Black-finish, turbo ceiling fans swirl from the ceilings of perhaps the most lauded office in Old Town, SBX Realty. Situated on Simonton and Fleming Streets, the swirling fans seen through the tall windows create the ambiance which makes first-time tourists move here.
Only the Key West Weekly didn’t gain entrée to speak real estate.
During Holy Week we wanted to speak to a leader in our religious and Key West community, Peter Batty. A tall, approachable man with a lock of silver hair, he’s always seen in chinos, a button-down dress shirt, and the universal accessory stating, “I’m a Key West businessman…” sunglasses strapped around his neck.
Peter is also seen by many of us in surroundings several Old Town blocks away, a setting even more dramatic, again draped in clothing defining his position as a leader. We find him inside St. Mary Star of the Sea Catholic Church, dressed in vestments. Here, where the vision of Mary and Joseph watches over the congregation in vivid, stain-glass, and the ceilings are painted a serene shade of light, blue; Peter dons the ceremonial dress clothes of a deacon.
“I actually belonged to the Church of England as a boy growing up. I’m from Salisbury, which is 82 miles Southwest of London. My father always had a wanderlust, a desire to live someplace warm, but somehow we ended up in New York,” Batty begins to tell of his journey to Key West and to the Catholic faith.
After arriving in New York, where Peter’s father believed they had better educational opportunities versus England; the Batty’s practiced the Methodist faith. After attending college at Eastern Michigan University focusing on education, speech, and English, Peter taught in West Palm for a year, before returning to Babylon, New York where he met his wife, Ellen.
“She was the kindest person I’ve ever met,” he glowingly recalls.
“We came to Key West on our honeymoon in 1975.”
Peter and Ellen have four children; Victoria, Jennifer, Peter Jr., and Nick, and vacationed to the Keys several months out of the year, before deciding in 1989 the islands would provide the most well-rounded place to raise them. Only, once they shifted roots to Shark Key; they were faced with a logistical dilemma: their sons would have to be bussed, or driven, to schools in separate directions. As parents, the decision to enroll their two boys at Mary Immaculate made logical sense. While attending mass regularly, the rituals and traditions became Batty.
“The first thing I loved about the religion is the Catholic teaching on social justice. We can’t exist in the world as individuals; we can only exist in the world as part as one human race. So, if anyone in the world is hungry it’s our job to feed them. We do that locally we do that globally.”
The word “deacon,” is derived from the ancient Greek word diakonos, meaning “servant”, “waiting-man”, “minister,” or “messenger.”
After Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday, we noted the Mass Intentions schedule, and witnessed a standing-room only filled church. Peter, thankful for the parishioners who choose to worship any day of the year, does believe in order to learn the Catholic faith, regular attendance will provide a guideline to learn how we exist in the world.
“When we come to Mass we have the opportunity to learn more about our faith. I believe that most religions, not only the Catholic faith, bring people into a closer relationship with God,” he reflects.
“Having a closer relationship with God gives them the ability to have a closer relationship with their fellow human beings.”
The father of four, Peter is a firm believer in two churches. The institutional church, the one you find on Truman Avenue and Windsor Lane, and also, the church at home.
He believes parents should not count on the institutional church for the formation of their children.
“It’s not enough to take your kids to church. It’s important you not only take them to church but you also eat dinner with them, be concerned with them, meet their friends, and reach out to them to be parts of their lives,” he is brazenly honest, “even when they don’t want us to be part of our lives. It’s something we need to do.”
Tugging at the heartstrings of any person, young or old, realtor, boat captain, or bar owner, regardless of faith, Peter perhaps shares the same wish as many parents.
“I think love is the whole concept of God…very much cliché, but it’s very much true. If we can realize God loves us then we can in turn, not only love God, but we can love one another. So, my wish for my children and all of the children of the world is that they can love, not only themselves, but love others.
As another island fixture Fast Buck Freddie’s, Tony Falcone, breezes into the office, describing Peter as someone who he immensely enjoys going to lunch with to talk about Key West, we pry for one more intimate detail about Peter Batty, Deacon, father, and Noon Rotarian… he will proudly tell you he’s also a grandfather… six times over to Connor, Kaleb, John, Mary Ellen, James, and Abigail!
“I’ve baptized five of them. It’s totally… It’s a magical, mystical experience to baptize your own grandchildren. It’s totally beyond, anything you can imagine. It’s inexplicable.”