Catholic Church of Northeast Missouri
By the Rev, J. T. Tuohy, LL. D, S.T.D., Jonesburg

The advent of the Catholic Church to Missouri dates long before the settlement of the Louisiana territory. The first French missionaries had reached the pioneer settlements as early as 1764. In fact Father Marquette, the Jesuit missionary, had sailed down the Mississippi and passed the present site of St. Louis a century before. When Laclede had established his settlement in St. Louis, two priests came with him. The first Catholic Church was built in 1770. The church was organized into a diocese by the decree of Rome in 1827 and the first cathedral built in 1834, just thirteen years after the state was admitted into the Union.

From St. Louis as a center the Catholic Church soon began to spread to various points, especially to points in what is now Northeast Missouri. St. Charles County is the pioneer county of this section in this respect. As early as 1792 the French missionary had reached that point.

The first church edifice, a neat, substantial stone structure, was built and dedicated at St. Charles by the Venerable Bishop Joseph Rosati, the first bishop of St. Louis, in 1829. The Jesuit Fathers had come there the year previous. It was the writer's privilege to have made his first communion and to have worshipped in this first church.

Between the years 1822 and 1826 the same fathers had established parishes and built churches at Portage des Sioux and Dardenne. The Sisters of the Sacred Heart from France had also established a school at St. Charles, but were obliged to discontinue it for want of support in 1819. When the first church was opened the Venerable Mother Sophie Barat reestablished her community and soon a large convent was built adjoining the stone church. This convent is still extant. At this time the parish was very poor, however, numbering 107 struggling French settlers. Nevertheless, from St. Charles as a center the Catholic Church soon spread all along both the Missouri and Mississippi rivers and to various interior points of the western section of Northeast Missouri.

The late Most Rev. Peter Richard Kenrick succeeded Bishop Rosati as Bishop of St. Louis, Dec. 1, 1841. Organization was effected by Bishop Kenrick's coming to St. Louis and from that time one may take up each of the counties of Northeast Missouri in historical order as the Catholic church was established within their borders.

Adair County
The Catholic settlements in this county were few and far between. They were occasionally attended from Edina. The Rev. John Ryan came to St. Mary's Parish in Adair County as resident priest about 1876. He had been previously assistant priest to the famous Father James Henry, that Lord Chesterfield of the clergy, the late pastor of St. Laurence 'Toole parish, St. Louis. Father Ryan remained in charge of Adair until his transfer to St. Bridget's, St. Louis, in 1889. He was succeeded by the present rector, the Rev. John O'Shea, who had exchanged places with Father Ryan. Kirksville, the county seat, was erected into a parish about 1903, when the Rev. A. Gass, S. T. D., was sent from St. Louis to become its first pastor. Under Doctor Gass a mission church was built and a rectory. Doctor Gass was succeeded by the present rector, the Rev. Alexander L. Mercer, a son of the "Old Bay State" and, like Doctor Gass, an alumnus of the American College, Rome. Father Mercer had been assistant at St. Cronin's parish, St. Louis, the previous ten years. He attends the mission of LaPlata from Kirksville.

Novinger, another Catholic settlement, and Connelsville have been organized within the past few years; both are attended from Milan, Sullivan County.

Audrain County
Not until 1871 was there a priest to regularly attend any place in this county. It was just the year before that the well-known and sturdy pioneer, the Rev. Francis McKenna "Father McKinny" of the old people had come up from New Madrid in the Southeast to Northeast Missouri and started to organize a congregation at Mexico, the county seat. He soon, however, went farther west as he sensed a far more important opening about thirty-eight miles farther west and north. He had at the time for his assistant, the Rev. C. F. O'Leary. Accordingly he early turned over the organizing, as well as the new parish, to him. Thus Father Leary became the first pastor of Mexico. Father O'Leary also organized the mission at Martinsburg, fourteen miles east. He established the parish at Fulton, and built its first church. He visited Columbia, held services in the courthouse, later organized the parish and turned the further work there over to his assistant, the late Rev. William T. Stack.

