Story of the Founders

The Saint Photios Greek Orthodox National Shrine, the first national shrine of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese in America, is located in the Avero House, on St. George Street in St. Augustine, Florida, the oldest continuously occupied city in the United States of America.  It was here, in the Avero House, that the survivors of the New Smyrna Colony found refuge following a decade of tragedy.

The Story of the Founders of St. Photios National Shrine

by Constantine Santas

  1. Introduction

This is the story of a group of individuals in St. Augustine, Florida, who came to be known as the Founders of the St. Photios National Shrine, located at 41 St. George Street, in a structure formerly known as Avero House.  The Shrine is owned by the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North and South America, which restored it as a memorial to the first Greek colonists who arrived on this continent in the Eighteenth Century.

This memorial has already assumed a special significance for the historic city of St. Augustine.  It offers local residents and other visitors from throughout the world a place to worship, to explore this city’s rich historical past, and a chance to communicate with outside institutions and religious leaders.  It commemorates the arrival in this country, not only of Greek Immigrants, but also of other colonists from Minorca, Corsica and Italy.  It is a symbol of religious unity among Greek-Americans and, in the words of Archbishop Iakovos, former primate of the Greek Orthodox Church in the Americas, of the essential unity of all democratic institutions.  Finally, the St. Photios National Shrine today continues to have meaning for America’s oldest city, where once again international paths of international religion and culture meet.

The St. Photios National Shrine was dedicated in February 1982, with these stated ideals in mind.  It would be well to remember that these were the ideals and ambitions of its Founders, all of whom were exceptional individuals, who were the first to conceive the idea and who labored hard, with the help of others, to convert their vision into reality.

This story, initially researched and written when all the individuals mentioned were alive is based on a variety of materials:  first, on information gathered in taped interviews with all the individuals designated as Founders, all of them residents of St. Augustine:  Tom (or Athanasios) Xynidis, James (or Dimitrios) Kalivas, Olga Fotiou, Spero Zepatos and Steve Sarris.  Today (2003), when reference is made of the above individuals, the names of their spouses, who were also contributors to the effort, are given, and for the sake of documentation, the full designation of founders is given as follows:  Tom and Despina Xynidis, James and Stella Kalivas, George and Olga Fotiou, Spero and Martha Zepatos, and Steve and Geraldine (Jerry) Sarris.  James Kalivas, Tom Xynidis and Spero Zepatos are deceased, but all the rest are living and still residents of St. Augustine.  In addition to the taped interviews, other materials where used for this story:  various documents preserved by the Founders, such as correspondence, clippings from the local and national press, minutes of meetings, documents of transactions, bank receipts, radio broadcasts and other miscellaneous materials were also used.  All research has been based on these primary sources, with secondary material obtained at the St. Augustine Historical Society, and other places to verify historical facts.

This study covers only the initial phase of the Shrine history, up to 1966, when the building known as Avero House, later to become the Saint Photios Shrine, was secured by the Founders and was subsequently purchased by the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese during the same year.  The reasons for confining the study to this first stage are as follows:  it was up to that point that the contributions of the Founders were most significant; from 1966 on, the Archdiocese took over the project completely; and members of the local committees were confined to secondary functions; also, in later years, after 1966, contributions to the Shrine endeavor proliferated to such a degree that it would take volumes to record all these contributions by numerous individuals and organizations.  Finally, the early phase in the Shrine’s history is, in my opinion the most interesting and the least known to the general public.

How did the idea of a shrine in St. Augustine occur at all?  Who conceived it?  What was the motivation?  What were the first steps taken to realize this dream?  How were the difficult problems handled, such as communicating with national leaders, determining the proper site, advertising it sufficiently to arouse interest among potential contributors, bargaining with real estate agents, dealing with inevitable objections from local and outside factors?  This story attempts to record, as accurately as possible, the most important contributions of the Founders.

One qualification is in order.  Focusing on the Founders is not meant to underestimate the important contributions made by many others.  This is no attempt to diminish the scope of the contributions of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese, and especially those of Archbishop Iakovos, without whose dedication and inspired leadership the St. Photios Shrine would not exist today.  All the Founders acknowledge this fact.  Conversely, without these Founders, the Shrine project would neither have started at all nor would it have progressed to the point where the Avero House became the property of the Archdiocese. For the benefit of the general reader, some other individuals and organizations will be mentioned toward the end, and the rest of the story of the founding of the Shrine (1966 up to 1982) will be summarized.


