The Basilica of St. Paul …. 125 Years of Catholic Faith

  1. Beginnings of Our Parish

    St. Paul Church and Rectory 1967

  2. Saint Paul Church
    1. Architectural Significance
    2. Casa San Pablo
  3. Basilica Designation of St. Paul Church
  4. More Recent Events and Renovations

Beginnings of Our Parish

The beginning of the story of the Basilica of St. Paul may be dated from the arrival on June 1, 1881, of the first Catholic family to live in Daytona Beach — immigrants from Germany. The first Mass was a nuptial for the Achstetter family, taking place in a log cabin home located in what is now the 600 block of South Ridgewood Avenue.  Father (later Bishop) William J. Kenny was celebrant.  The date was March 16, 1862.

Until 1886, Mass was offered twice a year by Father Bernard O’Reilly and Father Maurice F. Foley from Deland.  The congregation gathered in private homes, at the old Palmetto House, at the William Jackson Hall, at the depot on the corner of Beach Street and Orange Avenue, and at the City Opera House.  In 1886, Daytona Beach became a mission of St. Teresa Church in Titusville where Father John F. O’Boyle was administrator.  He celebrated Mass every Sunday in the opera house or in the armory.  Father O’Boyle was transferred to Daytona Beach and took up permanent residence in 1895.  Three years later he purchased property on South Palmetto and Myrtle Avenues and built there a wood-frame church seating approximately 400 people.

In April, 1923 the Rev. William J. Mullally, the new pastor of St. Paul Church (now the Basilica), arrived in Daytona Beach.  He had been given instructions from the Bishop to purchase additional property to build a Catholic school and build a new church.  Much to the credit and ingenuity of Fr. Mullally, St. Paul Catholic School (now the Basilica School of St. Paul), the only Catholic school at the time between St. Augustine and West Palm Beach on Florida’s East Coast, was opened in 1925.  Fr. Mullally, who was later appointed Right Reverend Monsignor by Pope Pius XI, led the effort to acquire and construct the Basilica of St. Paul at its present location, 360 North Ridgewood Avenue, Daytona Beach.  The first Mass in what was St. Paul Church was celebrated in 1927.  Monsignor Mullally later celebrated his Golden Jubilee as a priest, and he remained pastor at St. Paul Church until retirement in 1967.


Two gifts of $25,000 each started construction of the nearly $250,000 edifice.  The floor plan drawn by the architect, Gerald A. Barry, of Chicago and Jacksonville, is a traditional cruciform style.

Architectural Significance

Built in Spanish mission-style, the Basilica of St. Paul is 181 feet long, 80 feet wide and 123 feet in height from the street level to the top of the cross surmounting it.  The walls measure 3 feet thick.  The church was the highest building on the mainland when it was built and seated 1,150 people. It was one of the first buildings in the area to be built with a central heat and air-conditioning system.

More than a million bricks used beneath the three-coat tan stucco coating were reinforced with steel girders.   The built-up roof of bright tile rests on a flat surface of stone slabs. The dome is topped by a new cupola and cross installed in 2006.  The curved pillars that flank the main entrance are designed after the Bernini columns at the high altar in the Basilica of St. Peter, Vatican City.

The massive doors at the front entrance of the building are made of pecky cypress wood.  This worm-eaten wood was secured from cypress trees over a hundred years old and was selected in order to give the doors an appearance of antiquity. They are exact replicas of the Basilica doors in Valencia, Spain.  The curved or rounded scheme is carried out in the designs both in the interior decorations and outer art stone trimmings.

Outside, in a niche above these doors, there is a statue of St. Paul holding a sword and script.  The script is the symbol of his life after conversion, when Paul expounded the sacred teachings of Christ with as much zeal as that with which he once persecuted His followers.  The sword symbolizes that persecution.  Above this statue a solid block of stone has been inserted which forms the keystone of the building.  It weighs more than five tons, and has a monstrance carved into the front of it for decoration.

Inside, as you walk past the baptismal font and down the center aisle toward the main altar, you pass between graceful pre-16th century Renaissance style arches.  The arches are bordered by simplistic columns covered with leaves and shells.  The ceiling, partly vaulted and partly flat, is ornamented with artistic designs.  The vaulted ceiling of the dome above the sanctuary is seventy-three feet high.  Four medallions with engraved figures serve as traditional symbols for the four evangelists and decorate the space in the arches forming a great canopy:  Matthew (human), Mark (lion) Luke (ox) and John (eagle).

Directly above the tabernacle and the large crucifix is a painting depicting the conversion of St. Paul while on his way to Damascus to persecute Christians. In addition to the 22 transept and 12 rose windows, which depict the lives of Jesus, Mary and other saints, there are 16 smaller stained glass windows along the outer walls in the upper part of the church.  These contain symbolic figures, including a chalice, a cross, a monstrance, a crown of thorns, a pelican feeding its young, and a ship. More detailed information about the church windows can be found in our Church Tour Guide Map. On the north side of the main altar is a shrine dedicated to St. Joseph.  This mosaic depicts scripture from Matthew 2:13, 15:

When they had departed, behold the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you.  Herod is going to search for the child to destroy him.”

On the south side of the main altar is a shrine dedicated to Mary under the title of “Our Lady of Fatima.”  The mosaic commemorates the appearances of Mary to three children at Fatima in 1917.  These two side altars are constructed with Georgian marble in varying color, quarried in Italy.  The mosaics themselves are brilliant flecks of gold glass and cream-colored stone.

