The Most Rev. Gerald M. Barbarito, Bishop of Palm Beach, presided over the Rite of Installation of the Rev. Father D. Brian
Horgan (far right) on June 10 as the fifth pastor in the history of St. Lucy Catholic Church. Tim Stepien/The Coastal Star
Carved from an overgrown tract of mangroves,
church has grown into centerpiece of Highland Beach
Related Story: Celebrating 50 years of St. Lucy Church
By Janis Fontaine
Hundreds of Catholics in southern, coastal Palm Beach County call St. Lucy Catholic Church in Highland Beach their home church. The small house of worship on A1A is wedged between towering condominiums that sprouted up around it since it was founded in 1968.
This year, the church celebrates its golden jubilee, marking half a century of providing spiritual guidance, respite and comfort, in keeping with the parish mission statement: “Our community welcomes all, judges none, embraces and protects the vulnerable, and seeks to make the stranger, the unloved and the unwanted feel at home.”
Maureen Mooney Stamper of Boca Raton has been attending St. Lucy for nearly 20 years, first as a tourist, then as a snowbird and now as a full-time resident. Early in the church’s history, 75 percent of parishioners were seasonal. Now the opposite is true — only 25 percent are snowbirds.
When Stamper lost both her son and her husband in 2014, she recalled, “It was because of my faith that I was able to get through it.”
Stamper found comfort in the arms of her church family and has blossomed again. “I thought I’d never be me again, but I became a better me,” she said.
That good feeling comes from the joy of giving back to the church that helped her through hard times. “I never realized what I could do,” Stamper said. “Father mentored me.”
She became a lector, then a eucharistic minister, honors she treasures. “I’ve gotten more out of it than I have given,” Stamper said. “I’m so proud of the work the congregation does.”
ABOVE: Following installation Mass, the Rev. Father D. Brian Horgan greets parishioners. He came to St. Lucy in 2013 to assist Father Gerald Grace, who has since retired. BELOW: Horgan spends a moment in reflection during his installation service at St. Lucy Catholic Church. Photos provided by Lashells Photography
ABOVE: St. Lucy Catholic Church members representing the Parish Council attend the June installation of the Rev. Father D. Brian Horgan. Tim Stepien/The Coastal Star
Michelle DeGennaro and Rosemarie Amato are co-presidents of the St. Lucy Council of Catholic Women, a charitable ministry of the church. The group has more than 130 members, making it one of the largest groups of its type.
“Lucky us!” DeGennaro said. “We are a very active group. We really want to help and there are plenty who need it.”
The group supports child-related charities, including Birthline, Aid to Victims of Domestic Abuse, Place of Hope and Boca Helping Hands. The council also gives an annual college scholarship to a young Catholic woman.
Amato is a former New Jersey snowbird, now a Boca Raton resident, who has attended St. Lucy since 1988. She’s devoted to the church and the CCW, and enjoys planning its major annual fundraiser, a fashion show. Amato says, “Whenever we ask for help, we get it. No one ever tells us no.”
Parishioner Peggy Gossett-Seidman — who also serves as a commissioner for the town of Highland Beach — has been attending St. Lucy for more than 25 years. St. Lucy still holds up as the heart of the community and there’s also a great deal of “doing good deeds quietly,” Gossett-Seidman said. “It’s a beautiful reflection of the community, a great lift and a sparkle for everyone.”
For many years, the church has also served as a polling place.
Father Horgan’s influence
On June 10, the church held the official rite of installation of Father D. Brian Horgan as the fifth pastor in St. Lucy’s history. Horgan is known for his kindness, his work with children (he previously taught at Cardinal Newman High School), and his sense of humor.
Horgan has worked at St. Lucy since 2013, and his welcoming attitude is contagious, DeGennaro said. “He’s young, influential and appealing.”
Nearly everyone who speaks about Horgan, who turned 47 on July 4, mentions his youth, and many praise the bishop for sending a youthful priest.
To be viable, a church must attract new members, and that’s certainly part of Horgan’s plan. He welcomes families, encouraging them to sit in the front row. He says parents shouldn’t feel they need to remove a rambunctious tot from the sanctuary during Mass.
To him, a church’s youngest parishioner is just as important as its oldest. A children’s Mass on Friday is becoming one of the most popular services.
The church, which grew from 500 families in 1995 to 1,300 members today, is a multicultural fishbowl, with different cultures living in harmony, all following Horgan’s open-armed example.
Pastoring this new generation of Catholics means embracing the growing Spanish-speaking population. Dianne Barreneche spoke on behalf of the parish’s Hispanic community at Horgan’s installation, praising him for being “so devoted he learned Spanish so he could say Mass in Spanish to his Hispanic parishioners.” The congregation laughed, imagining Father Brian’s Irish-accented Spanish.
Bishop Gerald M. Barbarito spoke at the installation, as did Carl Feldman, the mayor of Highland Beach, and several other civic and church leaders. Hundreds of faithful showed up to take in the pageantry.
Horgan’s self-deprecating sense of humor and way with words set the tone. The young pastor is so agile with words, Barbarito said, he was adding Horgan’s name to his short list of potential eulogists.
The bishop spoke about how well St. Lucy serves its faithful and praised the “wonderful relationship” that the parish has cultivated with the town.
Before moving to the parish hall for a luncheon featuring Irish foods (corned beef, boiled potatoes and carrots), Horgan closed by quoting the Irish poet Keats and then said that the words of St. John Vianney best described his feelings about his parish: “A priest is not a priest for himself, but for others.”
Perhaps DeGennaro said it best: “This little church on A1A you can call home.”
No special events have been planned to mark the 50th anniversary.