Catholicism in St. Louis has a history going back to the founding of the city, and as a result of this long history there are many parishes and Catholics in the city of St. Louis and in the diocese of the area. These parishes include many places and histories that are extremely relevant and contribute greatly to Catholicism not only for those in the parish, but also for all of those in the city of St. Louis and the surrounding metropolitan area. One place in particular that stands out as an important aspect of Catholicism in St. Louis is the Cathedral Basilica, also known as The Old Cathedral. The Cathedral Basilica stands as a beacon to the Catholic people in the St. Louis community due to the cathedral’s extended history and parish activity and resulting impact within St. Louis.
The city of St. Louis in itself has a rich history of Catholicism since its founding. The city was founded in 1764 by Pierre Laclede Liguest, who named St. Louis after the patron of his king, Louis XV, and the model of all Catholic monarchs since the middle ages. This illustrates the significance of Catholicism in the founding of the city of St. Louis, as its conception is directly tied to those impacted by and practicing the religion. The first priests known to arrive in this new city were “Father Luke Collet, a Recollect, and the Jesuit Father Meurin” who arrived in the 1760’s (Tannrath). These men were vital for Catholicism in St. Louis because after the American Revolution, there was an extreme shortage of priests in the territory. These priests were under the authority of Bishop Havana, who worked with them to extend Catholicism in the city and in 1812, Louis DuBourg became the bishop of the area including St. Louis because of his extensive knowledge of French, English, and skill sets that made him suitable and adept for the job. The new Bishop DuBourg arrived in St. Louis in 1818, where he planned “to build a church, start a seminary, open schools, and send missionaries to nearby Indian tribes”(Three Centuries of Catholicism). Bishop DuBourg fulfilled these plans by building the "Old" Cathedral near the present-day St. Louis Arch. Near this first cathedral, Bishop DuBourg opened the Academy of St. Louis as another part of his expansive plan, and this school became what we know today as Saint Louis University. Bishop DuBourg gave a start to the most influential aspects of Catholicism that are still in existence today. Since the arrival and immediate and lasting impact of DuBourg, Catholicism has continued to flourish in St. Louis. In 1826, St. Louis became a diocese with Joseph Rosati as the bishop of the diocese. Twenty years later, St. Louis became the first "ecclesiastical province in the middle part of North America.” (Tannrath). This rich history of Catholicism in the city of St. Louis illustrates the drastic impact that Catholicism has had on the city since its founding.
As seen throughout the history of St. Louis, Catholicism has been a vital part of nearly everything in this city. In particular, the Cathedral Basilica- a Catholic space built in 1914-serves as an instrumental space for Catholic worship, education, and celebration. The Cathedral contributes to the Catholicism of St. Louis through many things, but in particular the parish of the Cathedral Basilica. As said about the Cathedral:
“The Old Cathedral is a Catholic community dedicated to better knowing and serving God. Our mission is to serve the spiritual needs of our parishioners and to nurture the thousands who visit the Basilica each year.”
This parish has many events annually along with daily and weekly masses. The Cathedral also contributes to Catholics in St. Louis by holding massive celebrations in this beautiful church including the sacraments, weddings, and graduations. Many Catholic schools in St. Louis hold their graduations in the Cathedral because of its significance to Catholicism.
In addition to being a Catholic parish that holds many Catholic celebrations, the Cathedral also stands as a symbol not only for Catholics, but for everyone in the city. As a symbol, the Cathedral shows this city that the Catholic church is inclusive, just, and stands for peace, exemplified in a statue that stands on the front lawn of the Cathedral. The sculpture was a gift from Adelaide Schlafly in memory of her late husband, Daniel Schlafly, a Catholic layman who was dedicated to fighting for racial justice and peace. The sculpture emphasizes a theme of harmony, peace, and racial justice, according to Auxiliary Bishop Edward Braxton. These are all things that everyone in the city of Saint Louis must deal with, given the city’s poor history with these concepts (“The Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis”). This exemplifies that this Cathedral is a symbol and sacred space for Catholics, but it is also intended to be a welcoming and impactful place for Catholics and non-Catholics alike. The Cathedral is a significant part of Catholicism in St. Louis by contributing to Catholic worship, education, and celebrations Catholic events and the events of others in the city.
Catholics often visit this Cathedral in St. Louis because of its beauty, but few are aware of its history and the impact that the Cathedral Basilica has on Catholicism in the city. This famed Cathedral’s history begins at the founding of St. Louis and the beginning of Catholicism in St. Louis, thus showing that Catholicism and the Cathedral are intimately connected with the Catholic community in the city. The Cathedral does this through its parish and presence in the city, by which the parish is responsible for Catholic worship, which is available to anybody not just parishioners who live around the Cathedral, celebration, and education within the city. More information on how the Cathedral does these can be found on The Visitor’s Guide to the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis. Not only does the Cathedral stand as a beacon of Catholicism, but also as a symbol for harmony, peace, and justice within this city. Because of this, the “Old Cathedral” is an instrumental piece and space in contributing to Catholicism in the city of St. Louis.
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