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St. Mary, Star of the Sea celebrates 50th anniversary with gala

Fr. Phillip Schweda, Fr. Robert Dziedziak, Linda Olsen and Bishop Frank Dewane
Fr. Phillip Schweda, Fr. Robert Dziedziak, Linda Olsen and Bishop Frank Dewane
Photo by Petra Rivera
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The late Father Edward Pick who founded the parish of St. Mary Star of the Sea Catholic Church was described as a steadfast man and an imposing presence, standing 6-foot-7.

He was so determined to fill the need for a Catholic Church on Longboat Key that he went door-to-door asking for donations all along the island from 1973 to 1978. 

He didn't wait for construction to commence. During this time, Sunday Mass was held at the firehouse on the north end of Longboat Key. 

“There was nothing on Longboat in the 1960s, just a fishing village,” said founding member Marilyn Broder. “It was so small attending Mass in the firehouse but Father Pick had a strong character and commanded the room. Also, it was just a scene to see him going door-to-door asking for donations. This was really his baby, and he saw it through.”

Before there was a Catholic church on the island, Mass was led by priests from St. Bernard Catholic Church in Holmes Beach, first at the Longboat Key Youth Center and then in the firehouse, although Archbishop Joseph P. Hurley purchased the 12.5-acre property for the church in 1964. 

In 1973, Pick was named the first Catholic pastor of Longboat Key. Thanks to Pick's door-to-door visits and financial committees, the parish was able to put into action plans from Tampa architect Cesar Alfonso in 1973, with the first Mass celebrated at the newly built St. Mary on May 27, 1978. 

St. Mary has grown considerably since those early days. And parishioners give the credit to Pick for their close-knit church and say that his legacy stays strong today.

Bishop Frank Dewane and George Noble
Photo by Petra Rivera

That legacy lives on in the Father Edward Pick Fellowship Hall at St Mary where the congregation celebrated its 50th anniversary gala Feb. 23.

Linda Olsen, who organized this event, put a lot of hard work into celebrating this monumental occasion. Her committee worked hard to make beautiful centerpieces, order ice sculptures and make sure the event ran smoothly. 

Prominent figures in the local Catholic community came to help celebrate the anniversary such as Bishop Frank Dewane, who is the Bishop of the Diocese of Venice.

Pick’s vision for the church was very personal to those founding members and to the island of Longboat. The best representation of this is found in St. Mary’s famous mural behind its altar. 

Eleanor Karnell and Maggie Oberst
Photo by Petra Rivera

Local artist Frank Hopper painted the mural. He was recommended to Pick by a St. Mary parishioner. Pick explained to Hopper that he wanted to create scenes from the Bible by using inspiration from local people and parishioners. 

Congregants shared that Jesus’ hands in the mural are based on a local carpenter’s hands and Mary Magdalene’s face was based on a woman who was a bartender at a local bar. 

Throughout the mural and other art around the church, people draw connections to local people and the founding parishioners of the church. The painting of the mural took three years and was installed in the still-under-construction church on Dec. 8, 1973. That's also the date to which the church traces its official founding.

But Pick’s plans for a church didn’t stop once it was completed in 1978. Additions continued to be made throughout his years such as the present rectory in 1984, the Stella Maris Activity Center in 1991 and the prayer walk, memorial garden and the outdoor Stations of the Cross in 1995.

“Father Pick was such a character,” said Eleanor Karnell. “He would end every Mass with ‘Be kind’ and he would say it in his really deep voice so it really stuck with you. He was at every event. Every year at the fashion show, he would wear this white suit and stand there giving drink tickets to all the ladies. You wouldn’t even know he was a priest.”

Michael Cichon, Elaine Cichon and Fr. Robert Dziedziak
Photo by Petra Rivera

After retiring in 2008, Pick was still involved in the parish and helped his successor Monsignor Gerry Finnegan and current pastor the Rev. Robert Dziedziak. Pick passed away on March 27, 2021.

Church members shared how Pick’s legacy has been carried out through all of his successors. Elaine Cichon said each pastor, including Dziedziak, humanizes the services with humor, care and involvement in other events not related to religious duties.

“Father Robert is a mover and shaker, and I swear he was the Energizer Bunny,” said Olsen. “He always has a smile on his face and is kind to everyone he meets. He has touched so many of our lives with gratitude and appreciation. We are so blessed to have Father Robert.”

John Vorel has attended St. Mary for 40 years and shared that he is amazed with its evolution.

Vorel said, “As the parish is getting younger and we are passing it to a younger generation, it is nice to see how far we have come and how it still has Father Pick’s energy and spirit.”



Petra Rivera

Petra Rivera is the Longboat community reporter. She holds a bachelor’s degree of journalism with an emphasis on reporting and writing from the University of Missouri. Previously, she was a food and drink writer for Vox magazine as well as a reporter for the Columbia Missourian.

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