St. Joseph Catholic Church is a diverse parish with an established (since 1842) and rich heritage of faith. We recognize that any New Beginning is dependent upon the strengths of the past, as well as the continued growth of all parishioners.
Guided by St. Joseph, our Patron, we are strengthened and renewed. Our Mission is to help one another imitate the life and teachings of Jesus by loving, serving, healing, reconciling and educating all age levels.
Using the gifts and talents given to us all, we will come to minister to the needs of our entire community, always welcoming new members as part of our family. Also, we are empowered to contribute to our Archdiocese, our nation and to the Universal Church.
—Parish Council, 1992
We Americans have a rich Catholic heritage. It has its beginnings with America’s discovery and the arrival of the Spanish missionaries. It was added to for us in the Midwest by the French who in 1682 claimed the region which was to become known as the Louisiana Territory, of which the State of Missouri was a part. The territory was traded back and forth between France and Spain by treaties in 1762 and 1800, with the United States becoming the ultimate possessor by virtue of the Louisiana Purchase from France in 1803.
Our Catholic heritage in the St. Louis area was particularly enhanced by the Most Reverend Louis William Du Bourg who was appointed Apostolic Administrator of Louisiana and the Two Floridas in 1812 and took up residence in St. Louis in 1818. Here he established schools and seminaries in the area, and began construction of the Cathedral on the riverfront. Succeeding Bishop Du Bourg in 1826 was the Most Reverend Joseph Rosati. C.M., who took title to the land on which St. Martin Church, predecessor to St. Joseph Church in Clayton, was built.
St. Martin Church – Centerton
Travel to the City of Olivette today and view the property on the north side of Old Bonhomme Road between Price Road and Bon Price Terrace and you will find Centerton Park, adjoined by Logos High School. This area marks the sites of St. Martin’s Church, predecessor to St. Joseph’s Church in Clayton, St. Martin’s Cemetery, and the old Central Public School. They were all part of an 80 acre tract of land acquired by Mr. Ringrose D. Watson, a native of Ireland and St. Louis merchant, by a land patent issued by President John Quincy Adams in 1828.
Histories written on the area known as Central, alias Center Town and Centerton, subsequently the Village, later the City of Olivette, reveal that it developed and flourished years before the City of Clayton came into existence as a result of an overland route laid out in 1825 from the St. Louis riverfront to what is now Ballas Road and Olive Boulevard by the Town of St. Louis. This route was eventually extended due west beyond Gumbo to the Missouri River. A document recorded in May 1851, in the St. Louis Recorder of Deeds Office, referred to the route as the Central Plank Road and stated that it began “where Olive Street in the City of St. Louis crosses the western boundary of said city, and following the highway known as Bonhomme Road, passing the Central Tavern in Central Township, and deviating only to shorten the distance to a point on the Missouri River known as Howell’s Ferry Landing.” It was at this point that locals and travelers to the far West were ferried across the river to St. Charles County. The settlement of Central was founded about halfway along the route and furnished food, supplies, and lodging to travelers. The route was also instrumental in the growth of the area.
The site of St. Martin Church, being the eastern most four acres of the present day Centerton Park, was transferred to the Most Reverend Joseph Rosati, first Bishop of the Diocese of St. Louis, and to his lawful successors, in May 1842, by Mr. Ringrose D. Watson and his wife, Frances. The consideration for granting the property by the Watsons was the “good will, attachment and esteem” they have for and bear unto the Roman Catholic Religion and for the sum of $1.00. There was a condition in the deed that the property was to “be used only for the purpose of having erected thereon, A Roman Catholic Church or churches, a school house for children under the direction of said Bishop Rosati, and his lawful successors as such, and for such other pious purpose as the said Bishop and his lawful successors as aforesaid may designate.” St. Martin Church, a brick structure thirty-seven feet square, was erected on the site, and had a seating capacity of 150. The cornerstone was laid on September 4, 1842, and the church was dedicated on April 21, 1844, by the Reverend George A. Carrel, S.J., Pastor of Saint Francis Xavier Parish and future President of St. Louis University and later Bishop of Covington, Kentucky. The church served as a convenience to the Watsons who lived not far away on their Fruit Hill Farm, because for the first twenty years of their residence there they had to travel ten miles to the Cathedral of Saint Louis on the riverfront to attend Mass. The Watsons also had a lot in the cemetery laid out on the church grounds, surrounded by a wrought iron fence depicting weeping angels.
The early members of St. Martin Parish were predominantly French and Irish. The pastors were the Reverend P. R. Donnelly, 1845 to 1849, the Reverend James Murphy, 1849 to 1850, the Reverend Dennis Kennedy, 1854 to 1857, the Reverend Patrick Brady, 1857 to 1862, the Reverend Thomas O’Leary, 1862 to 1864, the Reverend L. Smith, 1864 to 1865, and finally the Reverend James B. Jackson in 1865, who was Pastor at St. Martin Parish when its center was moved to Clayton in 1885 and became known as St. Joseph Parish.
