A special farewell mass is scheduled for 7 p.m. tonight for members of one local parish to say goodbye to a longtime priest.
Father Rickey Valleroy of St. Joseph Catholic Church in Farmington is transferring to be the pastor of St. Agnes Parish in Bloomsdale and St. Lawrence parish in Lawrenceton. He is switching parishes with Father Bill Thess, who is currently the pastor of St. Agnes.
Valleroy is the 32nd pastor in the history of the parish – which was established on July 27, 1890 by the Archdiocese of St. Louis.
Of those, Valleroy has served the longest at 13 years.
“I have been the longest serving pastor here in the 128 years of history since St. Joseph became a canonical parish,” Valleroy explained. “The longest serving pastor before me was Father Joseph Gottwald who was here from 1949 to 1960 at which time St. Joseph’s had a vibrant high school.
Valleroy said he requested the change following recent health issues – and the fact the parish is down to one priest following the departure in February of Father Abe Argosa.
Around this time last year, Valleroy had three separate, life-threatening medical issues.
“This past summer I had surgery for a brain aneurysm, followed by two strokes.” Valleroy said in a story earlier this year about his 25th year as a priest. “Honestly, after spending a week at Barnes (Hospital) in the ICU and a week at the Archbishop's residence to be close to Barnes in case of another stroke, there were times this past summer that I honestly thought I would not be able to return to St. Joseph's. But, the people of St. Joseph's were totally awesome.”
He noted health as a reason he requested the change with the archdiocese.
“I could have easily stayed, but I think the problem is the health,” he said. “Sometimes, you just need a change and environment is just part of that change.”
Valleroy was ordained into the priesthood on Jan. 16, 1993 at the Basilica Cathedral for the Archdiocese and was assigned to St. Joseph in July of 2005.
“At the time, my mom lived in Perryville and had some health issues,” Valleroy said in the story about his anniversary. “Archbishop Burke was very kind to let me move to this parish to be close to her. She passed away three years ago. I had 10 wonderful years to be close to her.”
He looked back on some of the programs started and events the parish participated in during in his 13 years, including Lenten fish fries, Help the Hungry Bake Sale and the construction of a new food pantry facility.
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Valleroy explained the school has gone from more than two-thirds subsidized by the church to less than 20 percent.
“For every dollar that went into the church, 87 percent – 87 cents – went to the school,” he said. “You didn’t have much of a parish life. You almost had a separate church and school life.
“Bringing it all together, our subsidy is down to 17 percent now and we also have all our teachers under archdiocese pay scale. We’ve got a great school, fantastic staff and faculty. When I leave here, I feel very good about the way we are leaving the parish in some very good hands.”
The new St. Vincent DePaul Food Pantry facility is also an achievement in these past few years.
Valleroy also fondly looks back on the numerous times creations from the church were named “Best Tasting” during the Help the Hungry Bake Sale, as well as the trophy for raising the most money for the cake numerous times.
“Our secret ingredient each year was that we used ‘holy water’ in the recipe,” he said.
Being transferred from St. Joseph’s also means Valleroy will no longer be the pastor at St. Catherine’s in Coffman either – most notable home of the “Cinnamon Roll Queen of Coffman County.”
But, most notable, Valleroy said he is proud to say 247 individuals joined the Catholic faith through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) in the 13 years.
“Thirteen years of my earthly journey have been here,” he said. “It’s such an opportunity to have to serve the people of Farmington and to experience life in Farmington.
“We’ve been so blessed here. The diversity of people … and their openness to change and to the spirit of God working within us, through us and with us to ministry to God’s people in so many different opportunities.
“There is sadness in leaving, but there’s much more of a gratitude for the opportunity I had in the first place – that God allowed me 13 years of my life journey to serve here.”