In early 1857 the territory of Eastern Florida was made a vicariate, and in the following year the first Vicar was named in the person of a French Sulpician who for more than a quarter of a century had been working as a missionary in Maryland.
In his first pastoral letter ( dated August 28, 1858) Bishop Augustin Verot referred to "the purest blood of martyrs" which in centuries past had bedewed the soil of Florida. It was an obvious reference to (among others) the Five Martyrs of 1597, who in the area of the new ecclesiastical unit had given their testimony to Christ. In the same pastoral letter the new bishop paid tribute to the "devoted and self-denying missionaries who had set at nought everything that the world holds dear, for the sake of diffusing the light of heaven among those who are sitting in the shadow ofdeath."1
With the desire to build, if possible, on the labors of those missionaries who for almost two hundred years had ministered to the native people of the former Spanish possession, early in the administration of his office the zealous bishop sent an emissary to the few remaining Indians with an offer to undertake anew the work of their spiritual care. Though the offer was refused, it stands as a testimony to his understanding and appreciation of what the missionaries of the past had done in their day for the native people. The bishop was in a very deep sense aware of what the martyrdom of 1597 had meant for the nascent Church in his missionary territory. Though exact historical details were yet to be uncovered, some popular traditions persisted as to the persons of the Martyrs, as also in reference to the sites of their apostolate and their sacrifice. Confused though these traditions may have become with the passing of some centuries, they prove that there was a certain popular awareness that the martyrs' shedding of their blood was a glorious beginning of Christianity in the region. Some fifteen years later, as one of the last acts of this singularly zealous bishop, Verot put the new church edifice which he had erected at Fernandina under the patronage of St. Michael. This he did for the express purpose of honoring the memory of Fray Miguel de Aiion, one of the Five Martyrs. A misunderstanding of some historical events had popularly– and erroneously– put the site of Fray Miguel's slaying on Amelia Island, near Fernandina, in Florida rather than on St. Catherine's Island in present-day Georgia, as we now know. The bishop's wish to perpetuate in this manner the memory of one of the Five Martyrs shows that he was convinced that the blood of the Martyrs was the seed of the Church confided to his care.2
Pastoral Letter of the Right Reverend Bishop Verot to the Catholics of Florida (St. Augustine, August 28, 1858), quoted by Michael V. Gannon, Rebel Bishop: The Life and Era of Augustin Verot (Milwaukee: Bruce Publishing Co., 1964) 27.
"Episcopal Acts," 177, cited by Gannon, Rebel Bishop, 243.