History of Our Lady of Sorrows Parish

The parish family of Our Lady of Sorrows, rich in tradition and history, began with 77 families and today has a membership of over 1,300 households.

It all started in 1907 when the Archbishop of St. Louis, John J. Glennon, realized the importance of forming a new parish to accommodate the needs of the people of St. Louis, who numbered in excess of 600,000. St. Louisans were beginning to settle further from the city center. The boundaries originally set for this new parish, which was to be called Our Lady of Sorrows, were so vast that eventually six other parishes would be carved from her: St. John the Baptist, 1914; St. George, 1915; St. Mary Magdalen, 1919; St. Gabriel, 1934; St. Raphael, 1950; and Immaculate Heart of Mary, 1956. The center of the parish was to be in the area of Kingshighway and Gravois.

The task of starting a new parish fell to Reverend Bernard S. A. Stolte, a young priest who had been ordained in Rome just eleven years earlier. On October 20, 1907, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass was celebrated for the first time in the new parish. Since there were no actual parish buildings at that time, this first parish Mass was celebrated in the chapel of Sts. Peter and Paul Cemetery on Gravois Avenue. Masses were held in the cemetery chapel from 1907 until 1911.

In December of 1907, the first pastoral residence was rented, a cottage located at 4943 Blow Street.  In 1908, thoughts turned to the needs of the children in the area and their schooling.  Gardenville, a public school, was open, but Fr. Stolte felt that a school for Catholic youngsters was needed so that they could receive their religious education along with their regular classes.
September 8, 1908, marked the opening day of school at Our Lady of Sorrows.  The original school was opened at 6838 Gravois in a double flat that was also to be the parish residence and the parish meeting place.  The school was located on the first floor and the second floor was to be the residence of Fr. Stolte.  Fifty-one children entered grades one through five; over a half-dozen nationalities were represented among the children and they came from twenty different schools.  Their teachers were two School Sisters of Notre Dame, Sister Mary Regis and Sister Mary Peregrina.

In April 1909, a year-and-a-half after the organization of the parish, the present site of slightly more than three acres was purchased through a straw party for $5,500.  This method of purchase was necessary as many people in the area were antagonistic towards Catholics. Fr. Stolte re-purchased the land for $5,501.
In March 1911, two years after the purchase of the Kingshighway/Rhodes property, work began on a combination building which would accommodate a basement entertainment hall; the pastor’s residence, and four classrooms on the first floor; and the Church on the second floor.  By now 130 families were members of the parish.  On September 4, 1911, 250 children were enrolled in the new building; on June 23, 1912, Our Lady of Sorrows school had its first graduating  class — 4 girls and one boy.

In 1912, another building was constructed at Kingshighway and Rhodes because of overcrowding in the school.  It would house the pastor and the sisters.  An interior wall was constructed in this new structure thereby dividing the building in half, with the pastor occupying the front half of the building and the sisters the back half.

In 1927, again because of overcrowding, a new rectory was constructed on Rhodes Avenue; the convent was moved next to the rectory on Rhodes Avenue and an addition was added on to the convent to house the ever-expanding faculty of Notre Dame sisters.  By moving the convent from Kingshighway, the church could finally be constructed.  Archbishop Glennon blessed the cornerstone of the Church on May 17, 1927 and the Church was completed in February 1928.  The parish celebrated the completion with a Solemn Mass and blessing.  What had been the school/church/residence was now the school; by 1929 the parish boasted of 1,000 families and by 1933 the parish consisted of 1,130 families and the school had an enrollment of 820 pupils.

While the exterior church structure was complete in 1928, the interior of the church was completed in 1938. The present Wick’s organ was installed in May 1941, for $8,900.

In May 1946, Monsignor Stolte celebrated 50 years of priesthood.  He died at St. Anthony’s Hospital on November 29, 1953.  His requiem Mass was celebrated on December 2, 1953 and he was buried in Sts. Peter and Paul Cemetery.

In May of 1954, Monsignor Henry Schuermann was assigned as pastor of Our Lady of Sorrows.  He immediately began where Monsignor Stolte had left off, improving the already beautiful parish complex.  A new air-conditioning, heating, and air-filtering system was installed in the Church at a cost of $34,845; this was completed in 1956.  In January 1957, work was begun on interior redecoration of the Church; marble was placed along the curved wall of the sanctuary; gold imitation mosaic was used in the sanctuary dome, replacing the figure of the glorified Christ; the baldachino (bronze canopy) was polished; the crucifix that had been the 12th Station was moved into the sanctuary behind the altar; and new Stations of the Cross were installed.  The cost of these and other improvements totaled $120,489.97.  Monsignor Schuermann died August 14, 1971.

Monsignor James Hoflich became pastor in June 1969.  As the parish moved into the 60’s and 70’s the school was bulging at the seams with an enrollment nearing 1,000 children.  Every available inch of space was used for teaching.  At one point, even the former library’s closet was used as a classroom with room for 15 students and their teacher.  The auditorium was set up with dividing walls to accommodate some classes.  The band room was moved to the basement of the convent and the library was moved into one part of the nurse’s office.

