The year 2001 marked the 175th anniversary of the establishment of the Diocese of St. Louis in 1826. To highlight the occasion, the archdiocese prepared this historical sketch of some of the people and events that have made St. Louis a uniquely Catholic region. The inspired leaders, the milestone organizations and the historic moments are presented as stories that reveal the hidden power of God in the lives of those who were baptized "with the Holy Spirit and fire" (Mt 3:11).

Archbishops of St. Louis


Bishop DuBourg

The first bishop to use St. Louis as his See city was Bishop Louis William Valentine DuBourg. As Bishop of Louisiana and the Floridas he made St. Louis his episcopal headquarters from 1817 to 1820. It was Bishop DuBourg who brought the Vincentians, the Jesuits and the Religious of the Sacred Heart to St. Louis. Among them were Felix DeAndreis, CM, Father Pierre Jean DeSmet, SJ, and St. Philippine Duchesne, treasured names in American heritage. When the Louisiana Territory was split into two dioceses – St. Louis and New Orleans – Bishop DuBourg resigned and returned to France.


Bishop Rosati

The first bishop of the Diocese of St. Louis was Bishop Joseph Rosati. He was first administrator of both the St. Louis and New Orleans dioceses, in 1826, and then the following year became first bishop of the Diocese of St. Louis, remaining for several additional years the administrator of New Orleans. It was during Bishop Rosati’s tenure as ordinary of the see that, in 1831, the Cathedral of St. Louis, now called the Basilica of St. Louis, King of France (Old Cathedral), was built.



Archbishop Kenrick

Bishop Peter Richard Kenrick became ordinary shortly after the death of Bishop Rosati. In 1847 he became the first archbishop of St. Louis when St. Louis became the third metropolitan see in the country.

Archbishop Kenrick was noted for his administrative abilities, his building, and his qualities as a scholar but he came to the attention of the world during the First Vatican Council of 1870. At the council he was especially known for his opposition to the concept of papal infallibility, arguing that infallibility was shared by the pope with the assembled bishops of the Church. When he lost in his effort to have the doctrine so interpreted, he accepted the doctrine of infallibility as proclaimed by the council but never again spoke or wrote on the subject.

Just after Archbishop Kenrick was made an archbishop the Holy See granted the petition of the Fourth Provincial Council of Baltimore asking that the original St. Louis Diocese be broken up to make – besides St. Louis – the Dioceses of Dubuque, Nashville, Chicago, Milwaukee, and St. Paul. Archbishop Kenrick was the metropolitan of these sees.

By the end of Archbishop Kenrick’s years as ordinary, the growth of the Church in the West was enormous. By 1895, when Archbishop John Joseph Kain was installed, the westward movement, beginning from two trails that started in St. Louis, had progressed at a fantastic rate. In 1911 the diocese was divided again with the new St. Joseph Diocese taking 11 counties in outstate Missouri from St. Louis. In all, there have been 45 dioceses carved out of the Upper Louisiana Territory, which was originally under the St. Louis archbishop. 


Archbishop Kain

Archbishop Kain, born in Virginia, was the first native-born American to become archbishop of St. Louis. He served eight years.



Cardinal Glennon

The next phase of the history of the archdiocese could be called the "Glennon Years" after Cardinal John J. Glennon, who served as ordinary from 1903 until his death in 1946. Like Bishop Rosati, Cardinal Glennon was known as "the Cathedral Builder" but in his case it was because of his work in the erection of the (New) Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis at the corner of Newstead Ave. and Lindell Blvd.

During the first half of the 20th century charitable institutions such as Father Tim Dempsey’s and Father Dunne’s Home for Newsboys also were begun.

Cardinal Glennon had the idea that immigrants would feel more at home in this country if they lived in communities where others spoke the same language. He inaugurated a program, known as the Colonization Movement, where he invited colonists to come from Italy, Austria, Russia, Poland and Germany to his diocese. He helped by building up rural communities and giving aid in the form of parishes and priests to staff the churches. In Dunklin County, for example, he purchased 12,000 acres of land in 1905 and gave it to homesteading Catholic families. Two other communities in rural Missouri, Knobville in Phelps County and Wilhelmina in Dunklin, were set up through Cardinal Glennon and his Colonization Realty Co.

The Church prospered with many vocations during the service of Cardinal Glennon, who died in his native Ireland on the way home from Rome after being made a cardinal at the age of 83.




Cardinal Ritter

By the time Cardinal Joseph Ritter arrived the problem of the city – with which the Church was inevitably involved – was not development of the suburbs but revitalization of the inner city, immediately west of the arch. The revitalization included renewal of the institutions of the archdiocese. It included such innovations as the Alverne Hotel which allowed the elderly to live in the center of activity rather than in the country. It included Regina Cleri for older priests, the new chancery building on Lindell Blvd. and new schools and parishes in the county.

But most of all the revitalization was one of the spirit and it was aimed at the poor of the inner city, particularly blacks.

The desegregation decree of 1947, inauguration of the Human Rights Commission, development of the inner-city apostolate – these were the tangible actions that could be seen. There were many others such as Project Equality, a program aimed at achieving integration and better life for the residents of the ghetto.



Cardinal Carberry

John Joseph Carberry, the Brooklyn native named by Pope Paul VI as fifth Archbishop of St. Louis on Feb. 21, 1968, established five new county parishes and St. Patrick Parish downtown at the Cervantes Convention Center. Also, the high school and parish expansion programs that had been under way at the start of his reign were completed and the effort to guide the inner city toward restoration continued.