At the close of about seven years of strenuous missionary work, Father O'Leary was succeeded at Mexico by the late Rev. E. J. Dempsey, a son of Shelby County. Father Dempsey's, pastorate covered a period of about twenty years. During the first years of his time in Mexico he had for assistant, the Rev. J. T. Tuohy, who attended the missions established by Father O'Leary, Martinsburg, Fulton, Centralia, Columbia, and also Sturgeon. He later gave up these missions and they were transferred to Moberly

Father Dempsey was succeeded by the present energetic and popular rector, the Rev. H. J. Dillon. Vandalia was organized and regularly attended, also Laddonnia. At the former there is now a resident priest. Father Dillon also built a fine church structure for the congregation at Fulton. Father Dillon enjoys the distinction of being Dean of the Northeast Missouri Conference, an honor conferred by the vote of his fellow priests, eleven in the district. The conferences are held at his residence.

Martinsburg finally became a separate parish under the Rev. Joseph Haar its first rector, who still continues in charge.

Boone County
The comparatively few Catholics in small, scattered settlements here and there in the county had for years received only few and far between visits from priests. From the establishment of the church at Montgomery City, however, the records give Columbia as "attended occasionally" therefrom. At the county courthouse Catholic services were held a time or two. But not until after the building of the branch line of the Wabash Railroad, then the St. Louis, Kansas City & Northern Railroad, south from Centralia was there any systematic effort made in the way of a church organization. The church building was largely the result of the persistent zeal and activity of Mrs. James Clapp. Later the work was helped by Miss Cornelia McAfee, now Sister Mary Augustine, of Louisville, Kentucky, a devoted daughter of the church. Columbia was first attended as a mission station from Montgomery City, but in 1881 was assigned a resident priest, the Rev. John N. Kern.

His successors were the Rev. G. A. Watson, the distinguished and scholarly Rev. P. F. O'Reilly, now retired at Elfin Dale, Greene county, the Rev. C. E. Byrne, the Rev. Arthur O'Reilly, now of Catawissa, Missouri, the Rev. William E. Randall, the Rev. Dr. J. B. Pleuss, and the present, much respected rector, the Rev, Thomas J. Lloyd, who is doing much excellent organization work. Father Lloyd has secured the Sisters of St. Joseph to open a parish school.

Sturgeon is likewise an old Catholic center in this county. It has had the honor of being attended at one time by the Right Rev. Bishop Hogan, now the nestor of American hierarchy, then pastor of Chillicothe. He left a record of a visit and some baptisms on the occasion of a visit in 1869. It was Bishop Hogan's custom at the time to visit the various railroad camps along the line of the new railroads and the stations nearby. The writer has seen the record which he left, and been the guest of the family which he visited on the occasion of his call at Sturgeon. The present church at Sturgeon was built in the early 70s under the pastorate of the Rev. M. J. McCabe, now of St. Michael's, St. Louis. It is now attended from Columbia. Centralia is also attended from Columbia, mass being said there the third Sunday of each month.

Callaway County
Priests have visited this county from time to time at the various points which contained Catholic settlers. At the old settlement of Catholics in the southeastern point of the county known as Hancock Prairie services have been held and a mission chapel built from an early date. This congregation is still extant and is at present attended from Starkenburg, Montgomery County.

