The oldest Catholic church in Jacksonville has been named a minor basilica.
According to an official letter from the apostolic office in Rome, Immaculate Conception Catholic Church is now one of 77 Catholic churches in the United States and six in Florida to have the designation. There are more than 1,400 minor basilicas across the world.
The Florida Times-Union reports that the Rev. Ed Murphy announced the new designation during Thursday's noon Mass.
"The comments I have gotten is it was long in coming and this is a great compliment to this great parish," Murphy said.
The church's previous pastor, the late Rev. Antonio Leon, had first requested the designation eight years ago, but the paperwork had been lost, Murphy said.
Current Catholic Diocese of St. Augustine Bishop Felipe Estevez renewed the request in May with Rome's Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments.
The Catholic Church has four major basilicas, all in Rome. They are St. Peter's, St. John Lateran, St. Mary Major and St. Paul-Outside-the-Walls. The title "minor basilica" is applied to a church that has unusual historical significance or contains important religious relics.
Immaculate Conception dates back to 1853, but the small wooden church became a victim of the Civil War ten years later when Union soldiers looted and torched the building. A second church built at the same site was dedicated in 1871. It was gutted during a fire that destroyed much of downtown Jacksonville in 1901.
The current building -- a towering white Kentucky limestone church with stained-glass windows made in Munich, Germany -- opened in 1910. About 800 registered families attend services there now.