St. John Catholic Church

4614 Blue Springs Road

Imperial, MO 63052 (636) 296-8061

 

History of Our Parish

Note - The following was taken from the Parish Centennial booklet published in 1969.

 

In 1869, the Civil War had just ended, and a nation, born anew of the struggle between the states, was beginning to grow into a stronger, more vital United States. The State of Missouri, so recently divided in its sentiments, was rebuilding its unity.  1869 and St. John's Parish marked its beginning. In this centennial year, we pause to remember, and in remembering, we dedicate ourselves anew to the task of building in our community the Faith to which this parish has been devoted for one hundred years.  We sincerely pray that we, in our times, may learn something of the zeal and devotion of the courageous pioneers of our parish, whose sacrifices made possible the centennial we commemorate this year. 

St. John’s Parish was one of the earliest parishes formed to serve the spiritual needs of the early settlers in the northern part of Jefferson County, Missouri.  From the most reliable information, it seems that a certain John Hilterbrand was the first settler in the area that now constitutes Jefferson County.  In 1774 he settled on Saline Creek, founded a small settlement, and made his living by manufacturing salt from the salty spring waters of Saline Creek.  Shortly afterward, a man by the name of John Boli settled on Romaine Creek, and these two might well have been the first inhabitants, apart from the Osage Indians, of the territory that now comprises St. John’s Parish.  Historians tell us that, in the early days, these men and the other settlers who followed them to the area on the southern bank of the Meramec River, were constantly in danger of harassment from the Indians.  In fact, in 1780, the settlers organized for defense, and built a small fortification on the banks of Saline Creek. 

Gradually, the rich farm lands of the area attracted other pioneers, and new settlements and towns began to grow. The first town in Jefferson County was New Hartford, a town whose life-span was quite brief. Herculaneum, built near the mining areas at the conjunction of Joachim Creek and the Mississippi River, became the first county seat.  

Wherever there are people, of course, there is a need for the Church.   As nearly as can be determined, the first priest to visit what is now Jefferson County was the Reverend Joseph Fischer, an assistant to the pastor of the St. Louis Cathedral at Second and Walnut Streets. In 1839, he came to the area south of the Meramec River, to look after the needs of the German settlers in that area. In that year (the deed is dated April 1, 1839), he bought the ground that now comprises the Parish of the Immaculate Conception in Arnold. The exact date and the exact location of the first Mass offered in Jefferson County are unknown, but it seems likely that Mass was offered in the early part of 1840, probably in the home of one of the settlers in the Maxville area. This parish, which was the mother of many of the parishes in Jefferson County, was served in its beginnings by priests who came from St. Louis or Mattese.


The first resident pastor in the county was the Reverend Heinrich Brockhagen.  No summary of the early Catholic life of Jefferson County would be complete without a tribute to the memory of this zealous man.  Father Brockhagen was born in 1833, in Germany, and came to the United States in 1857.  He was ordained to the priesthood on March 19, 1859, and within a few weeks, became the first resident pastor of the parish in Maxville on April 7, 1859.  It was said of him at that time that he came to Jefferson County to make the whole county Catholic, and his work over the next few years gave evidence of the truth of that statement.  In the same year in which he arrived at Maxville, he heard the pleas of a small group of settlers, mostly Bohemian with a few German families, to help them establish a church and procure a pastor for the area known as Rock Creek.  He advised them to build a church, and promised that he would see to their spiritual needs.  On the Saturday before the Feast of the Holy Trinity, 1859, the foundation for the first third of what was to be the Church of St. John at the Latin Gate, was laid.  The church, a log building, was blessed by Father Brockhagen on May 6, 1861.  Other examples of the zeal of this priest may be found in the fact that he made the trip on the first Monday of each month to care for the Irish Catholics around Byrnesville and Cedar Hill, more than twenty miles distant, and occasionally served the people in Crystal City.  For ten years, the church of St. John in Rock Creek was served by Father Brockhagen, who spoke German as well as English, and the Reverend Henry Lipovsky, a Bohemian priest.  Father Joseph Hessoun, from St. Louis, also showed a great interest in the people, and occasionally came to be of assistance to them.  St. John's became an independent parish in 1869, with the arrival of the Reverend Frank Ehrenberger, its first resident pastor, who served the parish from 1869 until 1876.  Under his leadership, the parish church was enlarged, and the first school was built and opened. 

