A large sign advertising a "St. Louis Mass Mob" greets motorists exiting I-64/40 at Bellevue Avenue. Just around the corner, St. Luke the Evangelist, a beautiful 1920s Gothic church, will be the host.
Organizers are hoping to fill all 600 seats for the March 19 Mass Mob, which falls on the feast of St. Joseph. 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.
St. Luke dates to 1914, less than a year after the eastern St. Louis County municipality of Richmond Heights was established. Legend has it that part of the city's name, Richmond, came from General Robert E. Lee, who was working in the area with Army Engineers and found the land similar to his beloved Richmond, Va.
The 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis brought with it a growing population, and Catholics from the growing community petitioned Archbishop John J. Glennon for permission to establish the parish. Father Joseph Collins was the first pastor. The first Mass of the parish was celebrated in a private residence, and later a two-story residence became the church and rectory. A school opened in 1916, serving the community until its closure in 2007.
The current church building was completed in 1929 at a cost of $240,000 — an overwhelming cost for people during the Depression. Among the highlights of the church are the stained-glass windows by famed Emil Frei and Associates and the plaster walls featuring silver and gold Greek letters — the alpha and omega. In honor of the parish's 25th anniversary in 1939, the sanctuary was refurbished, and the original wooden altar was replaced with a stone and marble altar and Gothic reredos, which includes figures of the four evangelists and eight Apostles surrounding the crucifixion.
With such a deep history, there are plenty of stories to be shared by parishioners. Al and Mary Dowling have been at the parish since 1973. They raised their three children there. Now adults, the Dowling's children also belong to St. Luke. Reflecting on a recent funeral they attended at the parish, the Dowlings said seeing the people fill the pews and taking in the striking details of the church — the high altar and the stained-glass windows — was an overwhelming feeling.
"It's just completely different from most churches," Al Dowling said. "People stay here in the community, especially when they see how valuable it is to be so close to everything."
Longtime parishioner Julie Schulte remembers watching from the window of her classroom as students from Christian Brothers College High School — when it was located on nearby Clayton Road — marched to the church for Mass. "I remember what a big deal that was," she said. "The whole school would march down in formation and have Mass here."
Helen Jaegers and her late husband, Tony, joined the parish in 1954. She said the parish, especially the people, reminded her so much of the small-town church she attended as a child. "The priests here have been really nice," she said, noting the current pastor, Father John-Paul Hopping. "Everybody works so good together."
>> Mass Mob
WHEN: 10:30 a.m. Sunday, March 19
WHERE: St. Luke the Evangelist Church, 7230 Dale Ave. in Richmond Heights; a reception with refreshments and short tours of the church will be available after Mass.
MORE INFO: St. Louis Mass Mob on Facebook, or stlukestl.org RELATED ARTICLE(S):First St. Louis Mass Mob evokes memories, pride for north St. Louis church