Long before St. Louis became a diocese in 1826, men and women religious had spurred the growth of Catholicism in the United States.
Franciscans, Dominicans and Jesuits ministered to the New World’s pioneers in the 17th century, and the Ursuline Sisters joined the effort in the 18th century in New Orleans, all of them planting seeds for the Catholic faith.
In the St. Louis area, the Vincentians, the Jesuits, the Christian Brothers, the Society of the Sacred Heart, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet and others came on board in the 19th century with more religious communities to follow in the 20th as St. Louis became known as the “Rome of the West.”
Together, numerous men and women religious and homegrown clergy nurtured Catholicism’s growth here. There’s no denying it, or getting around it: Our city, named after a saint and founded by Catholics Pierre Laclede and Auguste Chouteau, developed thanks to the influence of the Catholic Church.
They’ve taught in Catholic schools, taken care of the sick in Catholic hospitals and accompanied the poor and downtrodden in social justice ministries. Priests, both religious and secular, have celebrated the Eucharist and administered the sacraments in all times, whether good and bad, in sickness and in health.
We owe them our gratitude, and this issue of the St. Louis Review, in a small way, commemorates their lifetimes of achievement.
The jubilarians of 2018 — more than 200 women and men religious, an additional 14 priests and five deacons — are celebrating significant anniversaries this year in consecrated or clerical life. Women and men religious mark the dates they were received into their communities or professed their vows. Priests from religious communities also celebrate their ordinations, as do archdiocesan priests and deacons.
Archdiocesan priests and deacons have been stalwarts in parish life in the archdiocese. Many have contributed in education and formation in our Catholic schools and others have performed sterling ministry to the military and at hospitals as chaplains, or served in a foreign land. Meanwhile, religious sisters, brothers and priests have served in numerous ministries all around the world, freely sharing their gifts and education.
Many religious sisters were educated at local Catholic colleges such as Saint Louis University and Fontbonne, former Catholic colleges such as Webster University and Maryville University, or long-since closed schools such as Notre Dame College and Marillac College. At the time, in the 1940s and ’50s, few college campus had women students, let alone women wearing habits.
Many religious and all clergy have at least master’s degrees; others have doctorates. Numerous clergy and religious have letters to signify their degrees behind their names, though they humbly list few if any in regular correspondence.
But that’s the humble Catholic Way of quietly bringing the light of Christ into world, of being the face of Christ to whomever they meet and to live as Jesus taught — “To serve, not to be served.”
This week we honor them. We humbly pray that more men and women listen to and accept God’s call to serve Him and others, to evangelize and spread the joy of the Gospel in St. Louis and beyond.