  1. The Founders and their Story: 1945-1966

Who were these Founders, and why did they conceive the idea of a shrine at all?  The Founders were all St. Augustinians, who at first thought of some kind of monument to honor the first Greeks who arrived in Florida in the eighteenth century.  The idea of a religious shrine did not come in until later, until the group started cohering and getting in touch with the Archdiocese to further the matter.  In the early stages, in the 1950’s and the early 1960’s, the group had heard of a large number of colonists, totaling 1,200, or more, of Minorcans, Greeks, and smaller numbers of Italians and Corsicans, who arrived in Florida in 1768, under the leadership of a Scottish doctor, Andrew Turnbull, to found an English colony at New Smyrna, Florida, as a commercial enterprise.1  After strenuous living conditions and other factors caused the failure of the colony in New Smyrna in 1777, those remaining, mostly Minorcans with a number of Greeks among them, arrived in St. Augustine, where they established themselves, and started performing their religious duties in a building known by various names, “Greek Church,” or Chapel (Capella Menorca), or as the Avero House.2

The history of Greek immigrants in Florida during the eighteenth century excited the imagination of some present day Greeks who lived in St. Augustine.  Among them was Tom Xynidis, who had lived in the nation’s oldest city since 1945, and who had read about the New Smyrna Greeks in a book by Babis Malafouris, Greeks in 1528-1948, published in 1948.  Though Xynidis had visited St. Augustine before 1945, and had heard about “Greeks living there years ago,” it was the Malafouris book, with its substantial details on the subject that caused him to think of a memorial.In a taped interview, Xynidis stated that he felt distressed when he heard references by local St. Augustinians about the eighteenth century colony as “Minorcan,” without a word uttered about the Greeks, who had shared with the Minorcans the same historical trek west, and had suffered the same misfortunes.He felt the Greeks in the colony should be mentioned, even if they were a minority, and that erecting a memorial in their honor would rectify the situation.  Over the years, Xynidis held conversations on the subject with many interested visitors and began writing letters to national newspapers, especially to the Atlantis, in New York City.

A decisive influence on the thought of Xynidis occurred at the arrival of Olga Fotiou and her husband George, in 1959.  Up to that point, Xynidis could not satisfy his wish to discuss the topic sufficiently, due to the scarcity of Greeks living in St. Augustine.  He also hesitated to talk too often on a topic that might seem controversial or unpopular to many local St. Augustinians.5  But the arrival of the energetic Mrs. Fotiou, who embraced the idea readily, gave him the chance to express himself freely.  Together they discussed the idea fully and decided it would be good “if a small chapel were erected in St. Augustine dedicated to the memory of the first Greek colonists.”6

Mrs. Fotiou, a former resident of Detroit, Michigan, had made an earlier visit to the ancient city in 1945, to see the “oldest school,” reputed run by a Greek, on St. George Street.  Olga claimed that in 1961 she had seen an article in Look magazine (December 6, 1960 edition), in which reference was made to the Greek Orthodox religion in the United States, and a brief description given of the first Greeks, who had come to St. Augustine from New Smyrna. She had also seen a similar article, “A Fresh Look at St. Augustine,” in Holiday magazine (March 1961 issue) in which reference was made to Greeks that had lived in the nation’s oldest city.  “I was stunned,” said Olga, “I had never imagined such a thing!”7

Immediately, she wrote a letter to Archbishop Iakovos, Primate of the Greek Orthodox Church of North and South America, who responded soon, expressing interest in the idea of a memorial for the early Greeks in St. Augustine.  The Archbishop is reported to have written, “I am so thrilled my hair is standing on end!” promising to “do my utmost to commemorate those Greek pioneers who came to St. Augustine.8  Holding the letter in her hands, Olga made the rounds in St. Augustine, showing it to James Kalivas, owner of the Chimes restaurant and to Tom Xynidis.  She and Xynidis visited the St. Augustine Historical Society to find out more about Dr. Turnbull’s expedition to New Smyrna, and the Greeks who had come to St. Augustine.  As they confronted Doris Wiles, the curator, the latter gazed at them with a puzzled look in her face explaining, “Only yesterday I was thinking of the Greek chapel on St. George Street!9  Mrs. Wiles then told them about Dr. E. P. Panagopoulos, a professor and scholar from San Jose State College, who had visited St. Augustine for the last three summers in succession doing research for his forthcoming book on the Greeks in New Smyrna.  Once more Olga, a deeply religious individual, was amazed at these coincidences.  She had known Dr. Panagopoulos in Detroit, when in the 1950’s he taught history at Wayne State University.  Immediately, she obtained Panagopoulos’ address and wrote to him, asking him to brief her on information concerning the New Smyrna Greeks.

