The History of St. Louis Parish - 1960’s
Becoming a Community
“How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts” Psalm 84
The official founding date of St. Louis Parish was August 30, 1963. What would it have been like to be one of the 663 young St. Louis families, many of whom had been members of Epiphany parish, who were starting over in a new parish to be in the unair-conditioned auditorium of Palmetto Senior High for the first Sunday Mass on September 15, 1963? If there was some reluctance it was not for long. Once everyone encountered the warmth and enthusiasm of Fr. Fred Wass, the first Pastor, they began building community through fellowship, planning and hard work. St. Louis Community News describes Fr. Wass as a father and friend, gentle, fair and wise, yet a “comical ham” in parish variety shows.
On August 22, 1965 Bishop Coleman Carroll dedicated St. Louis’ temporary church. Parishioners had worked and waited two years for their church. News pictures in the Voice showed female parishioners wearing lace chapel veils or hats; priests, nuns and altar servers in pre-Vatican II style garb. Yet Bishop Carroll spoke of the changes taking place in the Catholic Church. He said that these changes were “intended to strengthen the faith of the individual and the faith of the Church” and that the Church “will have greater vigor, greater spirit and a greater attraction to those who are our separated brethren.” St Louis was to become a truly post-Vatican II family- orientated parish. The Associate Pastors during this period all had unique personalities. They were Frs. Norman J. Bulanda (1965-1967, Thomas Kenny (1967-1969, John (Jack) Wilcosky (1969 – 1972) and Ross A. Garnsey (1969- 1975). Fr. Kenny, known as a “bagpipe-playing priest” was said to be sincere, honest, and compassionate and always had time to spend with the community. Fr. Jack Wilcosky was named “Padre of the Year” in the Archdiocese because of his work with the CYO; Fr. Garnsay, involved in Family Counseling for Catholic Charities, founded the Alcoholics Anonymous group which still meets at St. Louis.
Fr. Wass in his eight years as founding pastor guided both the people and the initial construction projects. He oversaw the construction of the temporary church, a rectory with parish offices and a religious education building (1965) and the Family Center with six classrooms, an auditorium, a kitchen and a tiny gift shop (1969). Leroy Lightbourne came to St. Louis to care for the buildings and has stayed to become our foundation stone, not only in longevity, but also in temperament.
Earliest ministries included the Women’s Club, Men’s Club, the Christian Family Movement, CYO, CCD, Choir, and Ushers. The Parish Council was established in 1967, the first council in the Archdiocese. The St. Louis Community News was published monthly for eight years from 1969 to 1977. The Dominican Retreat House which opened in 1961 served St. Louis for its first daily masses and classrooms until the temporary church was built.