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Father Jacob Wessel watched the solar eclipse April 8 on the grounds of Father John Dempsey Field in Ste. Genevieve. Several groups gathered at the field, including priests and several families, to watch the total eclipse.
Father Jacob Wessel watched the solar eclipse April 8 on the grounds of Father John Dempsey Field in Ste. Genevieve. Several groups gathered at the field, including priests and several families, to watch the total eclipse.
Photo Credit: Jacob Wiegand

A celestial spectacle

Catholics inside, outside path of total solar eclipse express a sense of wonder, awe at God’s creation

Max Creed, 10, a parishioner at Our Lady in Festus, watched the solar eclipse April 8 on the grounds of Father John Dempsey Field in Ste. Genevieve.
Photo Credit: Jacob Wiegand
It was a glorious day to be outside.

And what a day it was in Ste. Genevieve, where, for the second time in seven years, the community observed a total solar eclipse.

A group of archdiocesan priests and several Catholic families gathered on the grounds of the Father John Dempsey Field, home of the Valle Catholic football team, for the April 8 solar event. Ste. Genevieve Parish pastor Father Edward Nemeth said the spontaneous gathering was an opportunity for the community to come together, and the Church could be a part of that moment.

Father Nemeth said he noticed an increase in Mass attendance the weekend before the eclipse. Thousands of people traveled long distances to reach the path of totality, which covered southeastern portions of the archdiocese, including Ste. Genevieve, Perryville, and Farmington.

A family from Minnesota stopped at the football field in Ste. Genevieve, realizing because of the heavy traffic along I-55 it was about as far as they could get before the moon totally eclipsed the sun that afternoon. Totality in Ste. Genevieve began at 1:58 p.m. and lasted for 2 minutes and 46 seconds.

“Just that little moment with them, they interacted with the Church. They just thought they were going to a field, but these priests were here, these families were here,” Father Nemeth said. “We welcomed them, played with them. A celestial event like an eclipse gives people a perspective of where we are in the universe. There is something so much greater than us that is guiding the course of human events.”

The eclipse reached totality April 8 as seen from the grounds of Father John Dempsey Field in Ste. Genevieve. Eclipse viewers at the location experienced two minutes and 46 seconds of totality where the moon completely covered the sun.
Photo Credit: Jacob Wiegand
That’s why eclipse events are so special — even for people who don’t have faith, Father Nemeth said. “They flock to them because deep in their souls, they’re longing and searching for something,” he said.

Ste. Genevieve associate pastor Father Jacob Wessel celebrated an 11:30 a.m. Mass for the feast of the Annunciation. In his homily, he drew a parallel between Mary’s great act of faith, our faith in God and the eclipse: “We know the sun exists — not because we’re always looking at the sun, but because we we see everything by the light of the sun. Likewise, we should see everything by the light of the Incarnation, by the light of this great feast that we celebrate today — that the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.”

After Mass, Father Wessel rode his bike to the football field to join the gathering. Just as the moon was beginning to eclipse the sun, Chris and Rene Creed and their children arrived with a wood-fired oven in tow—the family owns Pedal’n Pi, a bicycle shop and pizza restaurant in Crystal City. The Creeds’ eldest child, Aubrey, who recently began a career in culinary arts, handcrafted pizzas for everyone for lunch.

During the eclipse, Aubrey’s mom, Rene Creed, asked those standing next to her: “Does anybody else have chills?” But it wasn’t the eclipse’s phenomena — the significant drop in temperature and darkening of the sky — that prompted her to ask the question.

“It felt natural for me to say Hail Marys during it, because that’s my go-to,” she said. “This just gives credit to God and how wonderful and beautiful this world is that He created for us. And how lucky we are to appreciate and experience this.”

Jude Creed, 4, viewed the solar eclipse with his mother, Rene Creed, and Tim and Francie Surdyke on April 8 on the grounds of Father John Dempsey Field in Ste. Genevieve. The Creeds are parishioners at Our Lady in Festus and the Surdykes are parishioners at Ste. Genevieve.
Photo Credit: Jacob Wiegand
Father Henry Purcell, pastor at St. Theodore in Flint Hill, traveled to Zell the night before the eclipse to visit with former parishioners and then joined the group in Ste. Genevieve on April 8. He had been anticipating both solar eclipses since he was about 9 years old and developed an interest in astronomy. Father Purcell observed the 2017 eclipse when he was an associate pastor at Immaculate Conception in Dardenne Prairie.