Professor Panagopoulos responded, providing plenty of information.  He informed Olga that the New Smyrna colonists had established a church on St. George Street, by the so-called Spanish Inn.  Their priest was Father Pedro Camps.  “The St. Augustinians called this church, ‘The Church of the Greeks,’ Panagopoulos wrote,10 adding that the Greeks went to that building to worship along with the Minorcans.  Panagopoulos thought that founding a monument to commemorate the Greeks was “a wonderful idea.”  For Olga, his letter was a shot in the arm.  She immediately communicated all the information she received to Archbishop Iakovos, and at the same time started a correspondence on the subject with Panagopoulos.  In research she conducted at the St. Augustine public library and the Historical Society she came across many other sources that confirmed the ideas expressed by Panagopoulos.  Olga continued to “bombard” Archbishop Iakovos with the information gathered.  Her contributions were acknowledged by the Archbishop in a 1971 letter:  “Indeed, it was you who back in the early 1960’s sent me numerous letters concerning the historical fact of the presence of our people in St. Augustine and prompted interest in the possibility of doing something through the Archdiocese to preserve this fact.”11  Olga was subsequently invited to attend the Clergy-Laity Congress in Boston, 1962, to bring this matter to the floor.  But due to other pressing matters in the Congress, the memorial in St. Augustine was not discussed until two years later, December, 1964.

Meanwhile, another energetic individual, James Kalivas, had come into the picture.  Kalivas, a New Yorker who had established his family in St. Augustine in 1957, indicated in a taped interview that he heard a local radio broadcast sometime in the late fifties, in which the New Smyrna Greeks were mentioned.  This aroused his curiosity and he related the matter to Tom Xynidis, who immediately filled him on the story.  Kalivas took a strong interest and read all the information available.  He brought the matter to the attention of Fr. John Berris, then the Greek Orthodox priest in Jacksonville, and discussions took place during the church events and picnics.  These helped to keep the subject of the Greek memorial in St. Augustine alive.

The period between 1961 and 1964 saw little activity, outside of discussions and letter writing.  The order of AHEPA, meanwhile, had erected a monument of its own in New Smyrna, to honor the first Greeks, and had taken an interest in a similar project in St. Augustine.  A letter to Olga Fotiou, dated January 12, 1962, from AHEPA executive secretary George J. Leber, is evidence that such interest existed.

The St. Augustinians in the meantime pressed on, expecting some kind of national movement to be generated.  Tom Xynidis, whose desire to see a monument erected in St. Augustine had overwhelmed him for years, did not cease to write long letters to the Atlantis.  In a letter dated October 19, 1964, Xynidis expressed fears that the project might be abandoned and urged the Archdiocese to continue with its efforts begun with the positive resolution of the Clergy-Laity Congress at Denver.12

It was indeed the resolution at Denver that marked the decisive turn of events in favor of the Shrine.  According to that resolution, “The Holy Archdiocese will conduct a fundraising campaign to erect a Greek Orthodox Chapel in St. Augustine, which will be the memorial to honor our first forefathers who came to the American Continent.”13

Later, in 1964, Archbishop Iakovos decided to visit St. Augustine.  A letter to Olga Fotiou announced that the Archbishop would arrive in Jacksonville, late in the evening, January 1st, and would depart immediately for St. Augustine, where he would stay through the following afternoon.14  Archbishop Iakovos’ visit is documented in several places:  a letter to the Atlantis by Tom Xynidis, dated January 13, 1965; notices in the St. Augustine and Jacksonville press; a broadcast by WFOY Radio.15  Arriving from Jacksonville, the Archbishop stopped at the Kalivas restaurant, where he spoke briefly with those gathered to greet him.16  Among them were Olga Fotiou, Tom Xynidis, Spero Zepatos and James Kalivas.  From there he was taken to the Ponce De Leon Hotel (now Flagler College), where he spent the night.

