The parishioners of St. Mary, Star of the Sea Catholic Church stood under Christmas lights on palm trees on a chilly afternoon to celebrate its 47th anniversary and to dedicate its new nativity scene display.
The event was on Dec. 8, 47 years to the day after the church was founded. It’s a new event for St. Mary’s and was well-attended, by parishioners both outdoors and in their cars to remain far from others. For Florida, it was downright wintry as the sun set to make way for the Christmas lights.
“It’s getting colder, but at least we don’t have ice under our blessed Virgin Mary (fountain),” women’s guild President Susan DiNatale said.
Founder Father Edward Pick spoke to the gathered crowd, reminiscing about his time before coming to Longboat Key and the informal early days of the parish on the island — before current pastor Father Robert Dziedziak was born. For four years, Pick preached out of the fire station on the north end, even once preaching to a peacock that wandered in.
After Pick spoke, men’s club President Chuck Sobieck stood to speak and commemorate Monsignor Gerry Finegan, the church’s beloved longtime pastor who died in February 2020. The manger scene, set up by the men’s club, was also dedicated to Finegan.
“His spiritual light continued to shine in his darkest days,” Sobieck said.
Sobieck recalled how Finegan, a notoriously picky eater, baptized two of his grandsons — who also became notoriously picky eaters. After commemorating Finegan’s memory, the group moved to the edge of Gulf of Mexico Drive for Dziedziak to bless the nativity.
“One of the first things Sue (DiNatale) and Chuck (Sobieck) approached me about back in March (when I started) was the nativity,” Dziedziak said. “I was very excited because I love Christmas.”
Parishioners shivered as the sun set lower, so the church didn't waste any time in lighting the palm trees with their twinkling lights after Dziedziak blessed the scene and chatted with his congregation.