As the sky fell to a dim, Father Purcell reflected: “It’s an incredible gift, the idea that the moon is perfectly over the sun,” he said. “It’s incredible how God made the universe, and He reveals Himself through His voice and through the beauty of the creation He made.”

Once the moon totally passed before the sun, revealing a brilliant, sparkling corona, Father Anthony Gerber, senior associate pastor at Ste. Genevieve, pointed out to the group the planets that were visible in the darkened sky.

While people of faith have the capacity to connect faith and science, he said, there’s also something totally mystical about an eclipse—“that God would have something like this happen where God has infused science and nature with a sense of awe.”

“If you don’t believe there’s order in the universe — just look at that,” Father John Schneier, associate pastor at Incarnate Word in Chesterfield, said as he gestured toward the sky. “If you don’t believe that the creator of the universe can allow for such beauty to take place, then I’ve got nothing for you.”

Outside the path of totality

Cal Gabor, left, Timmy Herr and Brendan Rose observed the solar eclipse at Incarnate Word School in Chesterfield on April 8, which experienced 98% of totality. The boys are sixth-graders at the school.
Photo Credit: Teak Phillips
While St. Louis was not in the path of totality, many schools in the area made the most of the near-total eclipse.

At Incarnate Word School in Chesterfield, junior high students spent the half-hour leading up to the eclipse creating simple pinhole viewers with paper, which show increasingly narrow crescent shadows and UV bead bracelets. The beads started out clear, then turned bright colors as they absorbed the sun’s rays; as the sunlight faded behind the moon, the beads turned back to clear.

Junior high science teacher Ann Book walked among the groups of students spread out on the field, giving tips and explaining the stages of the eclipse.

“Do you guys notice it’s starting to get darker? That’s not just your imagination,” she told a group. As more of the sun disappeared behind the moon, a cool, evening-like breeze ruffled the trees in the dimming sunlight.

The eclipse peaked in Chesterfield at about 2 p.m., with 98% of the sun covered by the moon.

“It was weird for it to get dark in the middle of the day,” said sixth-grader Caroline Baldwin. “This is the first eclipse that I’ve actually seen. I didn’t live here back in 2017.”

Earlier in the school year, the sixth-graders covered lunar and solar eclipses in science class, said classmate Sammie Chisholm. “So I was really excited to see this one,” Sammie said. “I liked seeing the changes in the sun as it got darker and smaller.”

Connor Malone, left, and Charlie Dugan observed the solar eclipse at Incarnate Word School in Chesterfield.
Photo Credit: Teak Phillips
The younger grades joined the middle schoolers for the peak of the eclipse, accompanied by many parents and other family members who came to view it together.

Jordan Snyder was glad to share the experience with his son, a kindergartener experiencing a solar eclipse for the first time. “He learned a lot in school about what an eclipse is, and we talked about it at home and got him ready for today,” he said. “I think he enjoyed the process of getting the glasses and getting prepared, and it was exciting to see what it was actually like in person.”

Incarnate World grandmother Amy Garrison was in awe watching the eclipse, thinking, “Who doesn’t believe there’s a God? Seriously, it’s amazing,” she said. “It was a very spiritual experience for me.”

Book’s enthusiasm was palpable as she watched the eclipse alongside her students.

“(The eclipse) is such a rare occasion that we have no control over. We just get to experience it. It’s one of those great miracles that we get to witness,” she said. “It’s absolutely remarkable that our moon and our sun in the sky are almost exactly the same size from where we are on earth. No other planet has that…It’s such a remarkable natural occurrence, that you just have to soak it up when it happens.”

As a junior high science teacher, “Being able to go outside and actually be able to experience science instead of just talking about it — that’s a huge benefit,” she said. “It shows them it’s accessible — it’s not just something you can only study with fancy equipment.”

The eclipse — even at 98% totality instead of 100% — was a great opportunity for the school community to experience the wonder of God’s creation together, Incarnate Word principal Susan Cunningham said.

“At Incarnate Word School, we’re all about ‘God’s love made visible.’ That’s our mission statement,” she said. “So here is another example of God’s love made visible, right here in Chesterfield.”

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