friends into a small Catholic congregation on the island. On January 19,1941 Fr Bonaventure Hansen, OSB celebrated the first Mass in Bimini in a make-shift chapel and on January 21 the parish was begun with the baptism of nearly twenty people. By 1946 a small church was built after a design by Monsignor Jerome Hawes, the "hermit of Cat Island". Bishop Stephen Donahue, auxiliary bishop of New York City, came to Bimini to dedicate the church. In time the church was simply too small and in 1988 the current structure was dedicated by Bishop Lawrence Burke, SJ, Bishop of Nassau. In 1951 Father Hagarty was appointed bishop of the then missionary territory of The Bahamas and in 1960 became the first bishop of the newly erected Diocese of Nassau. Bishop Hagerty was also named an Officer of The Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II.
In 1982 a "son of the parish" and grandson of John and Rosa Levarity was ordained to the priesthood. Simeon Roberts, who has pastored several parishes in Nassau, including the Cathedral of St Francis Xavier, was named a Chaplain of His Holiness and given the title "monsignor" in 1999. In 2000 he was presented to Pope Saint John Paul II while in Rome. In 2001 John Sears, a parishioner, was ordained a deacon and he continued to serve the parish in that role until his death in 2015.
Built in the 1940s by Cat Cay Club founder Louis Wasey the small chapel of San Luis Rey has served the Catholic community on the cay for over 70 years. Other Christian fellowships also share the chapel for Sunday worship.
The chapel was dedicated by the Most Rev Stephen Donahue, auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of New York and the altar stone was dedicated and gifted to the chapel by His Eminence Francis Cardinal Spellman in 1946.
Louis Wasey was a prominent advertising executive in New York and the chapel being dedicated to Saint Louis, King of France, was a way of honouring Louis Wasey, the man who had the chapel constructed.
The chapel has witnessed many weddings and baptisms over the years.
The chapel was severely damaged during Hurricane Andrew in 1992 and Cat Cay club members Sir Bruce Robert, K.S.G. and his wife, Dame Mary Robert, D.S.G. restored the edifice. It was rededicated by Archbishop Lawrence Burke.
The grave of Father Bonaventure Hansen OSB at the Benedictine cemetery in Nassau. Fr Bonaventure celebrated the first Mass in Bimini on 19 January 1941. He died in 1954. He was 81.
The current church, which was completed and dedicated in 1988, rests on the site of the original church of 1946.
In the parish diary Father Bonaventure Hansen, OSB, records the first Mass in Bimini -- January 19, 1941.
A church procession in the early 1980s. The HOLY NAME BANNER still hangs in the current church. It was paraded before Pope St John Paul II in 1979 during the pope's quick overnight visit to The Bahamas (in Nassau)
The Anglican church can be seen in the background.
Rosa Francis Levarity was John Levarity's wife. Mrs Levarity started the Holy Name Catholic School with just 12 students. The school was later administered by the Benedictine Nuns and was in operation for over 60 years.
The Late Rev Deacon John Sears
Deacon John Sears was a member of the parish and began his studies for the diaconate in the late 1990s. He was ordained by Archbishop Lawrence Burke as a permanent deacon in 2001 and served in the parish as a deacon until his death in 2015.
Deacon John was the first Bahamian deacon to preach in Rome at the church of Our Lady of Grace (Santa Maria alle Fornaci) which is located next to the Vatican.
Historic photos of the original church and school grounds
from the early 1960s.
Benedictine nuns who served in Bimini view the St Benedict medal which was saved from the old church and placed at the entrance of the current church in 2017.
Cardinal Spellman of New York gifted the altar stone to the chapel in 1946. It remains embedded in the altar to this day.
Bishop Paul Leonard Hagarty OSB greets parish members as they exit the old church in this photo from the late 1950s. The lady in the pink dress is Mrs Esther Rolle, today our second most senior woman member.
The old church was designed by noted church architect Msgr John Dawes "Fra Jerome" of Cat Island and was constructed in 1946 and dedicated on July 1 of that year by Bishop Stephen Donahue, auxiliary bishop of New York.
Jan 21, 1941 the first weddings took place at Bimini with Very Rev Bonaventure Hansen, OSB conducting the rites.
L-R Bruce Roberts/Barbara Levarity, Willmore Stuart/Inez Levarity, Lawrence Rolle/Elsie Levarity. All are deceased but their descendants continue to support the parish.
King Saint Louis IX of France, the chapel's patron.
Bishop Lawrence Burke, SJ, second bishop of Nassau, visits Holy Name parish in the early 1980s. The treasured HOLY NAME banner hangs over the sanctuary -- it was carried before Pope John Paul II in 1979 during his overnight visit to Nassau.
The two dark discs on either side of the banner are the front and reserve side depictions of the Medal/Cross of St Benedict. The monks and nuns of the Order of St Benedict served the parish -- the monks from its inception in 1941.
When the old church was demolished for the current building these discs were removed. One is currently on display at the entrance way to the new church. It honours the work of the Benedictines in Bimini.
Very Rev Bonaventure Hansen OSB
Pro Vicar Apostolic of The Bahamas
A remarkable missionary.