Catholic mass has been held at Ocean Reef since 1951. Then and through 1971 visiting priests from San Predro Parish at Plantation Key came during the season and said mass, generally at noon on Sunday, at various locations including meeting rooms at the Inn. In 1971 Archbishop Coleman Carroll established a parish in key Largo named St. Justin Martyr. The first pastor was a young Irish priest named Father Edmund Whyte who held mass at Ocean Reef until his departure for another parish in Miami in 1973. On February 2, 1972 The Chapel At Ocean Reef was dedicated and Catholics and Protestants no longer needed makeshift places of worship. Father Whyte was replaced by the legendary and beloved Father Jan Januszewski who served St. Justin and the Reef for 14 years. Father Jan survived a Nazi death camp as a polish prisoner and had been scheduled to die on the day the U.S. captured Dachau.
After father Jan's passing in 1987, he was replaced by Father Edward Olszewski who became pastor of St. Justin. By that time the Reef had grown such that mass was held Saturday at 4:30 and noon on Sunday in the chapel with the help of visiting priests both from Miami and, thanks to the late Bernie Daenzer, Jesuist from Fordham. Coincidentally, during this period our own current St. Justin pastor, Father Stephen Hilley, was one of the visiting priests. Father Ed continued until the spring of 2002. During the last several years he was at St. Justin there was some debate whether mass at the Reef would continue. He was replaced by a Parish administrator, Father Fernando who served until late Spring 2003 when Father Enrique Delgado, who came late to the priesthood from a career as an engineer in his native Peru, arrived as the new pastor of St. Justin. Father Delgado was here for 7 happy years and saw the shift of Easter (Sunday noon mass to the Ocean Reef Town Hall to accommodate the 550 plus faithful who attend. Given his engineering background Father Delgado was called by the diocese to the parish in broward County which needed to build a new Church and we welcomed Father Stephen Hilley in the fall of 2010 and are pleased that he is still with us.
The late Archbishop Edward McCarthy came to the Reef in March of 1986 and celebrated mass. In the last three years we have been honored by several visits form our current Archbishop Thomas Wenski. As with the other faiths that use our interdenominational chapel, Catholic mass is seasonal, beginning the first weekend in November and ending Memorial Day weekend.
Any discussion of the history of Catholic services at the Reef must credit the many folks who have served over the years in various support functions-lectors, servers, Eucharistic ministers, sacristans, and others. Two names that should be mentioned among the many supporters are the aforementioned Bernie Daenzer and Jim Gardner. Both have passed on and both were vital supporters and instrumental in the continuity of the presence of the Catholic liturgy at the Reef over these past 64 years.