At Fulton, the county seat, the first effort to organize a regular parish took place about 1874. Father Russell, who later made his head-quarters with Father O'Leary, was the first to visit Fulton regularly. He did not long remain, however. Father O'Leary then took up the work. He soon had the little congregation organized. Work was begun on a permanent church, and finally the little brick church was dedicated under the title St. Peter's. This was about 1876. During Father Dempsey's pastorate at Mexico, Fulton was attended by his assistant, the Rev. J. T. Tuohy, LL. D., and also by the latter when Father McKenna took charge of the missions. The Rev. J. J. Dillon next took charge of Fulton, attending it from Mexico. During his charge the present new church was built. About two years ago Fulton was made a separate parish and the Rev. Joseph Gilfillan appointed the first pastor. He was succeeded by the Rev. Joseph S. Hirner in 1911. Auxvasse, Guthrie and McCreedie, on the Chicago & Alton Railroad branch, have a few small Catholic Settlements. These are looked after by the Rev. J. J. Dillon, of Mexico.

Chariton County
The first mention one finds of any Catholics being regularly attended at any place in this county is the year 1869, when Brunswick was regularly visited from Carrollton. It soon came under the charge of the Franciscan Fathers.

Later the Franciscan Fathers organized the parish of Wien from Chillicothe, and it has become a large congregation, chiefly German, with a large parish school.

Salisbury, however, is the most important parish in Chariton County. In the '80s it was but a mission attended from Glasgow. Finally it became part of the late Father J. Hennes' charge. The Rev. J. F. Lubeley, present permanent rector of Holy Trinity church, St. Louis, succeeded to Salisbury about 1903. Under his pastorate of about five years the present fine stone structure was built, fully equipped, paid for and dedicated. Salisbury has likewise a parish school. The present rector is the Rev. F. J. Ernst.

Aholt, a settlement with its parish school, has a resident priest.

Clark County
It was in 1852 at North Santa Fe, as it then was called, that the first Catholic congregation was organized in this county. It was under the pioneer missionary. Father Dennis Byrne. By 1859 St. Mary's, now known as St. Patrick's, had been established. Father Eugene Coyle, for the past twenty year's rector of the old Cathedral in St. Louis, served ten years as pastor at St. Patrick's. The parish is now in charge of Father Daniel Donovan, recently of Ralls County. Kahoka has also grown to be a flourishing congregation.

Howard County
While scattered settlements had been occasionally visited by priests in this county it was not until 1867 that we find that Glasgow was announced as the first parish. The permanent church structure and parish school were established by the late Father Joseph Pauk, founder of St. Engelbert's Parish, St. Louis. Father John H. Waeltermann has been pastor for the past ten years. At present he is engaged in building a fine $50,000 church, soon to be dedicated.

New Franklin, on the Missouri, Kansas & Texas Railroad, has, since the railroad has been built, come on the church map and is the center of considerable Catholic work. Father P. J. Ward, the present pastor, also attends Fayette, the county seat.

Knox County
The year 1852 marks the announcement to the outer world of Edina, the county seat, as a Catholic parish. The Rev. D. S. Phelan, the veteran editor of the Western Watchman, now of St. Louis, was its pastor forty-five years ago, and founded and edited the Missouri Watchman from there. The pastorate, however, of the later Father John Fitzgerald, who was assisted by his brother, marks the red letter days of the parish. Then was built and financed the large stone edifice and also the Sisters of Loretto from Kentucky came to the parish and established their large convent. Father Fitzgerald died about 1899 towards his seventieth year. He was succeeded by Father Christopher Byrne, now of the Church Progress staff, St. Louis. Under Father Byrne the former school was taken down and the new and larger one built. The present permanent rector is the Rev. Richard Healy, formerly of Macon City and St. Louis.

Baring, on the Santa Fe Railroad, has developed into an important parish within the past ten years. Under charge of the enterprising pastor, the Rev. James J. O'Reilly, first class church improvements have been made.

Lewis County
By 1859 the Catholic Church organization had become known to its communicants in Lewis County. These had settled near LaGrange and they were occasionally attended by priests from St. Mary's, Clark County. But not before ten years later, or 1869, had they the regular services of a pastor.

Canton has, however, meanwhile grown to be the chief Catholic center of the county.

