The only thing more imposing than the giant banyan trees on the grounds of St. Mary, Star of the Sea Catholic Church was the man who planted them: the church’s founder, Father Edward Pick.
“He was definitely a man you looked up to,” longtime friend Tim Clarke said.
Pick, whom many referred to as a “gentle giant,” stood about 6-foot-7, cutting a figure that was at once loving and brusque, wise and witty. Ordained in 1968, Pick came to Longboat Key in 1973 and founded the church, which at that time had no building.
Pick preached out of a rented room in the firehouse on the north end, often preaching to a flock that included peacocks that wandered in during Mass. The church wasn’t built until 1978, and by the time the doors opened, Pick had created a masterpiece. He commissioned murals, stained glass windows and brought 100 two-foot-tall banyan seedlings from Boca Grande to plant at the drive into the church. Under his care, they began to flourish.
Pick died at age 86 on March 27.
He leaves behind a looming legacy beyond the church building. Pick was known for his generosity, his commitment to the church and its congregants, his love of the arts and his humor. Often, he would end Mass with, “God bless you, and be kind to each other,” former mayor Joan Webster remembered.
“Yes, he built a beautiful church, but he also built beautiful souls,” longtime friend Susan Clarke said.
Pick adored his dogs, which were almost always St. Bernards. Tom Mahoney, who’s been the church’s caretaker for 26 years, saw Pick’s love for his dogs up close day after day. When Mahoney would eat at a restaurant with Pick, the man would order an extra meal of hamburgers to take home so his dogs could eat well that night, too. In the summers, Pick would ask Mahoney to bring his truck over to the rectory so he could load the dogs up and take them to the beach.
“We’d go right across from Bird Key,” Mahoney said. “I used to be able to park the truck right on the hill and Father would get into the water with the St. Bernards.”
The promise of the beach wasn’t the only thing that pulled him away from the rectory on warm afternoons. When the Cincinnati Reds, Pick’s hometown team, were playing in spring training or at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Pick couldn’t resist the lure of the diamond.
“On an afternoon, if Father’s favorite team was playing in Sarasota, he’d say, ‘Tom, let’s go to the game,’” Mahoney said. “And I’d say, ‘Father, I’ve still got work to do,’ and he’d say, ‘That’s OK, we’re going to the game.’”
Above all, the church was his life. Even after he retired in 2008, Pick would step forward to help with Mass for his successor Monsignor Gerry Finegan and the church’s new pastor, Father Robert Dziedziak.
“I would have to describe him as a brilliant homilist,” Tim Clarke said. “He would give brilliant services in plain language. They were motivating and inspiring.
He really built the entire service of the Mass that day around the theme of the sermon. He was a very bright man, very smart.”
His humor and love of the arts shone through his daily homilies. Pick often said if he weren’t a priest, he would’ve liked to be on stage, and he put his raspy singing voice to use often at church parties and in soliciting donations. When Pick would stay at the Clarkes’ Michigan home, he would sing show tunes for them after dinner.
“He made friends with his demeanor and size and wit and humor and excellent mind and attention to detail,” Susan Clarke said. “He was really quite the formidable man.”
A funeral mass will be held at 11 a.m. on April 7 at St. Mary, Star of the Sea Catholic Church.