St. Joseph Church – Clayton
Until August 22, 1876, the City of St. Louis was the county seat of St. Louis County. Under the provisions of a new state constitution adopted by the voters of the state in 1875, the City of St. Louis was authorized to frame a charter for its separated government; a board of freeholders to be created to propose a scheme for the definitions of the boundaries between the city and county; and the reorganization of the county. In October 1877, Mr. Ralph Clayton and Mrs. Cyrene C. Hanley donated 100 acres and 4 acres, respectively, for a site of the new county seat of activity, and with the continuing decline of Centerton, Father Jackson, Pastor of St. Martin Parish, realized that a move to Clayton was imminent.
The first step towards the move of St. Martin parishioners to Clayton was made when the County of St. Louis, in May 1881, donated the property located at the southwest corner of Maryland Avenue and Meramec to the “Reverend Father J. B. Jackson and his successors in trust to the use of the Clayton Catholic Church of the County of St. Louis.” However, the time was not yet ripe for Father Jackson to make his move. In August 1882, the property adjoining the donated church lot on the west was acquired by the Mount Olive Saengerbund from the County of St. Louis. The Saengerbund was a German singing and social club which had been organized at Mount Olive in 1881. In 1883, it constructed a meeting place, Saengerbund Hall, on the Clayton property for its membership, approximately 120 young men. With the exception of the church lot, the Saengerbund owned the entire block fronting on Maryland Avenue, between Meramec and Brentwood Avenue. To complete its
ownership of the block, the Saegerbund struck an agreement with Father Jackson. It would purchase a lot in the immediate neighborhood of at least equal value, and more suitable for church purposes, and Father Jackson would in turn sign over the property he acquired from the county in 1881. This was all accomplished in July 1885 with the Saengerbund purchasing the lot on the northeast corner of Maryland Avenue and Meramec for $350.00 from Stephen A. Bemis, Trustee, etc., in the name of Father Jackson “and to his successors in trust for the use and benefit of the Clayton Catholic Church.” Then, Father Jackson, as trustee for the Clayton Catholic Church gave a deed on the property at the southwest corner of Maryland Avenue and Meramec to the Saengerbund. The County of St. Louis also deeded the latter property to the Saegerbund to transfer any legal right it might have had in it, because the county asserted that the real consideration for its deed to Father Jackson had been that the property was to be used for church purposes. The former proposed church site now comprises part of the site of the Clayton Mercantile Center building.
Immediately following the acquisition of the lot on the northeast corner of Maryland Avenue and Meramec, Father Jackson built a parsonage and a 200-seat frame church on the site, and moved the center of St. Martin Parish from Centerton to Clayton, renaming it St. Joseph. The cornerstone for the church was laid August 15, 1885 and dedicated June 26, 1886 by the Very Reverend P.P. Brady, Vicar General.
Father Jackson’s pastorate at St. Joseph Parish lasted until 1899. He served the parishioners of St. Martin and St. Joseph’s for a total of 34 years. He was known for his generosity and wit, and was not one to stand on formality. However, his term of office was not without problems. By 1893, the membership of St. Joseph Parish was about equally divided between English and German speaking people. Some of the parishioners wanted a priest who was at home with both languages. Besides that, Father Jackson was getting on in years and not in the best of health. Consequently, these parishioners sought to have a younger priest with the desired language capability replace Father Jackson. The church authorities agreed that on occasion a priest conversant in German would be provided for them. As indicated above, Father Jackson continued as Pastor until 1899 when upon his death, he was succeeded by the Reverend Michael Busch who served until 1908.
In 1908, the Reverend Victor Stepka was appointed Pastor of St. Joseph Parish and remained as Pastor until his death in 1946. He had the distinction of having the longest tenure, 38 years, at St. Joseph. When Father Stepka first became Pastor at St. Joseph Parish, only 90 families lived in the Parish which covered the area bounded by St. Charles Rock Road, Manchester Road, Forest Park and the Creve Coeur car tracks. By the time of his death, thirteen new parishes had been carved out of the area, but 500 families still remained in St. Joseph Parish. Father Stepka felt a deep sense of pride and proprietorship in the Parish and was not particularly happy when the Archdiocese changed the boundary lines and created new parishes. In fact, he had on at least one occasion visited the Apostolic Delegate in Washington, D.C., and registered a complaint there protesting against what he perceived to be a dismemberment of the Parish. His superiors might have been irked by his militancy, but admitted that he had an excellent record, was a devoted priest, and always worked faithfully in his parishes.
