14 September 2007

St. Francis de Sales Oratory Featured in the St. Louis Review

An in-depth and well done article on St. Francis de Sales Oratory, the Institute of Christ the King, Sovereign Priest apostolate in St. Louis. The photo at right was taken by Mark Kempf. The full story from the Review is below:

St. Francis Oratory goals: Save souls, straighten tower

by Barbara Watkins, Review Staff Writer

Since its beginning in 1867, St. Francis de Sales Parish has provided a spiritual home for thousands of St. Louis Catholics who attended its schools and prayed in the striking Gothic church known as the "Cathedral of South St. Louis."

Now that almost-100-year-old church — a landmark on the National Register of Historic Places and highlight of this year’s St. Louis Landmarks Association Preservation Week — is badly in need of repairs that will exceed $1 million.

"We have to repair the steeple. It has structural problems and must be fixed," said Father Karl W. Lenhardt, rector of St. Francis de Sales Oratory, since 2005 the center for celebration of the Tridentine Latin Mass. The oratory is administered by the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest, the society of apostolic life to which Father Lenhardt belongs.

To stabilize the steeple — which is pulling away from the church building because of inadequate foundation support — will cost between $1 million and $1.5 million. Help is being sought from the entire Catholic community, especially the many people with ties — past and present — to St. Francis de Sales.

"Our first goal is saving souls, but we must repair the building," said Father Lenhardt.

About 800 people a week attend the Latin Masses at St. Francis de Sales, Father Lenhardt said. "St. Francis de Sales has not just a past, but a future," he said. But first the building must be repaired.

"We call the steeple the ‘Leaning Tower of St. Louis,’" Father Lenhardt said.

He explained that St. Francis de Sales Parish built its second church despite many difficulties, including the 1896 tornado that killed more than 300 people.

"That tornado destroyed the original church. They had already started the new church when the tornado hit, and they used the new basement as a church for 12 years, until the new church was ready," Father Lenhardt said.

"They didn’t have enough money for the 350-foot steeple originally planned, so they built the 300-foot steeple. The foundation of the steeple is not deeper than the foundation of the church. It’s not connected to bedrock. And that’s the problem. That’s why the tower is twisting now."

There is no immediate danger that the tower will collapse, Father Lenhardt said.

"But it affects the rest of the building. It allows water to get inside. The longer we wait, the worse the damage gets. The worse water damage, the worse every kind of damage."

He called his parishioners very generous to St. Francis de Sales. "We get very good weekly collections. But we must meet the ordinary expenses. The utilities are very high, heating the church is very expense. We have insurance costs for the whole property," which includes the rectory, convent, high school, elementary school and the gym.

Some of the buildings are currently being used by other groups. "We have to heat the buildings anyway, so we’re happy to have people in them," Father Lenhardt said.

The oratory has already spent more than $100,000 on preliminary studies by architects and engineers under the supervision of the archdiocesan Office of Building and Real Estate.

"We were able to fund that by donations," Father Lenhardt said.

In addition to the steeple repairs, which could cost as much as $1.5 million, the oratory needs many other, less immediate repairs, Father Lenhardt said. "It will cost $60,000 to restore the four bells and the clock in the bell tower."

The many stained-glass windows — the work of the renowned Emil Frei — have not been cleaned in 40 years. Some windows also need repairs on their terra cotta frames. The organ has not been restored since 1964 and is being used at about "half its potential."

This month repairs are being made from storm damage done last summer to the roof tiles.

The ornate style of the church includes statues and frescoes, arches and stained glass, intricate patterns and gold-leaf accents — virtually all in need of at least a cleaning. The rector pointed to the walls of the historic church, painted gray in the 1960s, that he would like some day to see restored to their original bright colors.

The floor needs repair, the electric system needs upgrading and, he added, "that’s not even talking about heating and cooling."

But the structural repairs to the steeple remain the most urgent need. "We are trying to get the word out about the oratory," Father Lenhardt said.

