Parish History - Our Lady of Providence Catholic Parish
Archbishop Joseph E. Ritter requested the formation of a new parish in the St. Louis County Township of Grantwood Village and the founding assignment was given to Father Vincent J. Duggan on April 12, 1954. Until that time Father Duggan served as Administrator at Resurrection of Our Lord Parish in Wellsville, Mo.
THE FIRST DECADE
With the help and support of about 25 of the new parish families and the leadership of Father Duggan, Our Lady of Providence Parish was founded in 1954. Father Duggan celebrated the first Sunday Mass at 9:00 am on Mother’s Day, May 9, 1954, and eleven people attended, including the Saal, Thomas and Goodwin families.
For most of the first year, Masses were held in an old four-room farm house located on the property until the church and rectory buildings were completed. Father Duggan conducted the parish business from the main office of Resurrection Cemetery along with the parish housekeeper, Mrs. Mary Bernzen.
The first organizational meeting of OLP was May 12, sponsored by Mr. and Mrs. Edward Mizerany, and 82 parishioners attended. At that time 139 families lived in the OLP parish boundaries. On July 18, 1954 a Get Acquainted BBQ was held to raise funds for plumbing and fixtures needed at the old farm house which served as church and rectory. Vince and Rose Pahlmann’s home was used to facilitate the OLP parish ladies/first card party on August 1, 1954. The success of this fundraiser led Marge Huber, Chairperson of the Ladies' Club, to sponsor another larger, more successful card party on October 22 at Epiphany Parish Hall.
On August 28, 1954 a delegation of 30 parishioners traveled with Fr. Duggan to St. Mary-of-the-Woods in Terre Haute, Indiana to request the Sisters of Providence to assume the responsibility of educating the OLP parish children. As a result Mother Gertrude Clare assigned four Sisters to OLP. Sister Charles Ellen, the Sister Superior, along with Sister Marie Cecile, Sister Rosalita and Sister Thomas Ann were the first Sisters of Providence to serve in the Archdiocese of St. Louis. Because OLP parish had so many children between the ages of four and five, a kindergarten teacher was also acquired.
During these summer months the choir met on Saturday afternoons, prospective servers met at the rectory for Latin lessons, and ladies got together on Monday evenings to work on the first Christmas Bazaar.
In October a parish meeting was held at Annunciation Parish Hall to plan for the fundraising and construction of the parish facilities. Mr. Kloster, one of seven contractors who had bid the project, was awarded the contract to construct a combination church and school building, which included the chapel, cafeteria, convent and eight classrooms on December 17, 1954. The architect was Maurice Carroll. A ground breaking ceremony was held on December 26, 1954.
1954 - A YEAR OF FIRSTS
The year 1954 marked other firsts at OLP. The first person to be baptized at OLP was John Mitchell, Jr., son of John and Joyce Mitchell. The first marriage at OLP took place on June 4, 1954 joining Otto Hielman and Frances Blaha. On June 15, the Providence Club was formed, lead by Harry S. Ewers, Chairman, and Herman Thompson, Treasurer. The first parish bulletin was published on September 19, stencils prepared by Mrs. Hermine Kelemen. On October 1, the First Friday Club was organized at OLP by Edward Halloran, who served as Secretary.
During 1955 development at OLP continued at a brisk pace. In January the Holy Name Society was formed, lead by Edward Reilly, President, and Arthur Huber, Vice President, August Matarano, Secretary, Novell Geoghegan, Recording Secretary, and Edward Halloran, Treasurer. Also, the Ladies Sodality convened their first meeting with Marge Huber, President, Helen Iggens, Vice President, Hermine Keleman, Secretary, Lois Niehof, Recording Secretary, and Mini Crain, Treasurer. The ladies' Sewing Circle was formed by Mrs. Horstdaniel and Mrs. Wirthlin.
