The History of St. Louis Parish - 1980’s
St Louis ushered in the 1980’s with a new Worship Space, no longer called a Church because WE the people are the “Church”. The “Church” came together to worship in its “Sanctuary”. Now, in our Liturgy, we could see each other over the Lord’s Table. In 1980, Fr. Wally McGowan, and in 1981 Fr. Roger Radloff arrived. Good friends, either one would have qualified for the Readers Digest column as “My most unforgettable character.”
Fr. Wally loved music and art and films. He liked to tell stories and to give gifts. Some of his best friends drove UPS trucks and delivered item after item gleaned from numerous catalogs. He played the piano, notably the songs of Sigmund Romberg’s “The Desert Song” for Covenant Weekend retreats. He will be remembered for his annual Christmas window which featured a running train, animals, sundry small items from his travels as well as the traditional Christmas crèche. Most of all, we remember Fr. Wally for his consistency, faithfulness, patience and love.
In contrast, Fr. Radloff, resident priest and “Diocesan Shrink” (as he referred to himself) was best known for his wisdom and intelligence. A gifted preacher, Fr. Radloff had a devoted following at his 8:00 a.m. mass – so much so, that two volumes of his homilies were later published.
In 1981, Fr. Otto Martinez S,J. arrived to provide consistency in leadership for a growing Spanish community. He added a dimension to the Spanish-speaking community that brought vibrancy and renewing faith to a multi-national community that has Spanish in common, but often not much more. The Spanish mass grew and a morning mass would be added with the faithful ministry of Fr. Pedro Cartaya, S.J. The number of Spanish ministries multiplied.
Also in 1981, the Men’s Club was rejuvenated. One of its first projects was a carnival for the needy which was to become the Festival for the Poor. The Men’s Club also spun off the Hard Hat Ministry, a group of parishioners who aided other parishes and organizations with building, painting and rewiring work.In August 1982, after eight years as Pastor, Fr. Russell left St. Louis for an academic sabbatical at the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley, California. In the words of Fr. Fetscher,”the legacy of Fr. Russell was that he taught us all to call Jesus by His first name, and we will never be the same.”
And then came Fr. Fetscher, who would serve the families of St. Louis for the next twenty-eight years. On October 2, 1982, Archbishop Edward McCarthy installed Fr. James Fetscher as our fifth Pastor. He was a two-timer having served as an Associate Pastor from 1976 to 1980. We knew him and he knew us and he wanted the job.One of Fr. Fetscher’s many gifts was his sense of humor. We all knew his quips (“God will get you for that”), the psychoanalysis (“I’m Irish, and therefore genetically paranoid and neurotic”), the promises (“Today’s homily will be 10-15 minutes short. . .honestly”), and the prayer, (“Pray that you hear what God wants you to hear whether I say it or not.”). We were most grateful for his gifts of leadership, openness, holiness, encouragement and enthusiasm. He was and continues to be a man of great vision and the heart and soul of St. Louis’ 50 years.
A most concrete example of Fr. Fetscher’s holiness was his establishment of Perpetual Adoration. This focus on personal prayer meant that someone was in the presence of the Lord in the Adoration Room at all times, day and night, 24 hours a day. Begun with the help of the Men’s Club, Perpetual Adoration was to become the centerpiece of St. Louis’ spirituality. The 24 hour schedule meant that the doors of our Worship Space would never be locked. They remain open to this day.
In April 1979, Wilbur Rollins became the first parishioner of St. Louis to be ordained a Permanent Deacon. Others would follow, including Miguel Parlade in 1985, Vince McInerney in 1986, Paul Lambert in 1987 and John Peremenis in 1989.
Another priority of this time became Adult Education. Bible Study groups, RCIA, and the Young Adult Ministry (the only full time one in the Archdiocese) were also formed. The same time frame saw the inauguration of what was very challenging for a Catholic parish, namely the Evangelization Training Ministry, under the powerful leadership of Jim Lamb, whose wisdom and consistency kept the wheels moving. The ministry was originally based on a Protestant program, and after sometime, they weren’t quite sure whether they should let Catholics be a part of it. But St. Louis knew that simply sharing the gospel was something we could and in fact, needed to do. That was Jim Lamb. Jim subsequently structured the Catholic Bible Fellowship which survives to this day. Jim is emblematic of SO MANY people in the history of the parish who heard the Holy Spirit and found the venue in which to let the Spirit “blow where it will.”
March 1983 saw the beginning of the Haitian Outreach when St. Louis started to help the Diocese of Port-de-Paix through the work of Amor-en-Accion.*
The 80’s also saw the development of the Charismatic Renewal Movement within the parish. The Life-in-the-Spirit seminars were often a powerful means of renewing people in the practice of their faith.
