Shrine undergoes years of renovations

Local builder helps transform Catholic landmark into world-class destination


In the early 1600s, Spanish settlers of St. Augustine established the first Shrine to the Blessed Virgin Mary in the U.S. Today, an image of Our Lady of La Leche graces a small mission chapel in the heart of what is referred to as the “sacred acre.” Pilgrims come from all of the world to pray for fertility, the health of their children and safe delivery of those expecting.

With a colorful history dating back more than four centuries, the church’s property has undergone many transformations. Over the past 14 years, local builder J.C. Harward & Associates has helped renovate this Catholic landmark into a world-class destination.

“Our company was very young back in 2008 when we were invited to bid on a project at the National Shrine,” explained John Harward, owner of J.C. Harward & Associates, a commercial, industrial and residential construction company located in Northeast Florida. “When we won the bid, this became more than just a project, but a passion for our family and our company. In fact, we’ve now helped build or renovate more than 30 churches in the area.”

Over the past decade plus, J.C. Harward & Associates has worked on more than a dozen projects at the National Shrine of Our Lady of La Leche at Mission Nombre De Dios, located at 101 San Marco Ave., just north of downtown St. Augustine. This includes renovating the old church, Prince of Peace, with a complete interior remodel as well as spearheading stone memorial walls, walkway and other elements of the Rosary Garden.

Additional work also includes relocating the existing gift shop and adding storage and office space as well as renovations of the lagoon bridge and the addition of landscaping, irrigation, lighting, station markers, bulkheads, walkways and fencing around the property.

Most importantly, J.C. Harward worked on building, renovating and adding elements to The Great Cross, Pilgrim Retreat Center & Pavilion and Museum & Gift Shop.

“Portions of the property, including the gift shop, had flooded during Hurricanes Matthew and Irma,” Harward said. “All of the renovations and new structures that we built were constructed with flooding prevention in mind. We also worked on historic preservation as many artifacts were found along with portions of the original church foundation. Archaeologists were called in to investigate and excavate. Over the past 14 years, working on more than a dozen projects at National Shrine of Our Lady of La Leche at Mission Nombre De Dios has been an incredible honor for both my company and my family.”