On Saturday, January 2, accompanied by the executive director of the St. Augustine Historic Restoration and Preservation Commission, Dr. Earle W. Newton, and other local dignitaries, together with many local Greeks, the Archbishop visited the historic sites of the city.  Later, a luncheon was arranged by the local committee, headed by James Kalivas.  More than 100 persons attended, including acting mayor of St. Augustine Harry Gutterman, Frank D. Upchurch, Sr., President of the St. Augustine Historical Society, Dr. Earle Newton, Mrs. Adeline Geo-Karis of the National Philoptochos Board, Basil Vasiliades, secretary to the Archbishop, and Fr. A. Apostolakos of Jacksonville.  There were several speeches.  The Archbishop stated how much he was impressed by his visit to St. Augustine:  “I think I am walking the streets of a Greek town,” he said.  He noted that he always had the impression that the Pilgrims were the Founding Fathers of the country, but now he had discovered that “this beautiful, serene spot of the United States is where the nation began.”

The Archbishop indicated:  “I strongly believe that what underlies restoration is not only to bring into existence something that has been forgotten or vanished, but to dedicate ourselves anew to the principle that makes America a great nation:  its multi-cultural background.”17  The Archbishop also said to those present of the St. Augustine Greeks:  “We must do something.  Now that we have begun, let us not stop.”18

Needless to say, the Archbishop’s visit had a tremendous effect on the local Greeks, whose circle had by this time been enlarged to include Spero Zepatos and Steve Sarris, both local residents.  Many others assisted in the effort, and the locals were now ready to form a committee and to map out a plan for the future.  The project would have a religious orientation since it would be sponsored by the Archdiocese; it would also have a national character rather than local, although some of the local Greeks had envisioned some type of chapel where local residents would perform their regular religious duties.  One of the results of the visit of the Archbishop was to dispel that notion.  The express intention of the Archdiocese would be to build a memorial to honor the first Greeks to arrive in America, not to provide the local community with a parish church.

The locals, of course, did not argue with the Archbishop.  They had been impressed by his personality, his great desire to sponsor this project, his delight in being present where some early Greeks had lived and worshipped.  They could see that he possessed the ability to focus on the issue.  From this point on, they had begun to realize that their dream to have a monument erected in St. Augustine could become a reality.  Local dignitaries were also impressed with the decisiveness of the Archbishop’s words.  This was important, for it would later become a favorite factor in negotiating the purchase and restoration of Avero House.  The visit also improved lines of communication between the Archdiocese and the local committee.

Archbishop Iakovos wrote Earle W. Newton on January 27, 1965, inquiring about the possibilities of erecting a memorial chapel in St Augustine, asking about available sites.  Newton’s reply was detailed and factual, offering various suggestions about sites both within and without the restoration area.19  Among the possibilities were the property of Dimitri Foudelache (apparently “Foundoulakis” of Crete), in the midst of the area on St. George Street, or the Minorcan Chapel itself.  Concerning the idea, Dr. Newton suggested:

“… Another project would be the Minorcan Chapel itself, if you do not feel the issue is confused by its Roman Catholic occupancy.  This property could probably be purchased, somewhere between $50,000- 75,000.  It is believed that the Minorcan Chapel was to the rear of the property, and the old map shows a wing to the present building, which could be reconstructed for the chapel itself.  The front of the building could be used for living quarters and for a memorial exhibition.  In view of its Roman Catholic use originally, the question might well arise as to whether an exhibit should not feature a joint religious memorial.  Conceivable, this might be a project where the two faiths could come together as they did in this period of the 18th century, where the Greeks worshiped in the Roman Catholic faith, because of the lack of priests in their own faith.  Such a project might run as much as $100,000, exclusive of exhibits or furnishings.”20

The Archbishop responded to this letter on March 8, 1965, declaring that the Foudelache property seemed to him best for the memorial, and asked Newton to advise him on the due procedure to purchase this place.  Newton responded to this letter, explaining the difficulties in purchasing the property.  He also warned about the requirements set forth by the zoning regulations concerning areas of historic interest in St. Augustine.21  It is also evident from taped interviews22, that the question of whether it was possible to build a Greek memorial chapel inside the Restoration Area was faced first during these developments.  This became a full-blown controversy in later years.