1955 - CONSTRUCTION BEGINS
Construction of the church and school began January 17, 1955. Father Duggan wanted special recognition for Mr. and Mrs. Fisher, who permitted all parish meetings to be held at their home, and for Mrs. Horstdaniel, who provided the use of her home to the Quilters on Wednesday evenings.
The Laying of the Cornerstone ceremony followed the blessing by Archbishop Joseph Ritter on April 23, 1955. Later that year the first Mass in the new chapel took place on August 27, 1955. The parish school opened on September 6 with an enrollment of 123 students. Tuition was $20.00 per child for families registered in the parish. Archbishop Ritter returned on October 30 to dedicate the new church.
In December the old farm house was abandoned and the rectory was moved to a house on Pinewood. Father Duggan expressed his gratitude to the members of the Parish Board throughout the organizational process “for their assiduous efforts for successful parochial endeavors.” The Board members at the time were Mr. Ewers, Mr. Thomas, Mr. Kissel, Mr. Pell and Mr. Fisher. The Board’s mission was “To revivify that spirit of devotedness to all spiritual, moral, material and social purposes for Our Lady."
By April, 1956 the parish roster had grown from the original 25 families to 338. The first Parish School of Religion (PSR) program began in September with classes held on Saturday mornings.
In April of 1957 outside shrines for the Blessed Virgin and St. Francis were constructed. Donations from the Ed Rielly and Wilhelm families made it possible for Joseph Tonkovich to construct the shrines. Marge Huber and Elizabeth Mizerany carpeted the sanctuary. The Block Rosary Program was started by Terri Ott. By this time the temporary convent was being used for classrooms.
In 1958 a pavilion was purchased for $200 from a watermelon stand on Chippewa and was added to the OLP parish grounds. The parishioners involved in this project were Fr. Duggan, Jim Dwyer, Paul Didion, Joe Freidman, Earl Lakebrink, Al Degenhart and Walter Sauer. Clarence Breummer is recognized for repainting the cafeteria.
THE BUILDING OF THE CHURCH
During the year 1959, plans were drawn and construction was completed on the convent. Al Walchshauser supervised construction of the building containing eight bedrooms, a chapel and a community room, which was completed ahead of schedule. An Open House was held on August 23 and featured an altar made by Carl Bomanz. By the close of that year, the parish had grown to 543 families and school enrollment grew to 350. The parish debt had been reduced to $205,000.
OLP began youth sports programs from revenues generated by Sunday bulletin ad sales. By June of 1960 enough money was raised to begin a baseball/softball program. That fall enrollment for the school was so large that six new classrooms had to be constructed. Parishioners rallied that year to repaint the church and cafeteria and transform the sanctuary. Father Duggan referred to the group of parishioners that performed the work as the “Holy Rollers.” In December of 1960 Terri Ott organized the Christmas Cookie Sale. During 1961 the Holy Name Society and the St. Ann Sodality began incorporating adult religious education into their monthly meetings. From February to July of 1962 plans were drawn and construction completed on an addition to the convent. The same contractors constructed the new rectory from February through September of 1963.
THE SECOND DECADE
The second decade of OLP parish history had begun, and in November of 1964 Forty Hours Devotion was held, and all litanies, prayers, and the Pange Lingua were done in English. The Boys' Choir sang the Pange Lingua with the congregation and six eighth grade boys led the Litany of Saints. The Holy Rollers painted the convent during the summer of 1965. Father Duggan had seen the arrival and departure of three associate priests by this time. They were Father James C. McLain (1959-60), Father James Kern (1961-63), and Father Richard Money (1964-65). In 1965 Father Charles Frankey had arrived and worked with the CYC to relocate playground equipment and provide a blacktop area for basketball and volleyball as well as additional parking space for Sunday Masses.
By January of 1967 the parish numbered 786 families and school enrollment was 625 students. In 1968 liturgical reforms of Vatican II prompted renovation of the sanctuary at OLP. The altar railing was removed to make room for the altar, which was placed in the center of the sanctuary.