In the following years, as the parish records indicate, the people of St. John's were served by the Reverend Henry Steinochr (1877), Reverend John Wiegers (1878), and the Reverend B.A. Tanrath (18791880).  From 1881 until his death in 1884, the parish was under the direction of the Reverend Joseph Maria Rosevec.  It was during his administration that the original church was enlarged and completed.  During his administration, too, the parish experienced its first real difficulty, with the establishment of a schismatic group of Catholics, known now only as the "C.S.P.S."  An early history of the Bohemian people in the Rock Creek area speaks of the trials of Father Rosevec in this rather unique but direct way: "He experienced plenty, especially from those who thought evil of him. People who left the poverty of Europe, and here having enough to live on, instead of being grateful to God for the favors they received, snobbishly rebeled against the Almighty and All Just God, and are rushing on their way to hell.  Surely this zealous priest is nevertheless praying for these short-sighted people”.  Father Rosevec died of tuberculosis in the parish rectory on May 12, 1884.

 

The parish remained orphaned for a time, with the needs of the people of the community being supplied by the Reverend Peter Houst, a Franciscan priest from St. Louis, and later by the Reverend William J. Angenendt, the pastor of the neighboring parish in Maxville.  In the meantime, Father Joseph Hessoun, ever mindful of the needs of the Bohemian speaking people, continued his interest in the parish by seeking the services of a priest who could speak their language.  Through his friends, Msgr. John DeNeve, the rector of the seminary in Louvaine, Belgium, and Bishop Francis deSales Bauer in Bern, Moravia, he contacted the Reverend Rudolph Matousek, who agreed to come to America and to the parish in Rock Creek.  Father Matousek was born in Lomnici, Moravia, in 1865, and studied in the seminaries in Bern and Louvaine.  He was appointed as the pastor of St. John's in 1888, and during the next nine years did much to revitalize the parish, so long without a permanent spiritual director.  He reopened the parish school with an initial enrollment of 40 pupils, and worked to build up a strong faith in the people, to whom their religion was so vitally important.  A few of the older parishioners of St. John's still remember Father Matousek with affection and gratitude. 

Following Father Matousek, a number of priests served in the parish in quick succession.  The parish records contain the names of Father August von Brunn (1897-1898), Father John Tichy (1898-1900).  Fathers Joseph Hynek and H. J. Strachota (both in 1900), Father John Girse (1901-1904), Father Martin J. Bahr (1904-1907), and Father Henry J. Kuper (1907).  A new resurgence in the life of the parish was begun with the appointment of Father Louis Kutz in September, 1908.  Father Kutz was a deeply spiritual man, and the faith which he inspired in so many of the parishioners is still evident in the parish today.  A number of the parishioners who have remained in the community until now, speak with fondness and reverence of the memory of Father Kutz.  He remained as the spiritual leader of the community for ten years, until March, 1918. 

Father Kutz was then succeeded by the priest who was to remain in Rock Creek longer than any other - Father Joseph Wippermann, who was the pastor of the parish from 1918 until ill health and advancing years forced his retirement in 1946.  Several factors, not the least of which was the great economic depression of the early thirties, contributed to the gradual decline, numerically as well as economically, of the community and the parish.  The deterioration of the old church forced its closing and removal, and the old school building, now no longer used for that purpose, was converted into a temporary church.  One of the works for which Father Wippermann is remembered was the building of the stone grotto, which became a landmark on Rock Creek Road.  Not only his inspiration and direction went into the building of the grotto, but many, many hours of his own labor were devoted to the gathering of the stones and the actual building of the shrine.  Included in the grotto was a stone altar, and, in good weather, the Sunday Masses were offered here, outdoors, "in God's own church". 

Following Father Wippermann's departure in 1946, Father Peter Rahill served as temporary administrator until the appointment of Father Adolph Peutter in the Spring of 1947.  He remained for two years, and was succeeded by Father Clarence Winkler in 1949.

