History of St. Joseph Catholic Church
Location: 106 N. Meramec Avenue; intersection next to Maryland Avenue
Clayton, MO 63105
Source: Church Records
150 Years Plus of Faith
We Americans do indeed have a rich Catholic heritage. It had 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. Possession of 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 Bishop Louis William Du Bourg who was appointed
Apostolic Administrator of Louisiana in 1812 and took up residence in St. Louis in 1818. This was accomplished in
large part by his establishment of schools and seminaries in the area, and by starting construction of his Cathedral
on the riverfront. Succeeding Bishop Du Bourg in 1826 was Bishop Joseph Rosati who took title to the land on which
St. Martin's Church, predecessor to St. Joseph's Church in Clayton was erected.
St. Martin's 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 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 City of
Olivette, reveal it developed and flourished years before the City of Clayton came into being 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's Church, being the eastern most four acres of the present day Centerton Park, was transferred to Joseph Rosati,
first bishop of the Diocese of St. Louis, and to his lawful successors, in May 1842, by 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
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's Church, a brick structure thirty-seven feet square, was erected on the site,
and had a seating capacity of 150. The corner stone was laid September 4, 1842 and the church dedicated April 21, 1844 by Rev. George A. Carrel,
President of St. Louis University and future Bishop of Covington, Kentucky. The church also 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 Old Cathedral
on the St. Louis riverfront to attend Mass. That 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 parishioners of St. Martin's were predominantly French and Irish. The various pastors would lead you to believe that the Irish had
the upper hand. They were Father P. R. Donnelly, 1845 to 1849, James Murphy, 1849 to 1850, Dennis Kennedy, 1854 to 1857, Patrick Brady, 1857 to 1862,
Thomas O'Leary, 1862 to 1864, L. Smith, 1864 to 1865, and finally James B. Jackson in 1865, who presided at St. Martin's when the parish was
moved to Clayton in 1885 and became known as St. Joseph's.
St. Joseph's 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, 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 the continuing decline of Centerton, Father Jackson, pastor of St. Martin's realized that a move to Clayton was
The first step towards the move of St. Martin's 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 St. Martin's parish from Centerton to Clayton, renaming it the parish of St. Joseph's. The corner stone for the church was laid August 15, 1885
and dedicated June 26, 1886 by P.P. Brady, Vicar General.
Father Jackson's pastorate at St. Joseph's lasted until 1899. He served the parishioners of St. Martin's 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's 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 did not go along with that idea, but agreed that on occasion a priest
conversant in German would be allowed them. As indicated above, Father Jackson continued as pastor until 1899 when upon his death, he was succeeded by Father
Michael Busch who served until 1908.
In 1908, Father Stepka became pastor of St. Joseph's and continued on in that post until his death in 1946. He had the
distinction oh having the longest tenure, 38 years, at St. Joseph's. When Father Stepka first took over at St. Joseph's, 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's parish.
Father Stepka felt a deep sense of pride and proprietorship in his 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
protesting against what he perceived to be a dismemberment of his 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
was erected on the church site at a cost of $30,000.00. The corner stone was laid on June 25, 1912, and Archbishop John J. Glennon, later Cardinal, 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.
Louis Gutman, the Jewish owner of Gutman's department store was one of the first contributors.
The strong relationship between St. Joseph and the business community continued with such activities as a Tuesday
brown-bag Luncheon/Lecture series directed by Father Francis Muellner in the 1940's, the establishment of a lay school board after Vatican II
(one of the first in the Archdiocese), and in the 1950's the introduction by Father Francis Odlum of a daily Mass at noon which still
continues as a strong component of the parish life, with an average daily attendance of over 100 worshipers.
This broadly based support has made possible such activities in the 1990's as an ecumenically based committee which is constructing a Habitat
for Humanity house in north St. Louis.
Continuing the tradition of care for the Lord's house, Monsignor Louis Meyer accomplished a renovation of the church interior, including the purchase of
a new organ while paying off the debt incurred in creating handicapped access and creating a new sacristy during the
administration of Father Frank Muellner in the 1980's. Monsignor Jerome F. Wilkerson, who followed him initiated
extensive improvement of the church rectory, including a total renovation of the rectory meeting place, "the Madonna Room" and also totally
renovated the parish hall in the lower level 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 accomplished and paid for.
In June 1999, Monsignor Dennis Delaney was appointed Pastor of St. Joseph. After only six months however, the Archdiocese had need of him as Rector of
Kenrick-Glennon Seminary and he left St. Joseph. Along with his pastoral duties, he continued the care of the parish by attention to several maintenance problems
including upgrading of the church air conditioning system.
In December 1999, Monsignor Vernon E. Gardin was appointed by Archbishop Justin Rigali as Pastor. He continued to serve as Executive Director of the
Archdiocese Department of Special Education. Monsignor Gardin renewed the St. Joseph Parish Council and made many improvements to the rectory and church
while at St. Joseph. After only two years, Archbishop Rigali appointed him Pastor of the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis (the "new Cathedral").
Father John B. Shamleffer became Pastor of St. Joseph on April 5th, 2002 while continuing to serve as Judicial Vicar
of the Metropolitan Tribunal Office. In September, 2003, Father Shamleffer was made Monsignor Shamleffer by the Holy See.
During his pastorate the church has been enhanced as the liturgical center of the parish by a new floor and furnishings
as well as needlepoint created by members of the parish. In 2004 Msgr. Shamleffer, was made a Knight of The Equestrian
Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, a group which traces its origins to the crusades.
Saint Joseph, with a long-standing tradition as "mother church" to some 18 parishes continues as a strong residential
worship community of 644 families and as a Catholic worship center for Clayton, the county seat of St. Louis County, Missouri.
CHRONOLOGY OF PASTORS
ST. JOSEPH PARISH
2002-Present Rev. Msgr. John B. Shamleffer
1999-2002 Rev. Msgr. Vernon E. Gardin
1999-1999 Rev. Msgr. Dennis Delaney
1994-1999 Rev. Msgr. Jerome F. Wilkerson
1985-1994 Rev. Msgr. Louis Meyer
1976-1985 Rev. Francis A. Muellner
1955-1976 Rev. Thomas Odlum
1946-1955 Rev. William Glynn
1908-1946 Rev. Victor Stepka
1899-1908 Rev. Michael Busch
1885-1899 Rev. James Jackson
ST. MARTIN PARISH
1865-1889 Rev. James Butler Jackson
1864-1865 Rev. L. Smith
1862-1864 Rev. Thomas O'Leary
1857-1862 Rev. Patrick Brady
1854-1857 Rev. Dennis Kennedy
1850-1854 Rev. James Higgins
1849-1850 Rev. James Murphy
1842-1849 Rev. P. R. Donnelly