The Hispanic community began to form itself into a “parish within a parish” In 1985 a Latin Parish Council was formed with Fr. Otto and its officers helping the Hispanic community discover its own identity. Later this council would merge with the English-speaking council into the present Pastoral Council which strives to represent all the parishioners.
The parish also experienced a growth of Interfaith relations. Living room dialogue groups were established between members of St. Louis and Temple Bet Briera. For over 35 years an annual Thanksgiving service has been held with Temple Beth Am, Pinecrest Presbyterian Church, Kendall United Methodist Church and St. Louis. In February 1988, Temple Bet Shira, our neighbor on 120th St. was vandalized. As a sign of solidarity, St. Louis erected the Star of David on the 120th St. side of the Worship Space to remain throughout Lent. (At Easter the Star was there and a visitor drove in and asked one of the policemen who were helping with traffic if this was a Catholic Church. He said yes and she said “I don’t think so. The Star of David is out front.” The policeman said, “Lady, it’s Catholic. That’s what it says on the checks they pay me.”)
In 1986, the parish undertook an additional building project. A new library, a larger Book and Gift Center, a choir/lecture hall, a nursery and 10 new classrooms were added. The aging Family Center was expanded and renovated with a new kitchen. The parish formally celebrated twenty-five years with a Silver Jubilee mass at the James L. Knight Convention Center on November 19, 1988. Nearly 4,500 people attended the only Mass that weekend with the assistance of the new Metro-Rail which stayed operating late that night for the first time to facilitate the event.
*On May 10, 1983, the parish was in the middle of adding needed new parking . That evening there was a parish council meeting and in addition a group representing Amor-en-Accion had come to thank the Men’s Club for their contribution out of the first Festival for the Poor. They were waiting in an adjoining room while the pastor was reporting on the construction. One item in the construction was what seemed like a crazy expenditure of $44,000 for the sole purpose of digging a huge hole and then filling it with rocks because the county drainage codes said we had to drain all of the water that God saw fit to rain upon our property. Later the people from Amor-en-Accion came in and thanked us for the modest help we gave them. We asked them about their hopes for the future. They described a nutrition program for children in 16 small rural schools. They were hoping they could get sponsors for the schools. When asked what they anticipated the cost of the program would be, they had to stop and do some addition and then announced “$44,000.” There was only a stunned silence in the room. Then the pastor said, “We can do that.” There was a barely discernible but clear nod around the table, no vote, no discussion, simply a nod, and that is how St. Louis’ 30+ year involvement with outreach to Haiti began. It was from that event that the parish came to the point of making an effort to devote 10% of the offertory collection to outreach projects – a true Stewardship tithe.
Latinoamérica es un conjunto de más de 20 naciones que comparten un idioma, pero que poseen tradiciones y costumbres diversas. El Festival para los Pobres de 1985 demostró el interés de la comunidad en involucrarse y a los tradicionales sándwiches cubanos, con que habitualmente participaba el quiosco latino, se sumaron los sabores de las comidas típicas de casi todos los países de la región, haciendo así el quiosco más popular del Festival en los años siguientes.
El crecimiento de la comunidad y de la participación de sus miembros requería un funcionamiento ordenado. Por eso, en 1985 el Párroco Padre James Fetscher y el padre Otto Martínez decidieron crear un Consejo Pastoral Hispano, similar al Pastoral Council y comisionaron a Edmundo Leschhorn y José Gabaroni para que redactaran los estatutos que regularan su funcionamiento. El primer Consejo Pastoral Hispano estuvo encabezado por José Gabaroni, Carmen Leschhorn y Vivian Correa. Posteriormente fueron parte de dicho consejo Ricardo Maulini, Francisco y Alicia Morales, Toribio Tijerino, Elio Donna, Manuel Carvajal, Fabiana Kurlowicz entre otros. El Padre Fetscher designó a Edmundo Leschhorn como “liaison” entre el Pastoral Council y el Consejo Hispano. Luego le sucedió Henry Hueck.
En 1987 los ministerios de crecimiento espiritual organizaron una Misión bajo la conducción del padre Willie Peña. De esa misión participaron los miembros de la comunidad de Cor Jesu, que dirigía el padre Willie. El acercamiento fue tan fructífero, que dicha comunidad se integró totalmente a St. Louis y sus miembros participaron y siguen participando activamente en la parroquia. Su coro, el grupo Suaré, sentó las bases para el crecimiento del ministerio de música en español, que luego dirigieran el Dr. Pedro Hernandez, Fernando Alfonso, Jorge Del Rivero y Juan Salazar.
Para que los distintos países se vieran representados, el ministerio de Liturgia organizó "La Festividad de las Santas Patronas", en la que se rendía homenaje a la Virgen patrona de cada país. Para esta celebración se invitaba a los respectivos cónsules, y generalmente al finalizar la Eucaristía se invitaba a la comunidad a compartir los platos típicos. Esta celebración se continúa hasta nuestros días y ha atraído a St. Louis a muchos feligreses.