After 250 years, St. Louis still tied to saint’s legacy

Teak Phillips |
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St. Louis is tied forever to its founding on the banks of the Mississippi River in a frontier land, and the city's rich Catholic tradition has played a major role in its development.

"Aided by divine grace, the City of St. Louis continued to develop and produce a spiritual richness that has lasted through the years," Pope Francis wrote in a special message to the faithful. The message was read to the faithful by Cardinal Justin Rigali prior to Mass Aug. 24 at Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis as the archdiocese the city's 250th anniversary. Cardinal Rigali served as a special envoy appointed by Pope Francis.

In the letter, Pope Francis noted that in 1764, when plans became a reality for the new city in the Missouri territory, the Pierre Laclede and Auguste Chouteau chose name it after the saint who had been a French monarch. From then on, the pope write the "efforts were never lacking to ensure that the fruits of the Catholic faith would emanate from that town."

In his homily, Cardinal Rigali praised the numerous works of Christian service in the city, known to the country as the Gateway to the West and to the Catholic Church as the Rome of the West — Catholic education, health care, assistance to those in need and works honoring and promoting the value of human life and dignity such as the efforts of Cardinal Joseph Ritter who integrated Catholic schools seven years before a U.S. Supreme Court ruling requiring it.

Cardinal Rigali cited recent unrest in the suburb of Ferguson after a police shooting that has indicated a racial divide. The prelate said that there "clearly remains intense challenges for the present and future."

The homilist, who led the Archdiocese of St. Louis from 1994-2003, called for resolve to move forward and continue to build "a civilization of justice." He urged people to pay attention to the "powerful words" of St. John Paul II, who called for works of justice and peace in his papal visit to St. Louis 15 years ago.

Naming the city after the saint recognized the "primacy of God in society ... and the role of religion in private life," Cardinal Rigali said.

The city's namesake "helps us to grasp the challenge of God's Word for our own lives," he said. The saint's life modeled the Gospel reading at the Aug. 24 Mass where Jesus told a scholar of the law that the greatest commandments are to love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind and to love your neighbor as yourself.

"This is what the city of St. Louis is all about. This is how every city is meant to live — in the love of God and neighbor."

Kerry DeGregorio of St. Richard Parish in Creve Coeur called the celebration "a joyful time for us and a good opportunity to remember the people who came before us and made all this possible. Without the Church and the archdiocese, our lives would be much poorer and certainly less spiritual."

Annie Gardner, a student at Cor Jesu Academy and member of St. Joseph Parish in Cottleville, said the city's anniversary is about much more than the cake statues seen at public sites across the area. Especially noteworthy is how much the Church has meant to the city, she noted. Catholic education is just one example of an impact seen "due to the faith brought here in our founding."

Marie McMahon of the Cathedral Basilica Parish noted that she appreciated the message about the legacy of the namesake of the city and her parish, especially his thirst for justice.

A youth Mass on Aug. 23 at the Cathedral Basilica kicked off the weekend festivities, with a nearly full house for the Mass celebrated by Auxiliary Bishop Edward M. Rice.

Congregants brought canned goods earmarked for Ferguson, the scene of rioting and violence in the wake of the shooting death of Michael Brown Aug. 9. A group of eighth-graders from St. Clement of Rome in Des Peres brought 12 cases of items from a Marian Awards food drive held specifically for the Mass.

St. Clement student Abby Vatterott called the strife in Ferguson a "crisis," and classmate Hannah Tracy described it as rewarding to help.

"We're actually taking part and not sitting back and watching it go on, and saying, "Oh, I'm so sorry it happened,'" Tracy said.

Annie Struckhoff agreed, saying, "We're helping them out. When they think of people who helped them out, they'll think of us and thank us for helping."

The donation of canned goods and a community service fair after Mass dovetailed with Bishop Rice's homily, which noted the caring service of St. Louis IX so long ago. A dozen service organizations, including Catholic Charities, St. Patrick Center and St. Vincent de Paul Society, set up shop in the prayer garden between the cathedral and rectory, telling of their missions as congregants feasted on Ted Drewes frozen custard.

"St. Louis was known for his charity work," Bishop Rice said in his homily. "St. Louis would be proud of our service."

Dave Luecking of the Review staff contributed to this story. 


A message from Pope Francis

To Our Venerable Brother

Cardinal Justin Francis Rigali

Archbishop Emeritus of Philadelphia

Because God is the author and giver of an increase in all things that promote the authentic good of man, religious piety calls us to render him constant thanks for his many gifts. We therefore commend the pastoral care that inspired our Venerable Brother Robert J. Carlson, Metropolitan Archbishop of Saint Louis, to celebrate worthily the two hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the founding of that famed city on the banks of the Mississippi. Indeed, in the year 1764, when Pierre Laclede and his stepson Auguste Chouteau laid plans to launch a new city in the Missouri territory, they and their companions were pleased to name the settlement after the saintly French monarch, King Louis IX. Thenceforth, efforts were never lacking to ensure that fruits of the Catholic faith would emanate from that town. Aided by divine grace, the City of Saint Louis continued to develop and to produce a spiritual richness that has lasted through the years.

Since therefore it is fitting to give thanks to God, Author of all good, for the energy and industriousness of the citizens of Saint Louis which gave birth to the city and continue to give it life, we willingly accept the request of our Venerable Brother Robert J. Carlson, who has asked us to designate a distinguished Prelate to offer words of spiritual encouragement to all who will attend the Mass at the Cathedral of Saint Louis on the coming 24th day of August. We therefore tum to you, our Venerable Brother, who conducted the affairs of the same metropolitan Church with appropriate care when you oversaw the Archdiocese as its Archbishop between 1994 and 2003. Wherefore, with this Letter, we hereby appoint you OUR SPECIAL ENVOY for the celebration of the two hundred and fiftieth Anniversary of the City of Saint Louis to be held solemnly in that city on the 24th day of August next.

Accordingly, in this year dedicated to the founding of that illustrious city, just as all things are ordered to their Creator as to their proper end, you will encourage all the participants to direct their attention and energies to Him, who is the First Truth and the Supreme Good. In our name you will greet the Metropolitan Archbishop of Saint Louis, together with the other bishops, as well as the priests, men and women religious, and laity in attendance. You will also extend our words of respect and good will to the civil authorities and to all who are present.

Finally, we offer our fervent prayer to Almighty God that you will diligently perform this mission entrusted to you, so that all those participating in these anniversary celebrations will be enriched by abundant divine grace. May our Apostolic Blessing, which we willingly impart in the Lord, to you, our Venerable Brother, and which we also desire to be extended to all assembled, be a pledge and expression of heavenly gifts.

Given in Rome, at Saint Peter"s, on the 20th day of July in the year 2014, the second of our Pontificate.

Pope Francis 

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