Several letters were dispatched to Archbishop Iakovos by James Kalivas between May and August 1965, urging the Archbishop to consider the purchase of the property known as the Minorcan Chapel.  The Archbishop felt somewhat frustrated over the zoning restrictions on the Restoration Area and, seeking to clarify the options the Archdiocese had in purchasing a suitable building, dispatched two representatives, the Rev. Basil S. Gregory, and John Plumides of Charlotte, NC, to negotiate the matter.  Though the representatives received a warm welcome, they were disappointed with Newton’s explanations of the zoning restrictions.  At that point, the Archbishop had envisioned a structure “of traditional Byzantine design of the period when the first Greek immigrants came to America.”23

Newton wrote another long letter in which he explained the difficulties that “Byzantine” architecture would encounter in St. Augustine.  Newton, however, thought that a solution was possible, if a “Byzantine structure” meant only a small triangular building, similar to many typical St. Augustine buildings.  Newton said that Kalivas had shown him pictures of such Greek buildings.24

Almost an entire year was spent in negotiations of this sort, with all the participants trying to solve the thorny problem of the selection of the appropriate site and building.  By the end of 1965, an important development had taken place.  Kalivas was informed by Harold M. Wayne, a real estate agent that the Avero House, owned by John Frazer Jr., was up for sale.  The asking price was $60,000.  This was the Minorcan Chapel of the 18th century.

When Kalivas received the news, he wrote the Archbishop, who answered immediately, favoring the idea this time but expressing apprehensions regarding the zoning regulations described by Newton.25  As Kalivas explained in a taped interview, another problem was emerging.  It seemed that Bishop Joseph P. Hurley, of the Roman Catholic Diocese of St. Augustine, was also interested in this building.26 When Kalivas was informed in a telephone conversation that these negotiations had broken off and that no other buyer existed, a binder of $1,500 was deposited with the Harold Wayne Real Estate Agency to forestall any other buyer action for 90 days.27  That amount of money was borrowed jointly from the Exchange Bank by Kalivas and Tom Xynidis.

The Avero House property had thus been secured for three months, giving these two individuals the time needed to negotiate with the Archbishop and to raise funds for the purchase.  As they both Kalivas and Xynidis stated repeatedly, they were ready and willing to forfeit the deposit of $1,500, and thus lose their money, if the purchase did not go through.28  The Archbishop was notified that the Avero House was for sale, but nothing was said to him about the $1,500 deposited as a binder by the two individuals mentioned above.  Neither was the intent of purchasing the same building by Bishop Hurley and the Catholics was reported to the Archbishop Iakovos.29  As expected, the Archbishop responded, saying that he was interested, but once more expressing concern about the zoning restrictions.30  He was also concerned about the Archdiocese budget, which at that time had secured an allocation of only about $50,000 for the entire project.  These matters caused Archbishop Iakovos to vacillate between proceeding with the idea and abandoning it.31

But events took their own course and, as it were, brought the purchase of the Avero House to a conclusion.  The Archdiocesan Council would convene on March 4th, 1966, in Chicago, Illinois, and a telegram was dispatched to Kalivas by Archbishop Iakovos, inviting him and other representatives from St. Augustine to attend.  The subject about erecting a national monument to honor the memory of the first Greek colonists, which by this time was receiving national attention, was to be discussed at that meeting.

Kalivas and Xynidis decided to fly to Chicago at their own expense.  Other prominent St. Augustine citizens were invited to go, among them Spero Zepatos who had been at the Ponce de Leon luncheon with the Archbishop, but most declined on account of personal business.  This visit to Chicago was a crucial event for subsequent developments and is worth describing in its important details, most of which from a letter of Xynidis to the newspaper Atlantis.32

The Council meeting took place at St. Andrew’s Church, 5649 North Sheridan Road.  The presiding Archbishop was delighted to see the representatives from St. Augustine, and offered them honorary seats in the Assembly.  He spoke warmly in favor of erecting a monument in St. Augustine for the first Greek pilgrims.  Kalivas and Xynidis had brought pictures of the Avero House, which they exhibited, explaining the idea behind the project, but mentioning the binder to purchase the building not wanting, as Kalivas stated, to force the issue on the Council members.33  But they promised to raise a substantial sum of money in St. Augustine, if the Council offered its approval of the project.  Two members of the Council, Spiros Skouras and Perikles Lantzounis, spoke in favor of the idea and urged the Council to adopt it.  If a tiny band of people in St. Augustine, Skouras said, can raise thousands of dollars, Greek Americans everywhere ought to be able to match and exceed that contribution.  Though there were a few dissenting voices, the council voted in favor of the project with a large majority.