In 1982, Reverend Ira Bell became pastor.  A study was commissioned to see what could be done to accommodate the projected increase in enrollment at school.  The most practical solution was to convert the auditorium into six classrooms.  This project was completed in 1985.  The activities that were held in the auditorium were moved to the Parish Hall, a building erected in 1975.  This building was at the far west end of the church property, and served the parish well until it was demolished and replaced in 2007.

The church saw renovation as well in the 1980’s as the tabernacle was moved from its place behind the main altar and placed under the Sorrowful Mother’s side altar.  The main altar was renovated so that Mass could once again be celebrated underneath the baldachino.  A new pulpit was erected from the extra marble that was removed during the altar renovations.

In February 1990, Reverend John Dempsey was assigned pastor of Our Lady of Sorrows.  He was a powerful influence in organizing and restructuring the Parish Council.  In the 90’s the exterior grounds of the church underwent a beautification and landscaping program.  In 1992, the Our Lady of Sorrows Alumni Association was established as a new parish organization that supported the church and school.  It was due to Father Dempsey’s thoughtful planning for the future of Our Lady of Sorrows Church that the Endowment Fund was established.  In June 1996, Father Dempsey took a new position with the archdiocese.

In June 1996, Reverend Michael A. Campbell was appointed pastor of Our Lady of Sorrows.  He restored much of the church and rectory to its original beauty by moving the tabernacle back to its place of prominence behind the main altar, having the baldachino cleaned, replacing the altar drapes, having the marble flooring polished and installing an improved sound system.  A new phone system and many new desks were put in school.

On Holy Thursday evening of 2002, Msgr. James T. Telthorst celebrated Mass for the first time as the newly appointed pastor of Our Lady of Sorrows.  Together with the Building With Faith Committee, it was his primary task to accomplish the dreams of the parish by overseeing the completed construction of the addition to the school, consisting of meeting rooms, an elevator and a Band Room and the new Parish Center with a stage, all in time for the centennial celebration of our grand parish.

In the Winter of 2005 it became apparent that Our Lady of Sorrows Parish was to experience something radically new in its life. Our Lady of Sorrows School of some 80 years history was to take on a new identity and a new name.  This change, which generated a wide range of emotions, was the result of a Strategic Pastoral Study begun some 18 months earlier throughout the South City Deanery of the Archdiocese of St. Louis.  The gradual loss of both St. Louis city population and an even larger loss of Catholic population left the Archdiocese struggling to maintain and staff the same number of parishes (and schools) as it had when the city population was twice as large.  The results of the Pastoral Plan recommended that a number of parishes be closed or consolidated with neighboring parishes.  Fortunately both Our Lady of Sorrows Parish and its neighbor to the North, St. Mary Magdalen Parish, were recommended to remain open.  St. Mary Magdalen’s Parish School, however, would not open the following year.  The Pastoral Plan recommended that Our Lady of Sorrows School likewise would cease to operate under its present name but, together with students and support from St. Mary Madgalen Parish, would open in the fall of 2005 as a newly consolidated school.  Both parishes would take ownership of the new school and together submitted names for the new school to Archbishop Burke. From among those names the Archbishop chose the name: St. Katharine Drexel, a recently canonized saint, known for her generous dedication to Catholic education.   The name changed.  The eighty year mission continues.

A yearlong (October 2007 through September 2008) series of celebrations and special events highlighted Our Lady of Sorrows Parish’s celebration of its 100th anniversary as a faith community.

In June 2009, Rev. Peter M. Blake was appointed pastor of Our Lady of Sorrows.  He set out in his first year to  “Look, Listen & Learn,” about his new family. One of his top priorities as pastor was to help all parishioners understand that we are collaborators in ministry, each and every member having a gift to share. He began implementing Stewardship as a way of life shortly after he arrived and has continued to teach and promote this as the basis for our living in community. In the Fall of 2010 a Consolidation Review Committee was formed to address the future of the School. After several meetings, Fr. Pete, Msgr. Borcic of St. Mary Magdalen parish, along with the Review Committee and Parish Councils of both parishes, recommended to the Archbishop that the consolidation which saw the establishment of St. Katharine Drexel school be dissolved. In January of 2011, Archbishop Carlson gave permission. In August of 2011, Our Lady of Sorrows School reopened as a parish-based school, owned and operated by OLS Parish. In his short time as pastor, Fr. Pete has made it his mission to try to heal the wounds that have occurred in the parish over the past dozen years. Relying on the special help of the Blessed Virgin Mary, may we continue to see renewal.

As we look back and remember all the good and faithful stewards who have come before us, we look forward to continued growth in our parish community.  All of the good that has been done over the years was accomplished because parishioners became involved and worked together to strengthen the parish.  Our hope is that you feel invited to use your gifts to take Our Lady of Sorrows Parish into this new century.