Concurrently, the church and convent were air conditioned.
The first open School Board meeting was held on October 15, 1969 and the first School Board members were elected in April of 1970. During this year the Offertory Procession was initiated and the Liturgy Committee was organized, further implementing liturgical reforms. OLP’s weekend Mass schedule was modified from six.
Masses on Sunday to one Mass on Saturday afternoon and five on Sunday. OLP School students held their first Christmas Food and Clothing Drive to benefit 16 families at St. Henry and St. Rose Parishes.
The annual St. Ann Sodality Smorgasbord evolved into Parish Day in 1973. By this time Associate Father Theodore Brug had been at OLP since 1966 and Father Robert Faherty (1968-69) and Father Richard Neuman (1969-71) had come and gone. Father Richard Heman arrived at OLP in 1971 and served together with Father Brug until his departure in 1974.
In February of 1974, a monthly collection of food, clothing and money began for St. Rose of Lima Parish. This effort continued through the summer of 1977 when the St. Joseph Basket was placed in the front hall of the church.
Plans for the renovation of the church were approved in the Spring of 1975. Renovation work began in November and was completed May 18, 1979, minutes before Cardinal Carberry arrived for the Sacrament of Confirmation. The renovation included a forty-foot addition which served as sanctuary and sacristy. The interior of the church was carpeted, a modern wood panel design was installed, confessionals were updated, and Stations of the Cross were put in place, as were the refinished pews. A stained glass window depicting the life of the Blessed Virgin Mary was constructed in the top front wall of the church. During this period, Associate Father Richard Heman was replaced by Father Donald G. Brinkman in 1975.
In February of 1977, after 23 years as pastor, Father Duggan announced his resignation. Father Duggan stated at the time that he hoped to spend more time teaching in the school and assisting in other parish activities. The sixth grade class sponsored a school Thank You Party for Father Duggan on May 20. In addition to giving several gifts to Father from the students, a representative from each grade read an appreciation statement to him, recognizing the special person he had been to them.
Monsignor Nicholas Schneider was appointed Pastor of OLP in May of 1977. On June 14. Father Duggan was honored at a parish Thank You Reception and Monsignor Schneider was formally welcomed to OLP. Father Duggan’s retirement plans were cut short when in August of 1977 he suffered a massive stroke. Cardinal Carberry conferred on Father Duggan the title Pastor Emeritus in June of 1978 for his 38 years of service to the Archdiocese and twenty-three years as Pastor of OLP.
Father Brinkman was replaced by Father Robert C. Lane in 1976, who stayed through 1977. The year 1978 brought two Associates to OLP, Father Timothy M. Foley and Father A. John Schuler. Plans were made for the parish’s 25th Anniversary Celebration in August of 1978. These plans included a Parish Pictorial Directory, a Parish Mission, a Progressive Dinner, an outdoor procession and an Anniversary Mass.
On May 9, 1979 the parish celebrated its 25th Anniversary with a concelebrated Mass of Thanksgiving for God’s providential care in each one’s life.
In May of 1980 the Sisters of Providence withdrew from teaching at OLP School after twenty five years service. Father Schuler also served at OLP until 1980. Father Foley served until 1981, at which time he was replaced by Father Anthony J. Palazzolo. In 1982 Father Dennis Doerhoff came to OLP to serve as Associate with Father Palazzolo.
As Pastor, Monsignor Schneider focused attention on adult education and prayer. The liturgical ministries that we take for granted now, such as Readers and Communion Ministers, were encouraged by Monsignor Schneider. Under the direction of Marie Kremer, the Music Ministry grew to include a Children’s Choir, an Adult Choir and an Instrument Group. The ministry of Cantor was also initiated.
During his seven and a half years as Pastor of OLP Monsignor Schneider saw to it that The OLP Parish Council took a more active roll in the life of the parish. Monsignor Schneider announced his transfer to St. Monica Parish in Creve Coeur in December of 1984.
