On May 12, 1926, Father William Barry was appointed to a sparsely populated Miami Beach to found St. Patrick Church. The first Mass was celebrated in the Miami Beach Gardens Theater on 41st Street and Alton Road on Sunday, May 13, 1926.
Miami Beach developer, Carl G. Fisher, a non-Catholic, donated five polo stables to Father Barry for use as a church and school for St. Patrick’s. On June 2, 1926 Miami Beach Catholicism was born in the offering of Christ in the Eucharist at the first mass held in a refurbished stable.
One week prior to the beginning of St. Patrick’s first school year, on September 17, 1926, a violent hurricane devastated Miami Beach. The church and school buildings that were to open in just days were ravaged. The building lost its roofs, windows, doors, curtains and everything else one can imagine. The hurricane, which killed 392 and injured 6,281, devastated the school and church buildings and grounds. The polo stables were hastily repaired and the school opened two weeks later with 20 of the 150 students registered prior to the hurricane.
The storm of 1926 strengthened Father Barry’s resolve to create a permanent church and school structure. Father Barry and a committee of parishioners chose a site of 12 lots between 39th and 40th Streets and planned new structures that would include a church, rectory, convent, school, recreation hall and auditorium.
On February 22, 1928, the cornerstone for the church was laid. After the Wall Street crash of 1928, Father Barry ingratiated himself with financiers and bankers by declaring publicly that he would not take the parish money out of the banks. For the next several years, Barry concentrated his efforts on paying off loans and debts incurred in the building project.
While the rest of the country was in financial turmoil, Miami Beach’s leisure lifestyle was featured by the press.
In 1942 Miami Beach became an army base. Local hotels and motels were taken over by hundreds of thousands of servicemen. Father Barry joined the effort by allowing the army to use all parish facilities. The impact was very positive. Sunday services were filled to capacity.
Tourism flourished after World War II and Miami Beach became one of the most popular destinations.