All Souls Parish in Overland marks 100th anniversary with memories, good times
There's a twinkle in Joe Poelker's eye when he reminisces about growing up at All Souls School in Overland.
"We'd go to Mass every day," said the 62-year old. "And that was when you'd have to fast, too." On First Fridays, the students would break their fast by having donuts after Mass.
"You could raise your hand and tell them you'd want two. Or maybe someone would raise their hand and say five," he added with a grin. "You may not have gotten that, but you could ask."
There also was no cafeteria in those days. His parents, Joe Sr. and Betty, would send a lunch along with the Poelker kids. "You'd tie your money (for milk) into your handkerchief." Students who didn't bring their lunch would sometimes walk home to eat.
Those are the kind of memories that carry on the spirit of All Souls Parish today. This year marks the northwest St. Louis County parish's 100th anniversary.
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Today, the face of All Souls includes families who have spent many generations in the parish. There are approximately 560 registered households in the parish. But it's the dedication of those mainstays, the folks who have been here for generations, who have provided a "backbone" for the parish, said current pastor, Father Robert Burkemper.
"I've been in lots of parishes and I don't think I've ever been in a parish that had quite the depth of devotion to its heritage as this place has," said the priest, who came in 2005. "From the very beginning of my time here, people have always seen All Souls as a unique faith community with a deep pride but also a deep desire to share what they have built together here."
Besides a longtime home for many North County families — the Poelkers now have five generations who have called All Souls home — the parish also has claimed three bishops as its sons: Bishop John N. Wurm, a St. Louis auxiliary bishop, and later head of the Belleville, Ill., Diocese, who died in 1984; Bishop John J. Liebrecht, bishop emeritus of the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau, and Bishop Robert W. Finn of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph.
The coats of arms of all three bishops, along with an emblem of the parish, proudly hang from the front of the choir loft in the church, which underwent a renovation that was completed in 2004.
That kind of claim to fame leaves members of the parish sometimes scratching their heads in wonderment, but also with a sense of pride in the vocations that have resulted. Besides the three bishops, All Souls also is the home parish to other Church leaders, including Jesuit Father Robert O'Toole, past rector of the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome; Father John Paul Heil, former Kenrick-Glennon Seminary professor and now at the Catholic University of America; Jesuit Father Frank Reale, former provincial of the Missouri Province of the Society of Jesus; Father Robert Leibrecht, brother of Bishop Leibrecht; and Deacon Samuel L. Lee, a longtime pro-life lobbyist in Jefferson City, Mo.
"I don't know what it is. It must be in the water," joked 72-year-old Charlie Wurm, youngest brother of Bishop Wurm.
Anthony and Estelle Wurm and their 14 children lived in a four-bedroom home on Gaebler Avenue in Overland, recalled Charlie Wurm. "At night, everything became a bedroom," he said.
It was something about his parents "in the way their raised their children" that makes Charlie Wurm think of memories at All Souls. "We weren't wealthy, but (their parents) had a great faith. They had to — they had 14 kids."
"It's a real solid parish," he said of All Souls today. "All the priests who come here love it. It can be a struggle being an older parish, but the people will always pull together whenever anything major happens," such as the recent church renovation.
Among those helping to prepare for the parish festival held last weekend were Mary Ann Valtsin and Betty (Hamilton) Palmer. The two, who were making slaw in cafeteria, said the room previously was their eighth-grade classroom in 1953.
As they were cleaning up from their work, the two were reminiscing about going to Schneider's, a family-operated confectionary located across the street from the school, which sold snacks and ice cream.
"The one sandwich I liked more than anything from there was nothing more than lettuce, tomatoes, mayo and bread," said Palmer. "It was delicious."
"This place is like a family. It's still a family," said Valtsin. "People may leave this parish (geographically), but they're still involved in the parish."
Perhaps no one else has experienced the comings and goings of the parish like Susan (Muse) Shelton, parish bookkeeper and administrative assistant since 1989. The 65-year-old was baptized and raised in the parish, leaving only for a brief period during her adult years.
One of her favorite spots in the church is during the late evening, when the sun floods the church with a beautiful light.
"The sun is coming through these windows," Shelton said as she pointed to a row of stained-glass windows along the far wall of the church. "And that statue of St. Joseph lights up like it's coming out at me. It's things like that you can't take out of your mind. It's just gorgeous."
Shelton said that serving the parish "is like a dream to me. Some of the people here are like parents to me; they've taken me in like a child. These people are genuine, hard-working people."
• 1906 — All Souls Mission was founded in Overland as a westward extension of nearby All Saints Parish in University City. Within a year, founding pastor Father John Long and several men of the parish built a small frame chapel.• 1912 — Archbishop John J. Glennon established the parish of All Souls. Father William Shea was named the first resident pastor.
• 1919 — A school was opened and staffed by the School Sisters of Notre Dame.
• 1924 — A more permanent school building was erected.
• 1952 — A new church and rectory were completed, under the leadership of pastor Father Walter Tucker. A few years later, the school was enlarged and a new convent constructed.
• 2002 — All Souls School closed and joined with three other North County parishes to form Holy Trinity School in St. Ann.
• Today — All Souls hosts an annual parish festival in June, featuring a car show, beef and chicken dinners, games and activities. Other special activities throughout the year include Masses on the feast of All Souls and a 40-hours devotion. All Souls has many active organizations, including a St. Vincent de Paul conference, a Knights of Columbus council, St. Ann Sodality, the Minutemen maintenance volunteers and the Quilter's Club.
Archbishop Robert J. Carlson will preside at a Mass to mark the 100th anniversary of All Souls Parish in Overland. The Mass will take place at 10:30 a.m. Sunday, June 24, at the parish church, 9550 Tennyson Ave. A reception will follow.
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