The repercussions of Vatican II, which had ended two years before Cardinal Carberry’s arrival, were being felt throughout the Church. Cardinal Carberry guided the St. Louis Church through the post-Vatican II period, emphasizing allegiance to the papacy and a strong Marian devotion.

He was chosen by his fellow bishops for several leadership roles, including vice president of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops and a delegate to three World Synods of Bishops.

He made the archdiocese a national leader in the pro-life movement immediately following the Supreme Court's pro-abortion rulings in 1973.



Archbishop May

After Cardinal Carberry resigned on his 75th birthday in 1979 he was succeeded by Archbishop John L. May. Like his predecessor, Archbishop May was known as a national leader, serving terms as vice president and then president of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops. He was recognized for having strengthened ties between the Vatican and the U.S. Church.
During his episcopacy, Archbishop May strongly supported the revival of the Archdiocesan Pastoral Council and the formation of deanery and parish councils. He has been a strong advocate of ecumenical dialogue, desegregation of public schools and improved race relations.

Archbishop May’s tenure continued strong financial management of the archdiocese. Among the changes was the consolidation of the seminary system. He named the first chief financial officer, a layperson, and the first woman superintendent of Catholic schools. He instituted an archdiocesan self-insurance program and an improved retirement program for lay employees.

During the 1980s Archbishop May often led calls seeking more aid for the poor. An expansion of Catholic Charities’ programs to assist those in need continued during his administration as well as pro-life assistance for women with crisis pregnancies.



Cardinal Rigali

Archbishop Justin Rigali, a Los Angeles native who became one of the most influential Americans at the Vatican, assumed leadership of the archdiocese March 16, 1994.

During his time in St. Louis, Archbishop Rigali has visited most of the parishes of the archdiocese. He instituted measures that have eliminated the archdiocesan deficit and he began a $55 million capital campaign which primarily will establish endowments to help support future needs in the archdiocese.

Archbishop Rigali has been actively promoting vocations, evangelization efforts and ministry to young people. In 1995 the archdiocese assumed the administration of Kenrick-Glennon Seminary.

Archbishop Rigali began implementation of the first strategic pastoral plan for the archdiocese. The aim, Archbishop Rigali said, is to be not only a more efficient Church, but also a holier, more vital Church. The goals are to: foster conversion through prayer and the sacraments; proclaim Jesus Christ in word and in action; renew the commitment to the Catholic education; serve those in need; and be responsible stewards.

Archbishop Rigali continues to serve the worldwide Church and is active with the U.S. bishops. He has helped in planning the synod on North America, South America and the Caribbean.



Cardinal Burke

Archbishop Burke, one of the world's foremost authorities on Roman Catholic canon law, was installed as the ninth Bishop and eighth Archbishop of St. Louis in 2004. He guided the Archdiocese of St. Louis in the teachings of the Catholic faith. He lead with an unwavering passion for the integrity of Catholic doctrine embodied in the words of Jesus Christ. Born on June 30, 1948 in Richland Center, Wisconsin, Archbishop Burke's path to the priesthood took him to Rome, where he was ordained by Pope Paul VI on June 29, 1975. One of his first assignments was teaching religion at Acquinas High School in LaCrosse, Wisconsin. He was ordained a bishop at St Peter's Basilica, Vatican City, on January 6, 1995. He was installed as the 8th bihop of LaCrosse Wisconsin before becoming the Archbishop of St. Louis in 2004. His call to serve God has been expressed through a scholarly devotion to faith. He studied canon law at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome and later became the first American to hold the position of Defender of the Bond of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Singatura, the church's highest court. He now serves as a member of the College of Judges of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, of the Congregation for the Clergy, and of the Pontifical Council of Legislative Texts.




Archbishop Carlson

The Most Reverend Robert J. Carlson was installed as Archbishop of St. Louis on June 10, 2009, and was the leader of the local Church for more than 11 years until his successor was installed on August 25, 2020.A native of Minneapolis, Minnesota, Archbishop Carlson was ordained to the priesthood in 1970 for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. He went on to receive a master’s degree in divinity from St. Paul Seminary in 1976 and a licentiate in canon law from the Catholic University of America in 1979. Ordained as an auxiliary bishop for his home archdiocese in 1984, he went on to serve as Bishop of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, (1994-2005) and the Bishop of Saginaw, Michigan (2005-2009) prior to his appointment as Archbishop of St. Louis. His passion for education, vocations, youth ministry, and priestly formation have contributed to the growth and vitality of all the Dioceses he has served.


Archbishop Carlson served on several national committees. He previously served as chair of the USCCB Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life and Vocations and as co-chair of the Mission Advisory Committee for the Institute for Priestly Formation. Archbishop Carlson received the Interfaith Partnership Award in September, 2011. He was also honored with receiving the Joseph Cardinal Ritter Award in February, 2012, the Sister Mary Ann Eckhoff Leadership Award in April, 2012, the Service to the Community Award from the Ecumenical Leadership Council in May, 2012, the Order of Saint Louis King Award in November, 2015 and the Luminary Award for Criminal Justice in June, 2017. In October of 2017, Archbishop Carlson was awarded the 2017 NCEA Seton Award for his outstanding lifetime commitment, support, and service to Catholic Education. 

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