Thursday, January 17, 2008

The Catholic Character of the City of Saint Louis

The temper of Catholicism in Saint Louis differs greatly from that of other American cities. Outstanding bishops, a remarkable clergy, many religious orders, significant lay leaders, varied nationalities, unnumbered organizations, and the unique spirit of the city itself combined to give a distinct flavor to Saint Louis Catholicism.

A blend of the east and west, of north and south, the city itself holds the urbanity of the eastern seaboard and the informality of the western plains: it provides a foretaste of the languid delta lands at the edge of the North; its industrial complex hums like a northern dynamo, out of place in the warm South. Saint Louis boasts a people obedient when authority speaks, but more concerned to go on their own way and get the job done, with little concern for those in charge; a people not easily understood: conservative in some things, progressive in others, with little logic in the divergence...

Just as Saint Louisans of all denominations had outlooks that differed from those of New Yorkers or Baltimoreans, so the unusual origins of Saint Louis gave to local Catholics a further differing attitude from their co-religionists elsewhere. On the eastern seaboard, Catholic immigrants found Boston or Philadelphia already stratified Anglo-American Protestant communities. Catholics began Saint Louis. They formed as much a part of the scenery as the trees, the streets, the buildings. During the forty years before Saint Louis became a part of the United States, few members of other denominations came to the city. When Saint Louis became American at the time of the Louisiana Purchase (1804), individuals of other religious affiliations arrived. Even twenty years later, they did not outnumber the Catholics. Since then, Catholics have usually numbered close to half the populace. In his book, Inside U.S.A., social observer John Gunther forthrightly called Saint Louis a "Catholic city."

In recent centuries men and women died in Paris, Munich, Warsaw, and Madrid for their Catholic faith. Even Rome itself went through periods of anti-Catholic rule. Against this background, the Saint Louis story shines with pure light.
—William Barnaby Faherty, S.J.; Dream by the River, Two Centuries of Saint Louis Catholicism, 1766-1980

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