The oratory is conducting a fund-raising initiative called "Save the Cathedral of South St. Louis." Father Lenhardt said he hopes former parishioners and alumni of St. Francis de Sales respond to help restore the historic church building.

The oratory’s parishioners have been raising money for the repairs. The Knights of Columbus raised $6,000 (before expenses) through a recent barbecue. And the parish children have been busy as well. The Restoration Children’s Theater, a group of primarily home-school children belonging to St. Francis de Sales families, put on two performances of "The Hobbit" last month, raising more than $2,000 for the building restoration fund.

In his May 11 talk at the St. Louis Landmarks Association Preservation Week opening event at St. Francis de Sales, Father Lenhardt said, "It is evident that for this most urgent project we need all the help we can get."

The Gothic beauty of St. Francis de Sales Church was created to house the celebration of the traditional Tridentine Latin Mass, Father Lenhardt told the Review.

"We are here to keep something alive that is an integral part of our Catholic heritage, the Latin Liturgy. The idea of the oratory is that it has no geographic boundaries. We are not in competition with parishes.

We are here to provide something additional and help strengthen the diocese," he said.

St. Francis de Sales, as the setting for the "precious gem" that is the Latin Liturgy, should reflect its beauty and holiness, Father Lenhardt said.

To donate to the "Save the Cathedral of South St. Louis" initiative or for more information on St. Francis de Sales Oratory, call (314) 771-3100 or access www.institute-christ-king.org/stlouis2. Contributions can be mailed to St. Francis de Sales Oratory, 2653 Ohio Ave., St. Louis, MO 63118.


Anonymous said...

You can also sign up through eScrip at Schnucks to help St. Francis de Sales.

Anonymous said...

Blog owner: would you please give us the current status of this fund-raising campaign (how much has already been raised).

If needed, I have the time to organize a fund-raiser down here in Arizona.


thetimman said...

Erick, I don't have that information. I urge you to call the rectory at the number in the story if you wish to organize any fundraiser. Hope you raise a ton of money!

Latinmassgirl said...

I don't know the exact figures, but we are a long, long, long, way from the goal of 1 million dollars! If you can have a fund raiser in Arizona, please do.

And if anybody out there can have a fundraiser at their churches, the effort would be greatly appreciated.

Thank you to all who have contributed to our beautiful, church that needs a lot of TLC.

Anonymous said...

Timman, LatinMassGirl;

I can do it. It won't be too difficult, either -- you'd be surprised what a few hundred lazy college students can get accomplished. It shouldn't take long to raise the money, but it will take a while to get organized and get the permits. Also, I will want to give the money directly to your priest. I've given money to Churches before, only to look at the books later and see that there was some skimming off the top. I'm NOT saying that I suspect that there are thieves in your parish. But if it could happen in the Catholic Church back in Massachusetts that I gave (a lot) of money to during Holy Week two years ago, it could happen anywhere. From my end, I will be using PayPal payment systems and unique bank accounts to verify all my donations and deposits.

So, I have some advice for you guys, too: You need to put together A FEW different capital campaigns. I emphasize 'a few', because most fund-raising efforts only concentrate on one idea; and miss a lot of opportunities. For example: 1) When Spring rolls around, make sure you do a baseball-oriented capital campaign. 2) When the college/high-school football season starts, make sure you do a football-oriented campaign.

Also, be sure to ask for labor donations as well -- anyone who can provide free masonry work should NOT be bothered for a donation. They are already giving you thousands of dollars for free by donating their highly-skilled labor.

I'll keep in touch. . . .


thetimman said...

Erick, your generosity is very laudable, but I really think you should contact the rectory to coordinate your efforts. I have no idea what the particular desires or concerns of the Institute may be, and they do. 314-771-3100

God bless.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the number. Of course, I'll make sure to get their approval for everything before I do it.

I have a lot of experience doing fund-raisers. $1 million for a fund-raiser really isn't too much for an average-sized diocese to raise, actually; but it would be very interesting to establish a nation-wide trad-Catholic network for things like this going forward.
A million hands all pulling on ropes to raise new stone altars, if you get what I mean.