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A church dinner will focus on the spiritual side of George Washington.
By Waveney Ann Moore, Times Staff Writer
Published February 17, 2008
ST. PETERSBURG - There'll be nary a cherry pie in sight Thursday when more than 200 people gather for a presidential dinner honoring George Washington at the Cathedral of St. Jude the Apostle.
The menu for what is being billed as a state dinner will include Mount Vernon garden salad, Independence Hall brown and wild rice, Valley Forge collard greens and President Washington's citrus-glazed salmon.
As befits such an occasion, guests in evening attire will be greeted by President George and first lady Martha Washington.
Although the event might sound quaint, its underlying message is spiritual. It's the brainchild of Father Wayne C. Genereux, St. Jude's parochial vicar and an admirer of the nation's first president.
Thursday's program, "The Spiritual Journey of President George Washington," takes its name from a book of a similar name by Janice T. Connell. The author will travel from Arizona to speak at the gathering.
Genereux said he wanted to share Connell's insight into Washington's faith.
"I think we have to understand that our lives are guided by a higher power than ourselves, and this is what George Washington realized," said Genereux, who is also the superior of the Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mercy in St. Petersburg.
The idea for the presidential dinner developed after he arrived in St. Petersburg a year and a half ago, said the priest, who will speak about Washington's spiritual life after Thursday's meal.
Connell, a lawyer who also has written books about the Virgin Mary, described Washington as a mystic who prayed before making decisions.
"He was a man of incredible integrity," she said.
Washington belonged to the Anglican Church, which was renamed the Episcopal Church after the American Revolution and is part of the worldwide Anglican Communion. Connell said the president "lived the Book of Common Prayer the Anglican prayer book and he wrote his own personal prayers."
Speaking from Arizona, Connell said Washington experienced many miracles.
"He saw an apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary at Valley Forge. When his agony was the greatest, this beautiful lady of heaven appeared to him with an angel. You have to presume this was the Virgin Mary. She gave him a title, Son of the Republic," Connell said.
Preparation for the catered dinner has been going on for months, but parishioners Sue Brett and Larry Ahern were just completing their costumes last week.
Ahern, who will give a short speech, said he has learned a lot about Washington.
"I think what most surprised me was I thought he was just this great general, that everything kind of went his way. That all he had to do was take command and things fell into place and we won the war," Ahern said.
"I don't know that I realized how difficult that struggle was."
Brett, the advancement director at St. Petersburg Catholic High School, said she scoured costume shops for a suitable outfit for last year's inaugural program. This year, she's having one made.
"It was difficult to find something that was appropriate. When you Google Martha Washington, she obviously was a woman of style and grace and modesty," Brett said.
She, too, has become a George Washington fan.
"After reading the book and realizing the trials and tribulations that he suffered through, along with his wife, Martha, I realize that the office of president holds great joy and great heartache all at the same time, and it began with the first president."
Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 892-2283.
If you go
The Spiritual Journey of President George Washington, 6 p.m. Thursday. Cathedral of St. Jude the Apostle, 5815 Fifth Ave. N, St. Petersburg. Call (727) 347-9702, ext. 308. A small number of tickets are available at the cathedral Tuesday and Wednesday before noon.
[Last modified February 16, 2008, 23:27:46]