Father Charles Forst arrived at OLP on January of 1985. Father Forst officially became Monsignor Forst on May 7, 1986. The parish celebrated this appointment on July 6. Monsignor Forst was dedicated to help bring Father Duggan’s dream of a new permanent church at OLP to reality. Fund raising for the new church and gymnasium began in March of 1986. With the support of over 450 parish families, who pledged over $800,000 to the effort, the $3.2 million project was approved by the Archdiocese.
The chosen architectural firm was Gilmore, Malcic and Cannon, Inc. As part of their proposal, the architect stated the following: "The image of Our Lady of Providence Church derives from ancient ecclesiastical architecture as well as purity and honesty in the use and expression of materials. The basic organizing form of the church, exemplified by its high central space and stepped gable profile, is derived from early Christian basilica churches, most notable the original Church of St. Peter in Rome."
Amid the noise of fireworks, Monsignor Forst broke ground for the new church on October 11, 1986. Construction began in March of 1987. Father Palazzolo received his pastoral appointment in 1986 and Father Dennis M. Schaab came to OLP. He served as Associate until Father Donald G. Brinkman returned to OLP in 1987.
The cornerstone of the new church was blessed by Bishop O’Donnell on October 30, 1988. In December the pipe organ was dismantled and removed in preparation for the new pipe organ to be placed in the permanent church. Monsignor Forst shared his talent for woodwork by making a wooden cross for the life-size crucifix, as well as the sanctuary chairs the ambo, and wall fixtures.
Masses began in the new church on the first Sunday in Lent, February 12, 1989. The new organ was dedicated on October 22, 1989, “to the greater honor and glory of God.” On November 12, 1989 Parish council President Ray Kramer and Monsignor Forst formally transfered ownership of the new church to Archbishop John L. May, who presided over the Mass of dedication. At the altar that day were Father John Gaydos, Deacon Jerry Prives, Monsignor Forst and Father Thomas Begley, who came to OLP as Asssociate Pastor earlier that year.
Renovation of the old church building began in 1990. The church was converted to a multipurpose gymnasium by lowering the floor as opposed to raising the roof. The sanctuary became three meeting rooms and a small kitchen area. As a reminder of all of the wonderful years of worship in the building, the stained glass in the front of church was preserved in the center meeting room. The Providence Room serves as the Chapel of Repose on Holy Thursday, uniting our past with the present.
The close of construction was marked by blessing of the new Parish Center, which was followed by a Thank You Dinner served in the Pardee Room (gym) on August 11, 1990. All parish volunteers were invited for an evening of camaraderie and a chance to tour the facility. Monsignor Forst also initiated a Sacrificial Giving Program. He was a man of considerable faith, not only in our Heavenly Father, but in the people of Our Lady of Providence. The new church enhanced worship, and the gym allowed more social functions as well as physical education and sports for young and older parishioners.
While parish life at OLP was markedly better, Monsignor Forst and the entire parish felt the weight of our debt. Over the next six years, we practiced the frugal definition of "providence." During that span of time, two important organizations were initiated by OLP parishioners: the Home and School Association (HASA), later renamed Parents of Providence (POP), organized in 1990, and the OLP Men’s Club, formed in 1996. Both have done extra-ordinary work to raise funds for the benefit of the school and parish. Pictured at right are the first leaders of the Men’s Club.
Father Dennis Doerhoff was given his pastoral assignment in January of 1989. Father Thomas Begley served as Associate from 1989 to 1991, Father Stephen Puricelli arrived as Associate, to be joined in June of 1991, by Father Donald Koch. They both served at OLP until June of 1995 when they were replaced by Father Glennon E. Doherty and Father John Heil.
A Fortieth Anniversary Celebration took place on May 1, 1994, which included Mass with guest Archbishop Justin Rigali and dinner at the Royal Orleans. Monsignor Forst, having reached retirement age, received orders from Archbishop Rigali to move to Precious Blood Parish in June of 1996.
