When St. Wenceslaus hosts the next St. Louis Mass Mob later this month, parishioners will still be on a high from celebrating the ordination of its first homegrown bishop less than two weeks prior.
The south St. Louis church is expected to draw nearly 500 people at the Sunday, May 14, Mass Mob. For the past two years, St. Louis Mass Mobs have brought people together for worship and to raise awareness and appreciation for some of the archdiocese's most historic churches. The parishes draw an average of 400-500 people at the Masses.
While a scheduling conflict will prevent Auxiliary Bishop Mark Rivituso from being at the Mass Mob (a homecoming Mass for him is being arranged at a later date this summer), certainly parishioners will be eager to welcome visitors to the place where the bishop grew up, and where his mother, Rosemary, still calls home.
In fact, the Sunday after Bishop Rivituso's appointment was announced, Rosemary Rivituso received a special recognition during Mass, said pastor, Father Jim Wasser, MSF. The priest told the congregation, "'we have a very special joyous occasion today; one of our longtime parishioners, her son is going to be ordained a bishop. So Rose Rivituso, please stand up.' The parish gave her a standing ovation, God love her. The love in that family just radiates."
St. Wenceslaus was founded in 1895 for Bohemian Catholics. It was one of several offshoot parishes of St. John Nepomuk, the first Czech parish in the United States, which outgrew its capacity. A school opened the same year and was staffed by the School Sisters of Notre Dame. The current church building was built in 1925, and the old church was converted into classrooms several years later to accommodate the growth of the school. By the late 1940s, enrollment peaked with more than 500 students.
In 1945, the parish was introduced to the Missionaries of the Holy Family, a congregation of priests and brothers dedicated to emphasizing the Holy Family as the standard of holiness for all families. Father Joseph Pelley, MSF, was assigned to assist the pastor, Msgr. William Hamtil. In 1960, then-Archbishop Joseph Ritter announced that the care of the parish would be given to the Missionaries of the Holy Family. In 2005, then-Archbishop Raymond L. Burke designated St. Wenceslaus as a personal parish — a parish without geographical boundaries — for those drawn to the charism and spirituality of the Missionaries of the Holy Family.
By 1972, the school closed because of decline in enrollment, but later reopened as a consolidated schools of St. Agatha, St. Agnes, St. Francis de Sales and St. Wenceslaus. The school eventually was renamed Notre Dame Elementary School, named after the religious community who taught children in that area for decades. In 2002, St. Pius V closed its school and joined the parishes supporting Notre Dame Elementary; the school eventually was renamed St. Frances Cabrini Academy and is now sponsored by 10 parishes.
Several years ago, the parish completed a five-year restoration of the church, which included new tuckpointing and gutters, and repair of the roof and flashing on the outside of the brick building. Inside, the plaster walls were repaired and repainted, the pipes to the pipe organ were restored and refinished and numerous statues and a set of handpainted Stations of the Cross were cleaned and repaired.
Three sets of stained-glass windows, which depict the glorious and joyful mysteries of the Rosary, and a large window in the choir loft of St. Wenceslaus receiving Communion, also were cleaned and restored by Emil Frei and Associates, the same company that installed the windows in the 1920s.
Father Wasser, who became pastor in July 2016, said that the parish community is older and weekly Mass attendance is modest. There recently has been a new surge of interest among Hispanic Catholics who live in the neighborhood. There also have been conversations about starting a young adult ministry.
"The people here are very, very positive," he said. "They are older, but they are willing to work. This is a Bohemian parish, but down the road we need to start seriously thinking about adding a Sunday Mass in Spanish. We're all the same religion and we should recognize our ethnicities and backgrounds. The Lord has blessed us in many ways."
St. Wenceslaus has two food pantries — one for people in the parish, operated by the St. Vincent de Paul conference; and another for the greater community, which is operated with the help of St. Wenceslaus' sister parish, Holy Infant in Ballwin. The parish also distributes sandwiches to the poor and provides assistance with utilities where needed.
The parish serves as the site for St. Frances Cabrini Academy, which has the support and sponsorship of 10 parishes in the archdiocese.
Parish business manager Paul Jolly was born and raised in St. Wenceslaus and knew the Rivituso family. Several of the siblings were right behind him in school. Jolly is about a decade older than Bishop Rivituso, so although he missed him in school, he has fond memories of the family and their devotion to the faith.
"It's one of the many old churches in St. Louis and some of them we lost when we did the consolidation of the parishes in 2005," Jolly said. "The ones we still have, we take a lot of pride in them. It's home. I spend more time here than I do at my house. It's one of those things, growing up, you never know where life is going to take you. It's a great bunch of people here."
Once the Mass Mob has taken place, St. Wenceslaus looks forward to celebrating its newly minted bishop.
"He's had all his sacraments right here," Father Wasser said. "We thought it would be nice to bring him home — here it is, the official stamp — we'll say, 'you see you young kids, you can be bishop, too.'"
St. Louis Mass Mob
WHEN: 9 a.m. Sunday, May 14
WHERE: St. Wenceslaus Church, 3014 Oregon Ave. in south St. Louis
MORE INFO: See St. Louis Mass Mob on Facebook; to learn more about St. Wenceslaus, visit stwenceslaus.website; to learn more about the Missionaries of the Holy Family, visit www.msf-america.org