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After months of construction, the new, sparkling white St. Agnes Roman Catholic Church opened its new doors Friday with a consecration ceremony completing  a remarkable makeover for the congregation and the school.

Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski presided, giving the public a first look at the interior of the towering structure on Harbor Drive. The new altar was blessed with sacred oil, incense, candles and flowers in a two-hour-plus ceremony. The back chapel received the blessed sacrament. 

“Look around. What can you say but ‘Wow,’” Wenski said. 

Worshippers gather during the consecration Mass at St. Agnes Roman Catholic church with Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski leading services, Friday Sept. 15, 2023 (KBI Photo/John Pacenti)

He then took a solemn tone as Mayor Joe Rasco and members of the Village Council looked on from the right of the altar that was resplendent with a bigger-than-life Christ on the cross. 

“God didn’t need this church,” Wenski said. “But you did. The people of Key Biscayne did.” He said the new worship space lays a path for St. Agnes and its pre-K through 8th grade school into the next century.

The church can now fit 600 worshippers – nearly 200 more than its 1954 predecessor. It has a larger altar, more confessionals, a facility for sacraments – even a cry room. The choir now has a larger – and safer – loft. Their horns and chorus filled a church of dark stained wood and stained glass windows that tells the story of St. Agnes.

The architecture somehow conveyed both the modern and the traditional, the rustic and the pristine, the old and the new. While the crucifixion behind the altar dominates, polyhedron-shaped chandeliers hang over the congregation. The stained glass of Agnes’ story gave way to clear windows showing the bright blue island sky above. 

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The church joins a new sports and multipurpose building dedicated in May and a new two-story school building. All are painted bright white with construction getting off the ground with $18 million in donations, according to the church’s website.

“St. Agnes is the center of Key Biscayne. The old church was not big enough anymore,” said Roberta Taranto Green, a member of the congregation and former Key Biscayne resident. 

John Schmidt, who attended with his 10-year-old son, has been a member of St. Agnes since 2010. “It’s gorgeous. I think this is for the future. The congregation went 70 years without a proper church,” he said, referring to how the last church was a converted auditorium.

St. Agnes’s construction still draws criticism from some who fear overdevelopment under the current zoning code, and who continue to criticize the Village Council for approving seven variances, mostly minor, in April 2020.

“It is true what they say about what you can see from outer space. The Great Wall of China, the pyramids of Giza and St. Agnes Church,” Wenski joked.

Love or hate it, the new church is destined to be a distinguishing landmark for Key Biscayne with its large courtyard and ascending steps. 

In the end, Wenski turned it over to the pastor, the Rev. Juan Carlos Paguaga. He presented Wenski with a stained glass window from the old church, framed by the wood of the new building for his support of the renovation.

“I remember that first meeting with you and you said, “Do you really think it is possible?” Paguaga said. 

Parishoners said the new church is a continuation of a bedrock institution on Key Biscayne, a place where so many have celebrated, mourned and worshiped.

Joann Sardiñas – wife of Council Member Oscar Sardiñas – said as she was leaving, “We got married here. Our daughter did her first Communion here and we baptized our daughter here.”

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John Pacenti

JOHN PACENTI is a correspondent of the Key Biscayne Independent. John has worked for The Associated Press, the Palm Beach Post, Daily Business Review, and WPTV-TV.

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JOHN PACENTI is a correspondent of the Key Biscayne Independent. John has worked for The Associated Press, the Palm Beach Post, Daily Business Review, and WPTV-TV.