The gathering early on a Saturday morning outside the New Jerusalem Cathedral in the College Hill neighborhood of St. Louis and efforts to clean up its vandalized interior brought joy to Terry Grotpeter.
It was her family’s ancestral parish home when the ornate structure — a landmark just west of the Water Tower on Grand Avenue in north St. Louis — was Most Holy Name of Jesus Church. It was built in 1916 for a parish founded in 1865, and served the community until it closed in 1992.
“My family went to church here in the ’20s and ’30s and possibly in the early ’40s, but then they moved over to Holy Rosary,” said Grotpeter, who is now a parishioner of St. Augustine in St. Louis, where her husband serves as a deacon.
Grotpeter’s father, Reynold Burkard, and her grandmother, Alice Burkard, were quite familiar with the church. Her dad and his brother sang in the church choir. “This is a thrill for me to get a good look at the church,” Grotpeter said.
It was sold and became New Jerusalem Cathedral, part of the Church of God in Christ. In 2018, the church was broken into and vandalized and hasn’t been used since. A partnership of various faiths supports the effort to repair and revitalize the structure to be used by the Protestant denomination. Archbishop Mitchell Rozanski and archdiocesan staff members helped lead the ecumenical effort, which kicked off at a prayer service and clean-up by volunteers on Oct. 2.
Prayer and community service
Archbishop Rozanski and Bishop Nelson Watts and Bishop Lawrence Wooten of the Church of God in Christ joined the faithful in prayer and community service in the hopes of making New Jerusalem Cathedral a worship place again. Archbishop Rozanski gave the opening reflection, the commissioning and final benediction. Simeon Layne of St. Augustine Parish led hymns.
In leading prayers, Archbishop Rozanski sought God’s help in the endeavor, which aims to “build up your people here on earth.” He added that “the power of God works through us.”
Later, he invited people to share the mission of the Gospel to care for one another. “We are called to be those beacons of light” preaching the Gospel in words and by example, Archbishop Rozanski said. “Today is a day of hope here in this place, a day of renewal as we care for one another.”
The interior floor was covered with debris, including boards, shattered glass and plastic, plaster and cardboard. Much of it soon disappeared as the volunteers wielded brooms and dustpans.
An honor to help
Cheryl Archibald, parish life coordinator of St. Matthew Parish in the Ville neighborhood of St. Louis, said it’s an honor to come back and help restore the building. “The area is definitely in need of healing. So we want to be a part of a church that is willing to reach out to the community and heal,” she said.
Pam White of Sts. Teresa and Bridget Parish in the Jeff-Vander-Lou neighborhood grew up in the community when Most Holy Name of Jesus Parish was active. “It’s important that we break down the walls between churches,” she said. “This is a great example. We have in common the desire to spread God’s love and bring others to the church.”
Valerie Dowdy and Mary LePage of Sts. Teresa and Bridget also attended and said that they feel blessed to help.
Father Scott Jones, pastor of Sts. Teresa and Bridget Parish and dean of the North City Deanery, said at the prayer service that it’s important for people to come together. He also prayed for those who vandalized the church building.
Later, Father Jones said that as a newcomer to the area, he’s learning how alive and active Christ is there and how many untold stories exist of the role Catholics
play in the community. He explained that he often says, “Jesus proclaimed the kingdom for those who are marginalized, and the rest of us get to be part of that kingdom to the extent that we love them as much as Jesus did.”
Another pastor, Father Vince Nyman of Our Lady of the Holy Cross Parish in the Baden neighborhood, was busy inside the church stacking chairs in preparation for the rehab. He said “no moment is too small when we can come together as a people, especially people of differences.”
Other volunteers represented Catholic Charities of St. Louis, which has a presence in the community through its Pathways for Progress and other programs.
>> Holy Name of Jesus Parish
Holy Name of Jesus Parish was the first of three parishes started in St. Louis City between 1865 and 1870. The parish originally was known by the name of St. Thomas. The territory was called “College Farm” and was the property of the Jesuits who used it for a summer camp for scholastics and students who taught and studied at St. Louis University, then at Ninth Street and Washington Avenue. Catholics in the vicinity attended Mass in the small chapel of St. Thomas, which was on the farm.
In 1865, a subdivision was formed out of College Farm. As Catholics moved there, a replacement was needed for the small chapel. The new church was modern Romanesque in style and brick and stone in construction, considered one of the finest in the city.