Elated, Kalivas and Xynidis returned to St. Augustine, where they called a meeting of local Greeks to announce the council’s decision.  They had been commissioned by the Archbishop to proceed with the fundraising and to negotiate the purchase of the Minorcan Chapel.  This meeting, which took place in the Trinity Episcopal Church quarters on March 19, 1966, coincided with a visit by Bishop Aimilianos, from Charlotte, NC, who was in St. Augustine on a fund raising mission of his own.  The Bishop was quickly apprised of the Archdiocesan plans and showed his willingness to participate in the efforts of the St. Augustinians.  After services, Tom Xynidis spoke about the Chicago trip and urged those present to contribute.  He was seconded by Kalivas, who extolled the success of the meeting with the Archbishop and the Council.  A committee was formed to raise funds, with Spero Zepatos as president, and James Kalivas as vice president, Steve Sarris as the secretary and Tom Xynidis as treasurer.

Substantial sums of money were pledged at that time by the following donors:  Spero Zepatos, Antonis and Xeni Sarris, Tom Christon, Julia Karas, George and Olga Fotiou, George Gaetanos, James Kalivas, and Tom Xynidis.  Also contributing were Kiki Potanos, J. Pterudis, Pete Sperlanos, Harry Xynidis, Neil Letts, John Pappas, Andy Gus, Harry and Theo Johns.  Needless to say, the above individuals were contributing in many other ways to the project.

The sum of $7,935 was finally at hand, out of the $15,000 needed for the down payment on the Avero House.  The remaining $7,671 was borrowed from the Exchange Bank on a personal 60-day note, signed by Spero Zepatos and co-signed by James Kalivas, Tom Xynidis and Steve Sarris.  The purchase price of the building amounted to $55,000, plus $5,000 for building materials imported from Spain by John Frazer, Sr.  With closing costs, the final amount totaled $60,662.34  A mortgage with a balance of $45,000 was assumed by the above four individuals, Sarris, Zepatos, Kalivas, Xynidis, signed by them and their spouses (see attached document) on March 28, 1966, for fifteen years and a monthly payment of $379.74.  The details of this purchase were sent to Archbishop Iakovos in a letter by Sperfo Zepatos, asking that all further obligations for this purchase be undertaken by the Archdiocese.  The Archdiocese, indeed, undertook these obligations, dispatching a check for the sum of $7, 766.50 to pay off the 60 day note, mortgage payments, premium, insurance, etc.35  The purchase then was transferred to the Archdiocese on April 19, 1966 with another deed, again signed but the four individuals mentioned above and their wives.


Summary: 1966-1982

Thus, the purchase of the Avero House had become a reality.  The Founders in St. Augustine, with the help of many other citizens from that city and from Jacksonville, were able to bring to a conclusion this important task of the choice of the site of the memorial, assuming the initiative for action during critical moments.  The initial and most important phase of the twenty year old odyssey of establishing a National Shrine to commemorate the first Greeks in America had been brought to a satisfactory conclusion.  The next phase, equally important, which would include a national fundraising campaign, the excavation and restoration of the Avero House, and the architectural design of the Shrine, was just beginning.

This project now passed into the hands of the Archdiocese, which was to determine all further action.  The original St. Augustine Committee continued to function for several years, and its functions were mostly confined to the ceremonial role of welcoming guests, sponsoring events related to the project, and conducting business with the various officials of the Archdiocese, especially with Ernest Villas, director of the Archdiocese Department of Laity, who was appointed coordinator of the project.

The most important issue confronting the Archdiocese was the design and appearance of the Shrine, an issue that gradually took on the proportions of a debate between the Archdiocese and its representatives and the officials of the Restoration Commission in St. Augustine.  The strain of this debate took its toll, and several times almost resulted in the dissolution of the entire project.