Lincoln County
Milwood had become a well-known Catholic center by the year 1852. The pastorate of the late Father J. Clarey was the longest, as he died past his eightieth year. A new church has been built under the present administrator, the Rev. P. F. Quigley. A parish school had been established just previous to the latter's coming by the late Rev. Stephen Carroll. It is under the charge of the Sisters of St. Dominic from the Monastery of Hunt's Point, New York. Father Quigley, present administrator, has been assigned Father Carr to aid him in his declining years.

Linn County
Previous to the excision of this county from the archdiocese of St. Louis, as provided at the Second Plenary Council of Baltimore in 1866, various places containing Catholic settlers had been occasionally visited by priests. It was, however, only after the erection of the St. Joseph diocese and the annexation of this county thereto that we find any regular organization attempted. Accordingly, in 1866, we find for the first time the announcement of a parish, Brookfield. During the pastorate of the present rector, the Rev. Walter Tormey, M. R., which covers nearly half the age of the parish, a flourishing organization has been maintained. The Rev. D. A. Feely is associated with the pastor in all the work.

Marceline has come on the map somewhat later and is the seat of a flourishing parish under charge of the Rev. P. J. Cullen.

Macon County
Until 1871 the Catholics of this county had no priest permanently stationed among them. The late Rev. P. B. Cahill came up from Moberly, where he had been a short time assisting Father F. McKenna, and begun the real work. The first structure, a brick one, with the rectory, two rooms in the rear adjoining, was built on the site presented to Father Cahill. Father Cahill, somewhat broken in health, retired about 1898 and as he had sufficient personal means returned to his native Tipperary, where he died in 1904. The most recent successor is the Rev. Richard J. Healy, now permanent rector of Edina, Knox County. Under his pastorate the greatest work since the parish was established has been accomplished, the building of a splendid new church.

Troy, the county seat, has come up within the last fifteen years. Under the present rector, the accomplished litterateur and musician, the Rev. L. A. Schlathoelter, fine improvements have been created. We say it advisedly "created," not made, because it is difficult to see how so few with but ordinary conditions can do so much and so handsomely. Old Monroe, with its parish school has a flourishing organization. Elsberry has seen the beginning of work and is regularly attended from Louisiana. Mashek is a settlement of Catholic Bohemians regularly attended from Troy.

Marion County
Not before 1859 had a Catholic congregation been established in the county at Hannibal. The advent of the Hannibal & St. Joseph Railroad, and the location of its shops at this point soon brought the element that makes for a Catholic parish. Almost coincidently with this influx of settlers the Parish of the Immaculate Conception, B. V. M., was formed. The Rev. P. J. Cronin, afterwards the distinguished editor of The Catholic Union and Times, Buffalo, New York, was for a few years in the late '60s in charge. Shortly after came the pioneer missionary, the late Rev. Dennis Kennedy, whose pastorate was redolent of good work which yet continues and which covered about twenty-five years. The large convent and parish school of the Sisters of St. Joseph from Carondelet, St. Louis, was also established during this pastorate. Father Kennedy died full of works and days in the early '90s. He was succeeded by the scholarly, accomplished musician and pulpit orator, the Rev. M. J. McLaughlin, who lived all too short a period of years, dying in 1903. The Rev. Daniel Sullivan, formerly rector at Monroe City, succeeded to the Hannibal parish, which is now a parish of over twelve hundred people.

Palmyra, in this county, has also become a Catholic settlement and is regularly attended by a priest and has its parish school.

Monroe County
By the year 1852 large settlements of Kentucky immigrants had been established in this county. For their accommodation a parish was organized and a church built and dedicated at Indian creek or ''Swenky," as it was familiarly termed. The late Rev. Joseph Tolton, the first Catholic colored priest in the United States, was a native of this parish. The present fine new church structure was built by the Rev. John Lyons now of St. Pius parish, St. Louis.

About fifteen years ago many of the parishioners, retiring from the farms, moved into the new town just then established, Monroe City, which has since become the chief town of the county, as well as its Catholic center. Today Monroe City has a fine new church. The well-known Father John Ryan is now in charge.

