As Theresa Naumann Kirchmer and Mary Anne Naumann Miller gathered with their family and friends for 10 a.m. Mass on March 6 at Our Lady of the Holy Cross Church in Baden, cantor Maggie Tebeau sang a prelude.
“How beautiful is the Body of Christ,” Tebeau intoned, the refrain of Twila Paris’ “How Beautiful.”
Over the past two years, Theresa and Mary Anne have been discovering precisely that: the beauty of the diverse Body of Christ throughout the Archdiocese of St. Louis. The twin sisters set out on March 6, 2020, to visit 70 churches in one year, aiming to finish their journey on their 70th birthday. Because of COVID-related closures and restrictions, the journey instead took two years, and the sisters attended Mass at their 70th church on March 6, 2022 — their 71st birthday.
The twins were inspired by the story of Dave Murphy, who visited nearly every church in the archdiocese in 2019 to mark his 50th birthday.
“We wanted to do something to mark 70 years, so we thought, why not 70 churches?” Theresa said.
Their journey began at St. Francis Xavier “College” Church. Besides being a beautiful and historic church of the archdiocese, “we’re Billikens fans,” Theresa said.
The twins’ roots are in north St. Louis, where they grew up in Corpus Christi Parish in Jennings. Their mother was from Holy Rosary; their father from St. Philip Neri. As two of 10 children, the sisters remember their parish as the hub for both their Catholic faith and social lives.
“Our parish was the center of the community in which we grew up,” Mary Anne said. “It was like an extension of our family.”
Mary Anne is now a parishioner at St. Joseph Parish in Cottleville, the largest parish in the archdiocese, while Theresa moved south to Ste. Genevieve Parish in Ste. Genevieve, the oldest in the archdiocese; both are retired Catholic school teachers. The sisters made a point to visit other churches that held meaning for their family history.
“Some were personally touching for us,” Theresa said. “Aside from it being a beautiful church, one of our grandmas was baptized at the Shrine of St. Joseph. Our maternal grandparents were married at St. Bridget’s, so we went to Sts. Teresa and Bridget Church.”
The sisters also took the opportunity to visit churches they’d never been to before. At St. Cecilia in south St. Louis, they marveled at the mosaics. At St. Mary of Victories chapel Downtown, they accepted an invitation to join parishioners for a traditional Hungarian lunch after Mass.
“People were absolutely so welcoming,” Mary Anne said. “And they always said, ‘please come back again!’”
Besides soaking up the rich history of the archdiocese of St. Louis through the church buildings, the sisters were also impressed by the faithful they met at each stop. The community outreach they witnessed at parishes like St. Augustine in north St. Louis and Sts. Peter and Paul in Soulard really stood out to them, they said.
“(Those churches) are just vital to their communities,” Mary Anne said.
At every church, the sisters made a point to take photos inside and next to the cornerstone (when visible) to document their journey, sharing their progress on Facebook with the hashtag #Journeyto70. They’re grateful to the pastors and associate pastors who offered blessings to them after Mass. Without leaving the boundaries of the Archdiocese of St. Louis, they were able to experience a small cross-section of the universal Church, Theresa said.
“We’ve been to a Vietnamese Mass, a Hungarian Mass — Polish, Spanish, Latin. And (the Mass) is the same,” Theresa said. “There’s always been a comfort in that for me, that today in Poland or Michigan or Bolivia, we’re hearing the same readings.”
The twins were joined for their final Mass at Our Lady of the Holy Cross by their husbands, children, grandchildren, and a horde of siblings, cousins, nieces, nephews and friends. Mary Anne and Theresa chose the Baden parish as their final location to honor their North St. Louis roots and their parents and grandparents before them, they said. Sitting in the pews surrounded by their own descendants, they were reminded of the joy that comes from sharing their Catholic faith with their loved ones and passing down the traditions to the next generations.
Many of those present had joined the sisters for a Mass (or several) along the way. “Throughout this journey, we rarely traveled alone,” Theresa said.
The group filled the church basement after Mass for birthday cake and other refreshments. Theresa thanked the group before they sang “Happy Birthday,” saying, “This journey just turned into one blessing after another.”
“Thanks for letting us come along!” a voice shouted from the crowd.
While the sisters have now met their goal of visiting 70 churches in the archdiocese, (“Maybe next we’ll shoot for 71 different fish fries,” Theresa joked) they plan to continue informally checking out even more churches as their schedules allow. While the physical makeup of the archdiocese will look different in the coming years, the sisters are confident that the vibrancy they witnessed in so many different pews will persist.
“We truly are one body,” Mary Anne said. “We’re all in this together, and we need each other.”
The Naumann sisters were inspired by Dave Murphy, who visited nearly every church in the archdiocese in 2019 to celebrate his 50th birthday.
Read his story here: https://stlreview.com/363QSWZ