Saturday, November 15, 2008

Lost Catholic Saint Louis

A MAP, showing closed parishes in the City of Saint Louis, Missouri. Blue markers show approximate location of former churches; the outline shows the city boundary. But this is incomplete, and shows only diocesan churches of the Latin Rite, and fails to include churches belonging to religious orders, such as the Jesuit's old Saint Francis Xavier church, nor does it show closed Catholic parishes of the Eastern Rites.

Some of these churches vanished more than a century ago, erased by the growth of city industry and business, such as Immaculate Conception, downtown; or Our Lady of Czestochowa in the near south side; Saint Bonaventure was located at what is now Busch Stadium. Saint Malachy and Saint Elizabeth, among others, were wiped off the map by "urban renewal", while Saint Michael was destroyed for Interstate highway construction.

Readers are no doubt aware of the great changes of the past six decades — some demographic, others institutional — which led to the bulk of the closures. Many of these closures occurred within our own decade.



  1. Mark what percentage of the metroplex is Catholic? Your map is eye opening, however you are correct that social and economic factors contributed to many of th closings

  2. Mark --

    Sadly, you are right. This is a distressing loss repeated in many other cities throughout America. For example, in the town where I grew up (Toledo), most of the churches that existed in the city when I grew up have been closed -- the majority in July 2005! Regretable because the buildings that have been closed often were quite artistic, quite beautiful. Unfortunately, their suburban replacements more often than not appeared to have been designed as factories.

    Hopefully, with your photographic skills you can get to as many as possible of the churches that are still standing and record at least the exteriors -- with luck, even some of the interiors. As for the ones that have been demolished, perhaps you can locate an archive with photos.

    I think this would be a great service. Certainly I will pour over any such photos at high magnification. Who knows, you might even tempt me to visit St. L.

  3. Mark how many new churches have been built in the city or in St.Louis County during this same time period

  4. City of Saint Louis - 42 existing parishes, 54 closed.
    Saint Louis County - 72 existing, 32 closed.

    I may have miscounted the number of closed parishes, since the list sometimes just includes a street address and not a city name; existing parish numbers are shown on the Archdiocesan website.. There have been relatively few closures in outstate Missouri.

  5. Irene,

    I think I'll leave historical archiving to others. I'm actually more concerned about the future, but a future that builds on the past and its historical patrimony as seen in the great churches. Of critical importance is the restoration of the artistic and architectural tradition of the Church.

  6. I prefer the old churches that you have masterfully photographed. However for the sake of dicussion, do you believe that the Church is only at its best in these old churches and not in the more contemporary styled structures. I have a very good friend who attends a Catholic church built in the late sixties that is quite modern and I believe the parishoners and the priest would be the envy of any dioceses.

  7. Puma's point is perfectly valid. Of course not all of the more recent churches look like factories, and indeed a few are quite spiritual and reverent.

    But the past determines the future, and for that reason and simply for the sake of artistic beauty, gee, I wish you would do some of the churches that are in danger of disappearing.

  8. Irene, I considered taking photos of now-closed Catholic churches, but I didn't do it because I don't want to get depressed! There are a number of local bloggers who do a good job at documenting buildings that are in danger of destruction; for example, Ecology of Absence, Vanishing STL, and Built St. Louis, and so this job is perhaps better left to them.

    In some respects, I am a bit uncomfortable that some people may think - because of my photos - that Saint Louis is a beautiful city, for it is not. It is filled with ugliness, destruction, and despair, and the bloggers mentioned above do a good job at showing the ugly side. Rather, I hope to delight and perhaps encourage my viewers.

    But I also hope that I write at bit about how this ugliness happens, its origin in sin.

    Regarding modern churches - that is a theological problem. I've seen a few good ones, and many bad ones. My attitude is that one ought not conform the Church to the world, but rather the world to the Church.

  9. Here is a list of the closed Catholic parishes: