The application required a lot of historical detail and answers to 120 questions, written in Latin. Father Baker and his staff did most of the legwork.
Monsignor Terence Hogan helped with the Latin translation. If they were asking how many prayer groups you have, you cant think theyre asking about a certain type of bar, Father Baker said.
Measuring the church precisely in feet and meters also was required.
Church historian Bob Bernrueter helped resolve the fact from the fiction in the long history.
A 1901 fire destroyed the original church, which was on Duval Street. Every trace of arson was present, as the heart of the fire was in the very center of the organ, the history states.
Father Baker said there have long been rumors that the Ku Klux Klan was involved because the church welcomed people of all ethnicities. But local historian Tom Hambright told him that likely wasnt the case because the Klan had a rule to burn only at night, and this fire started in the daylight.
The new church was built at its present location on Windsor Lane, next to its Catholic school and convent.
Its design is in the high Victorian Gothic style that was popular at the turn of the 20th Century. Coral rock dug from the ground were used for the exterior. Instead of windows, high and wide doors were set all along the sides, which allowed for air to flow through to cool the building at a time when there was no air conditioning.
The open doors now make it possible to accommodate the large Mass crowds during the high season of Christmas through Easter.
Saint Marys pews can accommodate about 450 to 500 people, but many more often attend. The overflow crowd participates by being able to see through the doors.
The inside is in Byzantine style.
Daisy Coxon, who attended Mass last Thursday with her husband Chuck on his 70th birthday, said: Were cradle Catholics. The beauty of this church is the crucifixion, the statues of Joseph and Mary, the Stations of the Cross. Its home to us.
Rose Sminky, who has been a parishioner at Saint Mary for seven years, said the stained glass window that depicts Mary and baby Jesus kind of magnetizes you.
During a boating trip, she said, the gas ran out while they were far from shore. They all began praying to the rosary. Every time I look at the stained glass I think of how Mary really came to our help.
The church grounds are well known for a grotto containing the statues of the Lady of Lourdes and Bernadette, which was dedicated in 1922.
Sister Gabriel, who had survived three major hurricanes, organized the construction of the grotto that would be a place to seek protection from future storms by praying to Our Blessed Mother Mary.
Many people come here to pray and light candles during the times of hurricanes and all through the year, Father Baker said. Its a beautiful space for people to seek consolation of God in a very private way.
While there are about 1,200 families in the parish, thousands more visitors on vacation and snowbirds attend Mass at the church each year. A weekly one is done in Spanish and a monthly one in Polish.
To prepare for the solemn Mass and become a Basilica, three mosaics were commissioned from Italy. They depict the Coat of the Arms of the Pope, the Archdiocese of Miami and the newly minted one of the Basilica of Saint Mary. It prominently features a conch shell, the symbol of Key West.