Jenny Wehde never imagined that the dishes she keeps in her china cabinet would become part of the inspiration for the newly renovated St. Paul Church in St. Paul.
The blue, cream and gold pattern with red accents from the Lenox Presidential Collection is now adorned on the interior archways, one of the major updates completed during a three-month renovation of the church, which is located at the end of a winding road off Highway 79 in St. Charles County. Wehde, an interior decorator by trade who served on the renovation committee, described it as a “classic, timeless look. People are still going to love it 20 years from now.”
Archbishop Robert J. Carlson joined parishioners June 2 for Mass and blessing of the church. The project also included a new mural on the domed ceiling of the sanctuary depicting the Ascension, other repainting and replastering of the 121-year-old church building, restoration and lighting of the Last Supper scene on the front of the altar, restaining and restoration of the pews, new flooring, sound system and heating and air conditioning.
Pastor Father Gerald Blessing, noted that the project was paid for entirely from parish reserves. He cited the generosity of parishioners who contributed to the effort. “While all of this is going on, we also had our parish auction, which was our most successful auction ever,” he said.
In the homily, the archbishop reflected on the feast of Corpus Christi, linking the parishioners’ hard work to their understanding of the Real Presence of the Eucharist.
“If our Lord wasn’t here, why would you have spent all that time, and energy and resources to remodel this beautiful church?” Archbishop Carlson asked.
While several parishes in the archdiocese held Corpus Christ processions that weekend, Archbishop Carlson also noted that St. Paul was celebrating a different kind of eucharistic procession. Recalling the words of the parish’s patron, he reminded them that “it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me … We may not have a eucharistic procession along the streets of St. Paul, but we will be a eucharistic procession if it’s simply to gather for fellowship afterward, or go home and back to our farms — we will be carrying the Body and Blood of Christ.”
The parish also recently renovated the parish picnic grounds and reconfigured the cemetery to open up about 1,000 new plots.
St. Paul, which marked its 169th anniversary this year, was begun by German immigrant families who built a log building on 40 acres of land in what was known as Dog Prairie, according to research from parishioner Judy Sigmund, author of “Dog Prairie Tales.” Families laid the cornerstone for the church in 1849, which was considered the beginning of the parish. Until then, the residents were registered at nearby St. Peter in St. Charles. By 1854, a 40-foot by 80-foot limestone church was completed.
As the parish began to grow, the church was torn down in 1896, with much of the rock used for the concrete foundation of the new church. Parishioners hauled 500 wagon loads of sand, 37,000 bricks and other materials to the site. The American Gothic Revival building of buff colored brick and a slate roof was completed a year later.
Today, the parish has 789 registered households. Most families have been here for generations. Longtime parishioner Larry Mueller is one of seven siblings who were raised at St. Paul. “They all live in this area and go to church here,” he said.
Mueller said the church, which has had basically the same appearance since he was an altar boy, now has a “cleaner and brighter look. It just kind of lifted it up and made it look better. It makes the parishioners come to church with a different outlook.”
It’s even hooked the attention of visitors. Bill and Pat Logue, full-time travelers who were staying at a nearby RV park, stumbled upon Mass June 2 with no idea that the church was celebrating its makeover with a blessing from the archbishop.
“We usually go on Saturday evening to Mass, and just happened on it,” Bill Logue said. “We like the fact that it’s a small church. We’ve been in huge churches before — in fact, we helped build one in Castle Rock, Colorado, and it’s beautiful — but this is almost beyond words.”