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Bonne Terre’s St. Joseph Catholic Church celebrates 150 years

St. Joseph Catholic Church in Bonne Terre’s is a beautiful part of the city’s architecture, but of greater importance are the parishioners who have shared the beautiful story of Christ’s love with the community in its 150 years of ministry. Kevin R. Jenkins

At dinner held Dec. 2 at Knights of Columbus Hall

The parishioners of St. Joseph Catholic Church in Bonne Terre held a special dinner Dec. 2 at the Knights Of Columbus Council 1088 Hall in celebration of the church’s 150th anniversary.

After a time of fellowship and the meal, parishioner Chris Willette addressed the crowd, sharing with them some historical milestones he had discovered in researching records from the rectory that covered the church’s 150 years of ministry.

Willette noted that the first Catholic Church for St. Joseph’s Parish dates its origin prior to the Civil War. The original church stood on a tract of land a little more than one acre, donated by the Wheelehon family, and located north of Bonne Terre on Highway 67.

Parishioner Chris Willette gives a brief overview of the church’s history at a dinner held Dec. 2 at the Knights of Columbus Hall in Bonne Terre. Kevin R. Jenkins

Prior to 1873, the Catholic people of the community were served by priests who rode horseback from Old Mines and Ste. Genevieve. Later, St. Joseph Parish became a mission of St. Anne’s Church in French Village. Ironically, today, St. Anne’s is a mission of St. Joseph Church.

The first church was built by Father Daly but burned to the ground in 1879. The second church was constructed on the north side of St. Joseph Street in 1881. The Desloge Lead Company donated the lot on which the second church building was erected at a cost of $3,000.  The Lead Company also gave $700 toward the building of the church.

This church, a frame structure with dimensions 32’ x 50’, was built by Rev. E. J. Dempsey, who served as the first resident priest from Dec. 20, 1879, to Aug. 16, 1880. The trustees were Firmin Desloge, J. A. Raney and L.A. Thomure.  J. A. Raney was the builder.

“Furman Desloge was pretty instrumental in getting that done,” Willette said. “Then, in 1885, the school was built — and that is kind of an interesting little story. A man named Mr. Ritz was supposed to put a bid in on the building. He helped with other things with the parish. He was born and raised in the parish and then moved back to St. Louis. When he was down for the weekend at the drug store, Mr. Harry Thomure was there.

“He asked Ritz, ‘Did you turn your bid in?’ Ritz said, ‘No, I thought that was next weekend.’ Thomure said, “No, that’s this weekend. They’re meeting over there right now. Mr. Ritz asked him, ‘You got a piece of paper?’”

Ritz wrote down his bid on a piece of paper and Thomure hand-carried it to the meeting.

Continuing the story, Willette said, “Harry came back a little later and said, ‘You got the bid.’ So, I thought that was kind of a funny story. He almost missed getting the bid because he got the wrong weekend.”

Willette shared other historical tidbits with the crowd: the church’s basement was built in 1907, the steeple of the church was added in 1916, and the current school building was built in 1922.

“And then another interesting thing I saw, there was a priest named Glennon Hermes,” he said. “This was his first parish — that was in 1922. He was just the assistant, but he was ordained in 1948. He was assigned here at St. Joe as the assistant in 1948, and about a year and a half later, he passed away from a severe case of virus pneumonia. It was the only parish he was ever at.

And then the other interesting one was Reverend G.W. Brinkman. He’s actually buried in our cemetery. He was here from 1911 to 1913. He was interesting, too, because when he was ordained in 1911, this was his first parish as an assistant. And then he was back in 1922 and was here until 1951 when he passed away. He had heart problems or something. So, he was probably the longest [tenured] priest we’ve ever had here.”

Willette added that since Brinkman passed away, St. Joseph has had 11 pastors.

“Altogether, we’ve had 23 [pastors], and we’ve had five assistants at this parish,” he said. “The book does talk a lot about the windows and the bells and the stations of the cross and stuff like that. That was interesting stuff that I didn’t know, too.

“I think we’ve been really blessed right now for the two pastors that we have. I mean, Father [Rodger] Fleming is very nice, and I think everybody loves and appreciates him — and Father Vincent Nyman, I like him, too. He’s got his way. He’s very outgoing, too.

Willette ended his part of the program by quoting Anne Graham Lotz.

“She talked about — and, you know, a lot of people have said this — about being a little light,” he said. “If you turn the whole room down dark and you just had a little candle, you know, no matter whether you’re in the back of the room or where you’re at, you know, you can see that light. And we all can do that, you know. We don’t have to be a pastor or an archbishop to do that. But I think we’ve got an interesting past, and I think with the pastors we have now, we have a bright future, too.”

Following Willette’s presentation, Father Fleming spoke about the church’s past.

Father Rodger Fleming speaks to the parishioners attending the dinner before cutting the anniversary cake for everyone to enjoy at the conclusion of the program. Kevin R. Jenkins

“It’s wonderful to celebrate anniversaries,” he said, “Part of it is to recall, ‘Why do we celebrate anniversaries?’ We need to remember — remember where we came from.”

Fleming shared a story about the response his now-90-year-old father gave when asked where he and his wife had spent their honeymoon.

“And he would say, ‘Oh, we went to Acapulco. Your mother had strawberry daiquiri, and it was just the most romantic night.’ And he would get this glow about him, recalling the love that they shared on their honeymoon. That love would be renewed even in his 90s. So, we remember. And how beautiful to renew the love that started the relationship. And that that love is always there. It’s always present. So, we look at the love for God that started this parish 150 years ago. That’s amazing. And to think of the sacrifices that the people of God have made to build the church. We look back at those who made the sacrifice that made our church possible today. And we remember them.

“We think of Furman Deloge and his lead company. I looked on our own website, you know, a few other names — J.A. Raney and L.A. Thomure, Father Daly, Father Dempsey, the archbishop who would have been Archbishop Peter Kenrick. hose might just be names to some of us. Maybe we might know something about some of them. But to remember, these are people who helped make our church possible. And we always want to remember, and that’s part of remembering, so that we do pray. And so that we’ll realize we’re part of a communion of saints. That all of us are part of one big family.”

Kevin R. Jenkins is the editor of the Daily Journal. He can be reached at







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