The St. Augustine Shrine Committee, meanwhile, which had been enlarged by the addition of several prominent Jacksonville citizens and newcomers (see attached photo), took part in all these debates and stood by during critical moments when perseverance was needed.  The issue was finally resolved with the acceptance of new plans submitted by Jacksonville Architect Ted Pappas, plans that eventually resulted in the present structure, which externally conforms to the old chapel designs where the Greeks and Minorcans worshipped in the eighteenth century.  The expanded Shrine Committee included Nick Maharanis of Savannah, GA, James Angleton, national chairman of Miami, FL, James Kalians and Father John Hondros of Jacksonville, Spero Zepatos, George Fotiou, George Carantzas, Jerry Felos, Chris and Voula Trizonis, Nick Megas, Olga Fotiou, Ernest Villas, Steve Sarris, Steve Poulos, Ted Pappas and Tom Xynidis

At the 1971 Kick-Off Fundraising Banquet, in which Archbishop Iakovos along with state, local and national dignitaries participated, the Archbishop exhibited for the first time the small cross discovered by archeologists during excavations on the Shrine property.  This cross, now the symbol of the Shrine, is among the artifacts on view at the Shrine.  This exhibit impressed the various local, state and national guests, among whom were Richard Stone, Secretary of State, Florida; Theodore Mavrick, toastmaster; St. Augustine Mayor James Lindsey; and Adeline Geo-Karis, the first National Chairperson of the Shrine Committee.  The history of the first Greeks to arrive in Florida and the establishment of a Shrine in St. Augustine to commemorate their arrival had now assumed national importance.

Since the purpose of this story is to provide a record of the initial and most decisive phase of the efforts of the Founders, the history of the St. Photios Shrine between 1966 and 1982 is not attempted here, except in bare outline. Besides the kick-off fundraising banquet April 1971 mentioned above, several banquets of this sort took place throughout the State of Florida in the early 1970’s.  At the ground breaking ceremony in 1978, Bishop John of Thermon, with many state and national religious leaders, once again visited St. Augustine.  Finally, the dedication and opening of the Shrine in February 1982, took place in a glorious ceremony that will long be remembered in St. Augustine.

It is difficult to record here all the contributions of individuals, groups and organizations, in the local, state and national level, that contributed to the building of the St. Photios Shrine.  The names of the contributors are well documented and can be seen in the Commemorative Plaques erected inside the Shrine.  As far as the local St. Augustinians are concerned, one ought to mention the contributions of the Hellenic Society and its presidents, Steve Poulos (1971-1978 and 1980-1985), and James Kalivas (1978 – 1980), and members of the local parish of the Holy Trinity Orthodox Church.  Individually, numerous citizens of St. Augustine and Jacksonville continued to give their time, efforts, and money – many of them as members of the St. Augustine Shrine Committee.  As the Shrine project gained national prominence, and its completion neared, more and more individuals were involved in it.  Only a complete history of the Shrine, perhaps a project for the future, can account for all these contributions.

As of this writing (2003), many of the Founders, except for the late Tom Xynidis, James Kalivas, and Spero Zepatos, are still living in St. Augustine, and their contributions in time, money and effort are still continuing as various events at the Shrine take place.  Recognition came to them during the Dedication Banquet on February 27, 1982, when they received the highest awards of the Archdiocese-the Medal of St. Paul-from Archbishop Iakovos.  Also, their names are cited on a special commemorative plaque at the St. Photios Shrine.  At various times, while all the principals were still alive, they all showed their satisfaction that a National Shrine commemorating the arrival of the early Greeks in this continent had become a reality.  The late Tom Xynidis was impressed with “the dimension the whole thing has taken.”36  Olga Fotiou, who continued to work as a volunteer guide at the Shrine on weekends for many years, glowed with satisfaction as she explained details of the first Greeks to arrive in America to visitors and tourists.  James Kalivas expressed his satisfaction that a shrine in conformity with St. Augustine architecture finally became a reality.  And Spero Zepatos, an energetic backer of the project for many years, expressed great pleasure that the Shrine was finished.  When asked why he became involved in the first place, he said:  “I wanted Greek history to be united with St. Augustine history.”37  Steve Sarris, a loyal contributor in long-time efforts as a secretary of the St. Augustine Shrine Committee, said he wanted “to contribute something to the Greek community of St. Augustine.”38

The efforts of these people were idealistic.  They wanted that part of Greek history which was woven into the history of Florida, and St. Augustine in particular, to survive.  They wanted to see a memorial erected to the memory of the first Greeks and Minorcans who arrived here long ago under adverse circumstances and helped build a new society on this continent.  They desired a place of religious worship for Greek Orthodox faithful.  But, above all, their efforts show the pride and character of the citizens of St. Augustine, who helped add one more page to the glorious history of the oldest city on the American continent.



