The parish dates from 1841. Previous to that time, Jesuit missionaries traveled through the area.
This is the fourth church built on this site, replacing one destroyed by fire in 1915. The first church here was a poteaux-sur-solle (post-on-sill) vertical-log building, similar to those built in the colonial era: see these photos of Holy Family log church for an existing example.
The church interior was renovated around 1965.
I offer many thanks to Father Robert Liss, parish pastor, who gave me an extensive tour of the church and cemetery grounds. I am able to relate here only a very small fraction of what Father told me!
The altars here are in the Gothic style.
This was originally a French language parish. The early 18th century saw France expand its colonial presence in North America, founding numerous cities from what is now Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. Major expeditions in 1719 discovered lead and other metal ores in this region, now called the Lead Belt, with commercial mining commencing in 1720. Lead mined here was sent overland to the village of Sainte Geneviève on the Mississippi River, and from there, shipped worldwide.
Over 90% of the U.S. lead supply comes from six counties in this region, which is the largest lead producing area in the world. Most of the lead is now used to make batteries. Besides ammunition, this region's lead was early on used to make metal roofing.
A list of some geographical names in Washington County reflect both the French and mining heritage of the area: Argnait Lead Diggings, Bequette Lead Mine, Baryties, Bellefontaine, Breton Creek, Cabanage de Renaudiere, Charboneau Hollow, Courtois, Deslodge Land, DuCloes Lead Diggings, Fourche a Renault, French Town, Guibourd Lead Diggings, Hematite Lake, Irondale, La Beaume Lead Diggings, La Fontaine de la Prairie, La Heliette, La Marque Hill, La Motte Lead Mine, La Plant Lead Mines, Mine a Breton, Mine a Martin, Mine a Robuna, Mineral Point, Old Mines, Onyx, Picayune Lead Diggings, Potosi, Robidoux, Rosseau Plumby Lead Diggings, Tebault's Diggings, Terre Du Lac, Theabeau Town, Tiff, and Valle Hollow. There are plenty more picturesque names in this region.
Richwoods is an unlikely name for a town of this region at the time of its founding; while I was unable to find much local history of the place, it was at one time called Le Richwoods, a rather franglais name!
A small, out-of-the-way village, surrounded by farms, forest, and hills, Richwoods gained worldwide attention when a local boy went missing in 2002; it was feared that he might have been lost in one of the many abandoned mine shafts in the area, but he was rescued from captivity in Saint Louis County in 2007.
Altar of the Blessed Virgin Mary; on the other side of the church is the altar of Saint Joseph.
Crucifix, above the tabernacle.
To the left of the altar is a statue of the church's patron, Saint Stephen Protomartyr, the first martyr of the Church; he is shown here as a deacon, holding the stones with which he was killed. "You stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do you also. Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted?" (Acts 7). His feast day is December 26, right after Christmas, as a sober reminder of the trials of the Christian life.
To the right of the altar is a statue of Saint Thérèse de Lisieux (1873-1897), also known as Sainte Thérèse de l'Enfant-Jésus et de la Sainte Face, or popularly as the 'Little Flower'. She was a Carmelite nun and declared a Doctor of the Church; her "Little Way" of sanctity emphasizes the holiness that can come from everyday activity. "I am a very little soul, who can offer only very little things to the Lord."
Most of the stained glass windows in the church were recovered from the older church destroyed in 1915.
IXth Station of the Cross; JESUS FALLS THE THIRD TIME.
Infant Jesus of Prague. The modern devotion to the Child Jesus came from the Carmelites in Bohemia in the 17th century, although the earliest statues and devotions were Spanish; these are elaborately dressed in noble costume. Children are humble, trusting, simple, and dependent, and we ought to contemplate that in our own lives, especially in times of debilitating illness.
Saint Jude Thaddeus the Apostle, patron of lost causes. He holds the club with which he was beaten to death; as the author of a canonical epistle, he also holds a Bible.
"I will therefore admonish you, though ye once knew all things, that Jesus, having saved the people out of the land of Egypt, did afterwards destroy them that believed not. And the angels who kept not their principality but forsook their own habitation, he hath reserved under darkness in everlasting chains, unto the judgment of the great day. As Sodom and Gomorrha and the neighbouring cities, in like manner, having given themselves to fornication and going after other flesh, were made an example, suffering the punishment of eternal fire."
Statue of Saint Anthony of Padua, (1195-1231) being greeted by the Christ Child on an open book of Scripture. He was a Franciscan and was proclaimed a Doctor of the Church. To the left is the confessional. "O God, send forth your Holy Spirit into my heart that I may perceive, into my mind that I may remember, and into my soul that I may meditate."
This painting of the church is by Estelle (née Recar) Sellers Rulo, who presented it to the parish in 1996. This painting illustrates a story, often told by Msgr. Joseph A. Tammany, who was pastor of Saint Stephen's starting in 1919, and who founded Little Flower parish in Richmond Heights in 1926:
Father Tammany related how on that one Christmas Eve, while Pastor in Richwoods, he went over to church about 10:30 o'clock at night to stoke up the furnace and get heat in the church for the Midnight Mass. Father Tammany said it was one of the severest winters on record, and as he described it "with snow up to my waist" and "almost too deep for horse and wagon"... After he stoked the furnace, he commenced to get things ready for Mass.The painting illustrates individuals and buildings of the time.
Father Tammany said he wondered, though, if anyone was going to be able to make it through the snow to church, so he went to the front doors of the church to look out at the conditions of the weather and of the snow. As he did, he was later to describe, he saw one of the most beautiful sights he was to remember. The whole valley and the hills, and the roads leading to St. Stephen were filled with little lights -- the lanterns of the families with their children making their way from all directions through the deep snow to be present at Midnight Mass. Some were coming on the roads, some along paths, or through fields. Some looked like they were on horseback, or in wagons, and some appeared to be walking. Father Tammany was deeply moved by the sight. And so he told the story thereafter at almost every Midnight Mass at Little Flower Church while he lived.
The same artist painted this picture of Pope John Paul II, inspired by a photo taken after the assassination attempt.
Vestment chest in the sacristy, a very nice piece of furniture.
The parish cemetery is on the hill behind the church.
Grave of Toussaint Charbonneau (Toussaint means 'All Saints'). One of his many wives was Sacagawea, the famous guide on the Lewis and Clark expedition; their child Jean Baptiste was a graduate of Saint Louis University. Descendants of Charbonneau still live in the area, and according to U.S. census records, French is the most common ancestry reported in Washington County, while American Indian ancestry is also commonly reported.
A number of veterans of the American Civil War are buried here, both from the Confederate and Union sides. Old rivals now lay alongside each other. A skirmish in that war was fought near Richwoods on October 4, 1864.
St. Stephen Catholic Church
SATURDAY MASS 5:00 p.m.
SUN. MASSES 8:00 & 10:00 a.m.
This copse is on the opposite side of Route A in front of the church, and shades the banks of a creek. At one time, parishioners would tie up their horses here in the shelter of the trees.
"...[Former Pastor] Father McEntee turned around to get a good look at the grand view of the surrounding countryside... [He] seemed to gaze in a quiet wonder at the view from the front porch and steps of St. Stephen looking at the valley, streams, and pasture land in front, and the hills in back which seemed to sweep the horizon along the side of the church from his right and across the front, with their woods, and roads which seemed to lead from all directions toward the front of the church, a beautiful view in all seasons of the year."
The church's Saint Vincent de Paul Society thrift store in Richwoods. Many buildings here are very old. Were it not for the distinctive Missouri countryside surrounding it, Richwoods looks as if it could be an old mining town in Colorado or California.