Our fourth pastor was Father Robert F. Johnston, who arrived in June of that year. It did not take Father Johnston long to realize that OLP had been making stifling monthly payments for ten years on our loan without any significant reduction in principal. The Parish Finance Committee worked with Father Johnston to solve the OLP debt problem with a capital campaign. Unfortunately, the Archdiocese of St. Louis was declaring a moratorium on parish fundraising. Instead, it favored an effort to raise endowment funds, entitled Returning God's Gifts. As a result, a plan was developed and proposed to Archbishop Rigali to combine the Archdiocesan program with our own program to reduce OLP’s debt. The Spirit of Providence Campaign was announced, and the parishioners of OLP responded by generating enough donations to eliminate the parish debt, redecorate the church, and pay our share of the Returning God’s Gifts Endowment Fund. The Spirit of Providence Campaign set the parish free from debt so we could focus on other needs of the parish. As promised, Father Johnston hired contractors, and work began to improve the appearance of the new church. Problems associated with the church roof were repaired, the bare concrete surfaces of the large columns were coated with a marble finish, which complimented our beautiful marble altar. The multicolored stained glass windows were installed to block the daily glare of the sun. Also, the exposed steel beams were painted white, making them less noticeable. Improvements were made to the sound system in church and a grand piano was added for more variety in music.
The late nineties saw the beginning of a parish tradition that is still going strong today. The annual Rachel Mueth Golf Tournament has not only been a social success for parishioners, it has also generated significant funds for the school, which Rachel attended through the third grade, until her untimely death from cancer in 1995.
In January, 1999 a delegation of OLP parishioners joined our larger archdiocesan family for Mass with Pope John Paul II.
Associate priest Father John Heil served until June of 2002 along with Father Doherty, who remained in the parish until 2004.
In January of 2003, Father David Rauch became the fifth Pastor at OLP. Father Rauch was mindful of the challenges he was facing as our new spiritual leader, and the greater uncertainties about our future relative to the Archdiocesan consolidation of parishes nearby. Father Rauch began with a strong effort to get acquainted with OLP parish organizations, leadership and individual parishioners. At the same time he began planning and preparations for the fiftieth anniversary of OLP.
A large group of parishioners, including parish organization leaders, were invited by Father Rauch to participate in Summit Meeting/Retreat at the LaSallette Spiritual Center on June 28, 2003. The coordinated effort and input shared by most of those in attendance began to shape a vision of OLP’s future.
The 50th Jubilee Committee was assembled, and the parish family began planning a celebration that would begin on May 9, 2004 with the fiftieth anniversary of the first Mass, and end in August, 2005 the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of our school. The highlight event consisted of a dinner celebration at the Top of the Met for the entire OLP parish family. Since then senior priest in residence, Monsignor Griesedick, has been transferred and Monsignor Francis X. Blood has been in residence.The fiftieth anniversary marked a new beginning for OLP. Having addressed most of the material needs of the parish, Father Rauch began work to address the needs of the parishioners. A parish nurse has been hired to work part time performing health services to the school students and parishioners in general. The Parish Council has evolved into a new Pastoral Council. The Little Rock Bible Study Program has become a popular adult education effort. The Preschool has taken off and is filled to capacity. These are just a few of the results of Father’s commitment to improving the quality and value of our parish community. And there is more to come.
This brief account of OLP history could not possibly tell the whole story. One element that has not been mentioned is the contiributions Deacons Larry McVey, Chris Winkelmann, Gerry Prives and Dave Amelotti, staff, school principal and teachers have all made important contributions to our parish family through the years. Hopefully, this account does demonstrate the generosity and love that our parishioners have for their faith community throughout OLP history: The Spirit of Providence.
While this account summarizes important events of the past, which we can all enjoy, it is our present and future that we are compelled to consider. Let us pray that we are inspired by the trends of the past in order to secure a bright future for this special Roman Catholic family. We will continue this account as more of our history is in the making.