St. John Nepomuk was the first site of a Pilgrimage of Beauty that kicked off in April to highlight the beauty of the Eucharist and the treasures of several historic churches in the Archdiocese of St. Louis.
The pilgrimage is part of the Eucharistic Revival, which the U.S. bishops launched last summer to nurture belief and devotion to the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist.
About 75 people visited St. John Nepomuk April 19. Now designated a chapel, it is considered the first Bohemian parish in the Americas. The parish was established in 1854 under Archbishop Peter Kenrick when the Czechs’ Bohemia was part of Austria. Upheaval in central Europe at the time led to the Czechs’ first major settlement in the New World. The first immigrants from Bohemia came up the Mississippi River from New Orleans to St. Louis. They settled in the Soulard area, which became known as “Bohemian Hill.”
“The Bohemians wanted to have their own church where they could speak their own language,” said Dette Reh, a member of Ste. Genevieve du Bois Parish in Warson Woods, who gave a talk on the history and art of the church. “They came here looking for opportunities and wanted to make the church the center.”
Reh highlighted some of the art found within the current church building, which was renovated after an 1896 tornado destroyed many buildings in the Soulard neighborhood. Part of the front wall left standing was incorporated into the present structure.
A previous pastor, Father Wenceslaus Linek, was behind the intricate hand-painted chain around the walls of the nave. One side of the church features gold medallions with the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. The other side includes medallions with the seven sacraments.
The art, statues, stained-glass windows and even the hand-carved main and side altars all are meant to help connect a person with what happens at Mass. The main aisle of the church, said Reh, is representative of “The Way,” leading us to the altar, where the eucharistic sacrifice takes place.
The pilgrimage was an opportunity to appreciate the truth and beauty of the Eucharist. Deacon Charles Bacher, administrator at St. John Nepomuk, led adoration and Benediction. He noted that Masses continue to be offered on Saturdays at 4:30 p.m. and Sundays at 9:30 a.m. and include some prayers and hymns in Czech. The church is located at 1625 S. 11th St. in Soulard.
Several visitors reflected on the history of the church — and noted that the same Eucharist that they adored during their short visit is the same Eucharist that has been worshipped by Catholics at the church for 169 years.
Angie Lauer and Dan Solenberger learned about the Pilgrimage of Beauty in the St. Louis Review. Both are parishioners at Sts. Peter and Paul in Soulard and thought the pilgrimage would be a good opportunity to visit other nearby historic churches.
“They wanted to make the church the center of their community, because it was a part of their home where they’d come from,” Lauer said. “I thought, wow, that’s the way it’s supposed to be — the center of our lives.”
Ed and Colette O’Brien of Our Lady of Providence in Crestwood said it felt like it was walking into a church in Europe. “It increased our understanding of Catholicism, to see other churches like this,” Ed said. “We’ve been in the same parish for 55 years, so it was nice to have a change of pace.”
The O’Briens also said their visit was a time for prayer. “I offered this as a time of prayer for others,” he said. “Especially those who couldn’t be here.”
>> Pilgrimage of Beauty
As part of the Eucharistic Revival in the Archdiocese of St. Louis, the Pilgrimage of Beauty includes visits to several churches in St. Louis. Each visit, scheduled on Wednesdays from 1-2 p.m., features prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, a short history of the Church and Benediction.
Remaining dates and locations include:
May 3 — Sts. Peter and Paul, 1919 S. Seventh St.
May 10 — St. Agatha, 3239 S. Ninth St.
May 17 — St. Anthony of Padua, 3140 Meramec St.
May 24 — St. Ambrose, 5130 Wilson Ave.
Future pilgrimages are being planned in other parts of the archdiocese, including one in the St. Charles County area in June and July. For more details or interest in hosting a Pilgrimage of Beauty in your part of the archdiocese, contact Jane Guenther with the Catholic Renewal Center at [email protected].