As the membership of the Parish grew, the 200-seat frame church could not accommodate them. Therefore, in 1912, a larger brick structure was erected on the church site at a cost of $30,000.00. The cornerstone was laid on June 25, 1912, and the Most Reverend John J. Glennon, Archbishop of St. Louis, dedicated the church on December 15, 1912.
On Sunday afternoon, March 1, 1925, a disastrous fire occurred in the church. According to one newspaper account, the damage caused by the fire, smoke and water was estimated to be as high as $50,000.00 or more. In addition to damage to the structure, imported vestments, the pipe organ, three altars, three stained glass windows, and furniture and records of the Knights of Columbus kept in the basement were ruined. The Clayton Fire Department expressed the opinion that the origin of the fire appeared to be from a fallen candle from one of the two side altars. Father Stepka rebuilt the Parish church he had built and so long cared for with the help of the Clayton community. Mr. Louis Gutman, the Jewish owner of Gutman’s Department store, was one of the first contributors.
The strong relationship between St. Joseph Parish and the business community continued especially with the introduction by the Reverend Francis Odlum of a daily Mass at noon which remains a strong component of Parish life, with an average daily attendance of over 50 worshipers. This broadly based support has made possible such activities in the 1990’s as an ecumenically based committee which constructed a Habitat for Humanity house in north St. Louis.
Continuing the tradition of care for the Lord’s house, the Reverend Msgr. Louis Meyer accomplished a renovation of the church interior, including the purchase of a new organ while paying off the debt incurred in creating disabled access and creating an enlarged sacristy during the administration of Father Muellner in the 1980’s. The Reverend Msgr. Jerome F. Wilkerson, who followed him, began improvements of the church rectory, including an updating of the Madonna Room on the lower level of the rectory and also updated the Parish hall in the undercroft of the church. Also, during this time, much needed capital maintenance of the school building – tuck pointing, replastering, and improvements in heating and lighting – were made.
In June 1999, the Reverend Msgr. Dennis M. Delaney was appointed Pastor of St. Joseph Parish. After only six months, however, he was appointed Rector of Kenrick-Glennon Seminary. During his brief pastorate, he repaired the church air conditioning system.
In December 1999, the Reverend Msgr. Vernon E. Gardin, Ph.D., was appointed Pastor of Saint Joseph Parish. He continued to serve as Executive Director of the Archdiocese Department of Special Education. He renewed the St. Joseph Parish Pastoral Council and made repairs and improvements to the rectory and church. After only two years, he was appointed Pastor of the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis.
The Very Reverend John B. Shamleffer, J.C.L., was appointed Pastor of St. Joseph Parish in April 2002, while continuing to serve as Judicial Vicar of the Archdiocese. In September 2003, he was named an Honorary Prelate by the Holy See. During his pastorate, much need improvements were made to the church with a new floor and furnishings, as well as needlepoint created by members of the Parish. In 2004, he was made a Knight of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem. In August 2013, he was appointed Pastor of St. Gabriel, the Archangel, Parish in St. Louis, MO.
In August 2013, the Very Reverend Nicholas Kastenholz, J.C.L., was appointed Parochial Administrator of St. Joseph Parish and at the same time was appointed Judicial Vicar. The following year he was appointed Pastor of the Parish. During his pastorate, he repaired the
roofs on the rectory and school. In June 2019, he was appointed Pastor of Assumption Parish in O’Fallon.
In June 2019, the Very Reverend Philip J. Bené, J.C.D., LL.M., was appointed Pastor of St. Joseph Parish and at the same time was appointed Judicial Vicar. Since that time, Father Bené has made repairs and improvements to the Parish hall and the vestibules and sacristies of the church
PASTORS OF ST. MARTIN PARISH
1842-1849 Rev. P. R. Donnelly
1849-1850 Rev. James Murphy
1850-1854 Rev. James Higgins
1854-1857 Rev. Dennis Kennedy
1857-1862 Rev. Patrick Brady
1862-1864 Rev. Thomas O’Leary
1864-1865 Rev. L. Smith
1865-1889 Rev. James Butler Jackson
PASTORS OF ST. JOSEPH PARISH
1885-1899 Rev. James Jackson
1899-1908 Rev. Michael Busch
1908-1946 Rev. Victor Stepka
1946-1955 Rev. William Glynn
1955-1976 Rev. Thomas Odlum
1976-1985 Rev. Francis A. Muellner
1985-1994 Rev. Msgr. Louis Meyer
1994-1999 Rev. Msgr. Jerome F. Wilkerson
1999-1999 Rev. Msgr. Dennis Delaney
1999-2002 Rev. Msgr. Vernon E. Gardin
2002-2013 Rev. Msgr. John B. Shamleffer
2013-2019 Rev. Nicholas E. Kastenholz
2019-present Rev. Philip J. Bené