During these years, it was becoming more and more evident that one hope for survival of the parish was in its relocation.  The migration of people out of the urban areas, so characteristic of the forties and fifties, gave promise of a rapidly expanding population in Jefferson County but as usual, this migration followed the highways, so necessary for transportation to the city for employment.  For this reason, it was deemed necessary to relocate the parish to a place nearer the center of the expanding population.

The priest appointed to see to this relocation was the Reverend Henry Kohnen, who came to St. John's in May, 1954.


A new site was obtained on Highway 21 (the present location of the parish), not very far from the original site of the parish, but much more accessible.  The new location was on a rocky hillside, and was to prove to be a challenge to the determination and devotion of the pastor and his parishioners.  Almost immediately, a portion of the hill was excavated and leveled, and a temporary church was erected, blessed, and used by the congregation.  Father Kohnen next turned his attention to the construction of a more permanent building, which would contain facilities for a parish school as well as a parish church.  The work of preparing the site - excavating, filling and leveling - proved to be a long, arduous and expensive project.  It is to the credit of the people and their pastor, however, that they were not discouraged, but became more and more determined to complete the building project.

The corner stone of the present building was laid in 1957, and later that year, in October, the new school was opened, with three of the available eight classrooms in use.  The temporary church was then converted into a convent, for the use of the Sisters of Divine Providence, who were to staff the school.  It was characteristic of the unselfishness of Father Kohnen that he worked to provide a church and a school for the parish and a convent home for the Sisters, without being too concerned for his own comforts.  Since the construction of the school proved to be so costly, the erection of a rectory was deferred, and Father Kohnen provided living quarters for himself in the school in one of the vacant classrooms. 

Having completed the building project for which he came to St. John's, Father Kohnen was transferred in 1960, and appointed pastor of the parish in St. Paul, Missouri.  He was succeeded at St. John's by the Reverend Maurice F. Byrne on June 4, 1960, and Father Byrne remains as the pastor in this jubilee year. 

Since 1960, the growth of the community, so wisely anticipated years earlier, began to manifest itself.  In September 960, a fourth classroom was opened in the school, another the following year, and, by 1965, all available classrooms were occupied.  This steady influx of children made it evident that the space used as a rectory would be needed for a classroom, and the need for a permanent rectory was discussed by the parishioners and Father Byrne.  Because of the large financial burden assumed by the parish for the building of the school, it was planned that most of the work of building the rectory would be done by the men of the parish, donating their time on weekends.  This made the building of the rectory rather slow, but resulted in a substantial saving to the parishioners.  Permission to proceed in this way was obtained from the Archdiocese in 1963, and work on the rectory was begun that year.  It was fortunate that plans were made in advance, since the men had plenty of time to complete the project at their leisure, and still have it completed by the time the room in the school was needed.  Father Byrne moved from the school building to the new rectory in the Spring of 1965, and the men then turned their efforts into the task of preparing the last available space in the school building for a classroom.  In September of that year, 1965, the school was filled, with eight classrooms in use.

The future of St. John's Parish is, of course, in the Hands of Divine Providence.  A review of the history of the parish reveals a strong faith and a determined zeal in the people of this community - a faith and a zeal planted by great pioneering priests and people, nurtured by the sacrifices and the hard labors of those who followed, and demonstrated now, one hundred years later, in the devoted people of St. John's Parish.  It is the sincere hope and prayer of the compiler of these brief historical notes that those who will be the Parish as it enters its second hundred years, and those who will follow in the years to come, will draw from those who have gone before the same deep faith, and the same zealous determination to see that faith lived and extended throughout our community. 

 

After Father Byrne was transferred the following pastors and associates succeeded him: Father Paul Butler (Pastor), Father Urban Knoll (Assoc.), Father John T. Suren (Pastor), Father Joseph Banden (Assoc), Father Lambert Hrdlicka (Pastor), Father Gary (Frog) Vollmer (Assoc.), Father Pavlik (Assoc.). Father Raymond Liermann (Senior Priest in Residence), Father Patrick Hambrough (Assoc.), Father Edward Heim (Pastor). Father Edward Heim served from 1991 until June 1999.  Father Michael Murphy came in June of 1999 until August 2004.  Father C.R. Manning was our Pastor from 2004 until 2007.  Father Steve Robeson was our Pastor from 2007 to 2015.  Father Rich Coerver was appointed pastor of St. John's June 2015.

 

 

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