Along the side aisles are shrines in honor of various saints.  In front of each side shrine is a portion of the original church communion rail.  Each area features statues of Saints (more detailed information which can be found in our Church Tour Guide Map.)  Also, along the side aisles and back of the church are sculptured Stations of the Cross.  At the rear of the church on either side, is located an area reserved for the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Since the conversion of Paul is a primary focus for this church, its related themes also speak to all who enter here: the suffering of Jesus and his persecuted followers, the transforming love of Christ, the power flowing from the resurrection, and the healing power of Christ, mission and service.  These themes are served and strengthened throughout this church by our heritage and tradition found in part in our windows and shrines.  They offer all a place in the journey of faith.

The Basilica of St. Paul has been blessed with several distinguished pastors since Monsignor Mullally retired, including the Reverend Thomas Gross, Reverend Reverend Sean Heslin, the Reverend Fred R. Ruse, who with his family was a lifelong parishioner of the Basilica of St. Paul, Reverend Matthew Connolly, the Very Reverend Robert E. Webster.  The current pastor is the Reverend Timothy P. Daly, who also serves as the Catholic chaplain of at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

Casa San Pablo

During Fr. Sean Heslin’s tenure as pastor of St. Paul Church, he spearheaded planning for the establishment of a low-income senior citizen home, to be located diagonally across the street from St. Paul Church, on property that was formerly the site of St. Paul Convent.  Under the stewardship of Father Ruse, Casa San Pablo was completed and dedicated during the weekend of March 14, 1987.  Casa San Pablo, although sponsored by the Basilica of St. Paul, is a non-denominational senior citizen home whose doors are open to all eligible persons regardless of race, color, or creed.  The Federal Government subsidizes the rent payments of the low-income residents of the facility.

Basilica Designation of St. Paul Church

On January 25, 2006 (Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul), the Most Reverend Thomas G. Wenski, Bishop of Orlando, presided at a Celebration of Eucharist solemnizing this designation by His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI.

Basilica is an honorific title bestowed on a church of historic and spiritual importance by the Holy Father.  A basilica may be a parish church, a cathedral, or a shrine.  Historically, basilica (kingly hall) referred to the architectural style of certain public buildings of the Roman Empire, characterized by a long main aisle with a high ceiling supported by columns, and flanked by low-ceilinged side aisles.  At one end was the entrance with a portico, usually preceded by a forecourt and loggia, trees, and a fountain; at the other end was an apse.  Upon the conversion of the Emperor Constantine and the legalization of Christianity in the Roman Empire, many of the old public basilicas were transformed into churches, which became the architectural models for many churches built thereafter, even to the present day.

Churches honored with the title Basilica belong to two classes, Major and Minor.  There are eight major basilicas:  St. Peter in the Vatican, St. John Lateran, St. Mary Major, St. Paul-Outside-the-Walls, St. Lawrence-Outside-the-Walls, St. Sebastian (all in Rome), the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi, and the Basilica of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem.  Of the major basilicas, four share the title Patriarchal Basilicas, being the original and primary basilicas and each having within a Patriarchal Throne.  All other basilicas are minor.  Presently there are more than 60 minor basilicas in the United States, among them the Cathedral-Basilica of Saint Augustine, and in the Washington, D.C., the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

The title Basilica carries with it both privileges and obligations.  Among the primary privileges are the right to display, both inside and outside, the coat of arms of the pope who designated the church as a basilica, and the display of the church’s own coat of arms, bearing the marks of the pope.  In addition, two additional symbols rooted in the papal court, the tintinnabulum and the ombrellino are given to the church for use and display.  The tintinnabulum is a bell which had the practical function of alerting the people to the approach of the Holy Father during papal processions through the streets of Rome.  The ombrellino is an elaborate umbrella which would protect the Holy Father from inclement weather.  The panels for the ombrellino are made of alternating red and yellow fabric (the colors of the pope).  It is always displayed half-way open to signify that the church is ready to welcome the Holy Father!

More Recent Events and Renovations

In recent years, the Basilica of St. Paul has continued with renovations.  In 1995, under Fr. Webster, the church interior was renovated in an attempt to restore it to some of the splendor of the original 1927 structure and update the area to be in accord with current church documents on liturgical spaces.  The hard work and effort culminated in a rededication of the church building and a dedication of its new altar on January 25, 1996, the feast day of the Conversion of St. Paul.  The altar, the first one to be permanently dedicated and anointed with oil, is made of rosewood and cherry.  Five crosses are inlaid in the table, symbolizing the marks of dedication.  Among the changes made were returning to the 1927 church’s color scheme, refurbishing the existing church pews, and building the sanctuary forward into the congregation and under the church dome.  The previous sanctuary area was refurbished to create a Eucharistic Chapel, bordered by a colonnade and arches.  The chapel houses the tabernacle, surrounded in a golden Eucharistic tower.  At the entrance to the church, near the Narthex, a large baptismal font was created from the marble used in the original altar.

After the rededication of the church building in 1996, further renovation work has included the Church Convent, Parish Center, the Basilica School, Monsignor Mullally Hall, and the Stations of the Cross in the church.

Other highlights include:

2002 – Church Illumination

During the Christmas season, the church was illuminated on the outside so that the Basilica of St. Paul would once again become a “beacon of light” to the area Catholic faithful and as a witness to that faith for the entire Daytona Beach community.

2006 – Blessing of Cupola and Cross

On Sunday, September 10, the new cupola and cross were blessed on the grounds of the Basilica.  Thursday, September 14 (Feast of the Triumph of the Cross), the new cupola and cross were raised to the top of the church.  This replaced the one destroyed by the hurricanes of 2004 and was made possible through the great generosity of the Knights of Columbus.