I wish to thank all the Founders themselves for consenting to provide me with the following taped interviews:  two from Tom Xynidis, two from James Kalivas, two from Olga Fotiou, one from Spero Zepatos, and one from Steve Sarris.  The same individuals also gave me other related information during numerous conversations or explanations on the subject; and also provided me with all the essential documents and miscellaneous materials in their possession.  After the completion of this manuscript, these documents were turned over to St. Photios Shrine representatives and are owned by the Shrine, while others were donated to the University of Indiana at Bloomington.  The tapes were left to the care of the then Fr. Dir, Dimitrios Couchell (now Bishop Dimitrios of Xanthos), Executive Director of the St. Photios Shrine, who also provided me with material from the St. Photios archives, and generally aided me in this effort, including his editing the manuscript for inclusions in the Consecration Album on the Greek Orthodox National Shrine, February 10, 1985.  In the present effort to re-publish this article in booklet form, I wish to thank the donors, George and Olga Fotiou, in helping to make this project a new reality for the benefit of a broader scope of readers.  Professor Emeritus Louis Gaitanis for his help in editing the present manuscript, and his wife Connie for her tireless efforts in establishing the printing format.  Thanks also to Andrew Lekos, present Associate Director of the St. Photios National Shrine for providing materials from the Shrine archives and final appearance of the manuscript.


About the Author:

Dr. Constantine Santas is Professor Emeritus and former Chairman of the English Department at Flagler College, St. Augustine, Florida.  He is the author of Aristotelis Valaoritis (1977), Responding to Film (2002) and articles on modern Greek poets and other authors, as well as a translator of their works.  Now retired, Dr. Santas is working on a new translation of Homer’s The Odyssey, as well as on a new book on epic film.




1 E.P. Pangopoulos, New Smyrna; An Eighteenth Century Greek Odyssey. University of Florida Press, Gainesville, Florida, pp. 148-149.

2  El Escribano, “History of the Minorcan Chapel,” October 1963, 49 Issue.

3 Babis Malafouris, Greeks in America: 1928-1948. New York, 1948, pp. 32-38. (in Greek)

4 Tom Xynidis, Tape #1.

5 Ibid.

6 Panagopoulos. See above endnote.

7 Olga Fotiou, Tape #1

8 Ibid.

9 Olga Fotiou, Autobiographical Narrative, p. 4.

10 E.P. Panagopoulos, “Letter to Olga Fotiou,” December 28, 1961, p.1.

11 Archbishop Iakovos, “Letter to Olga Fotiou,” February 12, 1971.

12 Tom Xynidis, “Letter to Atlantis,” September 17, 1961, and October 9, 1964.

13 The Orthodox Observer, March, 1965, pp. 80-81. This quote is translated from the Greek.

14 Archbishop Iakovos, “Letter to Olga Fotiou,” October 23, 1964.

15 WFOY Daily News, January 2, 1965.

16 Kalivas Tape #1.

17 WFOY Daily News, op. cit.

18 Kalivas Tape #1.

19 Earle W. Newton. “Letter to Archbishop Iakovos,” February 16, 1965, p. 1.

20 Ibid., p. 1.

21 Newton Letter, March 19, 1965.

22 Kalivas Tape #1

23 Archbishop Iakovos. “Letter to Archbishop Iakovos,” February 16, 1965, p. 1.

24 Earle Newton. “Letter to James Kalivas,” November 10, 1965.

25 Earle Newton. “Letter to James Kalivas,” February 16, 1965.

26 Kalivas Tape #1.

27 Ibid.

28 X.L. Pallicer. “Letter to James Kalivas,” March 10, 1966, p. 1.

29 Ibid. p. 1-2.

30 Kalivas Tape #1.

31 Archbishop Iakovos. “Letter to James Kalivas,” January 28, 1966.

32 Tom Xynidis. “Letter to Atlantis,” April 1, 1966.

33 Kalivas Tape #1.

34 Pierre M. George, Archdiocese Accountant. “Letter to Spero Zepatos,” May 26, 1966.

35 See Warranty Dee #24682, April 1, 1966.

36 Xynisdis Tape #2.

37 Zepatos Tape #1.

38 Sarris Tap #1.