Thursday, October 12, 2006

Photos of Ascension Parish "Little Church', in Chesterfield, Missouri

Ascension Church in Chesterfield, Missouri, is a massive parish of over ten thousands souls in fast-growing western Saint Louis County. It is about 24 highway miles west of downtown Saint Louis, Missouri.

Ascension has a large, modern, auditorium-style church, but the parish did not tear down its original country church, constructed in 1923. It is referred to as Godfrey chapel or the "little church". The exterior is stucco.

The city of Chesterfield is one of the largest in the county, in terms of land area. It absorbed older communities, including Bellefontaine, Bellemonte, Orrville, Centaur Station, Hog Hollow (later called Lake), Monarch (also called Etherton or Ætherton), Gumbo, and Bonhomme. The church sits on a hill overlooking the original old town of Chesterfield, dating from 1817, and which is made up of exactly one block of buildings, some of which have historical interest. Click for a history of Chesterfield.

The valley below the church is in the flood plain of the Missouri River, and was originally called Gumbo Flats, due to its rich, black soil, and level topography; the area still has much good agriculture. It has long been the location of Spirit of Saint Louis airport, the primary regional airport for corporate jets. After the devastaing flood of 1993, which submerged the valley under ten feet of water, the levees were enlarged, and the valley, now renamed "Chesterfield Valley", subsequently developed into a huge "big box" retail shopping district.

The parish has three daily Masses, two of which are celebrated here.

Archdiocesan parish web site:


230 Santa Maria Drive
Chesterfield, Missouri 63005


  1. We go to Ascension a lot. Even the auditorium church is very nice, with appropriately realistic statues and artwork. It's priests are quite orthodox, especially the newly ordained one. This may be part of the reason it is standing-room-only on Sundays.

  2. Patirck,

    Thank you for the comment, it's nice to hear about that.

  3. My family first moved to Chesterfield in 1977 and we joined Ascension and attended the grade school as well. I recall going to Mass solely in the "little church," as well as my father walking us through the new church before it was completely built. The house next to the little church was where the nuns from the Sisters of Loretta lived, and the hall behind the church served as the parish. I even learned to play baseball and soccer on the field right next to the nuns' residence.

    I've long since moved further west, but I have fond memories of the parish, as well as Chesterfield, before the area really grew up. You've done a nice job capturing the pics of the church. Did you go upstairs to the balcony, or is that now closed?

  4. Oops...meant to note that we moved there in 1974 -- the new church was built in 1977, if I recall correctly. I was an alter boy there through high school!

  5. Mark,

    Thank you for posting the photos of "The Little Church." I am a third-generation member of Ascension Parish, and an alumnus from Ascension Grade School (Class of 1972). My grandparents moved to Chesterfield and joined Ascension in 1929. Although "The Little Church" was built in 1923-24, it remained a mission parish without a permanent pastor until Father John Godfrey was assigned by the archbishop just after World War II. Before the original Ascension Church was built, the sole designated parish for this vast area of West St. Louis County, which encompassed small communities such as "Bonhomme," "Orville," "Centaur," "Hilltop," "Hog Hollow," and "Chesterfield," was St. Anthony's on Centaur Road (which was west of the present loaction of the Spirit of St. Louis Airport). Father McCarthy, the pastor at St. Anthony's, would travel to Ascension for a Sunday liturgy after having Mass at St. Anthony's early in the morning. (My grandfather drove out to St. Anthony's every Sunday morning to pick up Fr. McCarthy to bring him to Ascension.) Eventually the Archdiocese decided to discontinue St. Anthony parish and make Ascension the designated Catholic church to cover the territory surrounded by the parish boundaries of St. Monica in Creve Coeur, St. Joseph in Manchester, and Sacred Heart in Eureka. Eventually, as West County grew, new parishes were added (Incarnate Word, Holy Infant, St. Anselm, and St. Clare), and then Ascension grew to the point where a new church was required (and it was completed in 1977) and the parish itself needed to be split into two parishes (hence the creation of St. Albans).

    Before the new Ascension Church was completed, for many years the parish had to double the number of liturgies to accomodate the growing number of parisioners. Those Catholics who lived in Chesterfield in the late 1960's through the late 1970's may remember concurrent Masses being held in the upper level of the Parish Hall, directly behind "The Little Church." The Maryknoll Fathers, who had an active high school seminary in Chesterfield from 1958-1970, often assisted by celebrating Masses at Ascension, beginning with Father Godfrey's death in late 1965, until the Maryknoll Fathers sold the seminary and grounds in 1973. Also, some Benedictine priests from the Priory were also called to help and celebrated Mass at Ascension when we were short of priests.

    As for the simplistic yet beautiful interior of "The Little Church," the arches over the pews, plus the arches over the statues of the Blessed Mother and St. Joseph, and the detailed window frames and surrounding mini-arches and all interior carpentry trim work, were installed in 1966. Four carpenters from the parish (Ted Jansen, my father Leonard Ruby, and my uncles Ferd Ruby and Joseph Ruby) completely remodeled "The Little Church." To bring things up-to-date after Vatican II, the communion rail was removed. The original altar, which was up against the back wall (from the days when the priest did the consecration with his back to the congregation) was also removed and replaced with the simple table-style altar which is about 10 feet fro the back wall.

    In addition to the aforementioned skilled trim work, these four parishioners upgraded and built supports to the choir loft, built a staircase to access the basement from the upper church, and intsalled carpeting and new pews. Another parishioner, Stan Porzienski, upgraded the church's entire electrical system. It may seem unusual in this age when church communities such as Ascension take bids from contractors and the parish pays them to ptovide such services, in the past era, generous and talented men donated their time and skills for their parish. Only Mr. Jansen is still alive, and I'm happy to report he remains a member of Ascension Parish.

    I just wanted to give you a little more history concerning the background of this humble church and parish, before Chesterfield exploded into a community of such size.

    Best wishes,
    Bill Ruby

  6. Wow -- Bill Ruby! Jay Chlebowski here. I remember you and Tina taking care of us when my parents went on vacation. :)

    You mentioned St. Anthony's in Centaur. I've got some pics of the old schoolhouse/church there in the gallery below. Studying those, it's neat to see the humble beginnings from which Ascension sprang. When I visit it now, it's amazing to me that it's in the middle of the bustling suburbs!

    Take Care,