Could Tallahassee one day have a Catholic saint to call its own? The push is getting underway to canonize an Apalachee Indian who was raised as a Christian at Mission San Luis and later died for the faith.
Heather Jordan is the secretary of the board for the Martyrs of La Florida Missions group that’s advancing the sainthood cause. She said this effort actually began many years ago under Bishop Rene Gracida, the first bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Pensacola Tallahassee from 1975 until 1983.
“Bishop Gracida actually tried to start this cause for canonization in the early 80s,” Jordan recalled.
But Gracida soon moved on to New Orleans and the cause was pretty much forgotten. That is, until Jordan and several other history-minded Catholics re-discovered the cause, and launched an extensive research effort.
“We thought there might be martyrs in the area so we started doing the hunting and we have turned up a huge number of documents and a lot of information and it’s very exciting because we now have 82 martyrs from that mission time period here in La Florida.”
Jordan said one martyr in particular was chosen to spearhead the campaign for eventual sainthood.
“We named Antonio; Antonio Cuipa. Antonio was an Inija, which we are told was like the city manager who planned the crops and the building of the buildings at Mission San Luis right in Tallahassee.”
Antonio was raised Christian and actually took the Gospel message to neighboring villages as a native missionary. Then the British and Creek Indians attacked the Spanish missions in Florida in the early 1700s, including San Luis. Antonio and many others fled to neighboring Jefferson County, which is where he met a martyr’s end.
“Because he was one of the leading members of the group, he was so highly respected, so they killed him first,” Jordan said. “He was put on a cross on the outdoor Stations of the Cross and burned.”
There are other Native Americans among this group of Florida martyrs, along with Dominican, Jesuit and Franciscan missionaries who came from Spain, Cuba and Mexico. Jordan said the initial march towards formal church recognition is already underway.
“Each name gets looked at particularly because there are so many in this cause. It then gets submitted to Rome and once they are declared to actually be martyrs, then a beatification gets scheduled. And we’re very excited. We’re told it could possibly be within two or three years and we’re also told that Rome is excited by this cause.”
Jordan said a special ceremony happens soon on a nearly eighty acre site near Chaires on Archangel Way just east of Crump Road off Mahan Drive.
“It is a site that is set aside to be the future site of the shrine of Mary Queen of the Martyrs and a mass will take place on Monday, October 12th at 4 in the afternoon,” she said. “It’s open to everybody and at that point we’ll have the official opening of the Cause.”
The website: www.martyrsoflaFloridamissions.org has all the history and details of the campaign to bestow sainthood on a very early Tallahasseean.