Montgomery County
From an early date the Jesuit Fathers from St. Charles visited and held services at various points in the county. Father P. M. O'Neill seems to have been the first priest who was located in Montgomery City, where he built a church and rectory.

Father Michael J. McCabe, now of St. Michael's, St. Louis, followed soon after Father O'Neill and was pastor at Montgomery City about forty-five years ago. Father John J. Head, now of Annunciation parish, St. Louis, followed shortly after Father McCabe, Father J. Daly coming in between for but a short period. Father Head's pastorate, which lasted more than ten years, has ever since justly merited him the cognomen of the ''Apostle of Northeast Missouri." He built the fine new church at Montgomery City, and, like another St. Kevin as pastor of the ''seven churches," his record was a church a year for as many years in the places he attended. The churches of Wellsville and Jonesburg - improved and enlarged, Truesdale, Wentzville, were all built during his time. At Jonesburg he received from the late Bernard Pratt, a former mayor of St. Louis (1859), a farm of 229 acres, for the support of the priest or the building of a new church in their option, and which the parish still possesses. In turn at the different missions Father Head conducted daily services, and on Sunday double services, going by hand-car from station to station. On the week days at each place mass was said, the attendants, appointments and paraphernalia of each of them, said a competent eye-witness, would make one feel that he was in some convent chapel rather than a mission country church. Father Head, hale and light-hearted, yet lives, capable of much service. All of the places formerly attended from Montgomery City have become separate congregations with their own pastors. In the county there are two of these, one at Jonesburg, the Rev. J, T. Tuohy, LL. D., pastor, the other Wellsville, the Rev. D. J. Hurly, pastor.

Starkenburg, near Rhineland station of the Missouri, Kansas & Texas Railroad, has become a most interesting Catholic center. It is the location of the celebrated shrine dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, under the title of ** Mother of Sorrows." There is a fine stone church edifice here, large parish schools and the new grand shrine. Every year thousands are attracted thither, many coming from as far as St. Louis. A paper Die Pilger, in the interests of the Shrine, is published by the pastor, the Rev. George W. Hoehn, the present rector and founder of this interesting work.

Pike County
The organization of a Catholic congregation in this county dates from 1859, when the first was established at Louisiana. It was not until the pastorate of the devoted if rather strenuous Father P. J. Gleason that anything in the way of solid, substantial, lasting improvement was made. Father Gleason built the present brick church. The Chicago & Alton Railroad had its terminus at Louisiana and then began extending further westward. During this time Father Gleason, availing himself of the increase in the parish and proverbial generosity of railroaders, made his improvements. He afterwards was promoted to St. Louis, where he founded the present Holy Name Parish. Father Daniel Gleason is the present rector.

There is also another congregation, established now for some years, in the vicinity of Bowling Green, the county seat, St. Clements. There is a parish school in connection with the parish. Also the mission of New Hartford in this county is attended from St. Clements.

Putnam County
Unionville, the county seat, has been a Catholic settlement and visited regularly by a priest since 1876. It has a mission church but not a resident priest. It is, however, regularly attended from Milan.

There are Catholic settlers at Howland and Mendota, which are stations also attended from Milan.

Ralls County
This county as early as 1852 had become the home of many settlers who had emigrated from Kentucky. A parish was organized and a church built for them at St. Paul's. Father Andrew McBride was the pioneer pastor. New London, however, has since become the chief Catholic center of the county. Father E. A. Casey, now of St. Louis, did some work here a few years ago. The new church was dedicated recently under the pastorate of the Rev. Daniel Donovan.

Randolph County
Father Francis McKenna in 1876 began his ministrations in Moberly, then a new railroad town. His long years of fruitful work in Moberly and surrounding mission stations is part of the church history. He early opened a parish school under charge of the Sisters of Loretto. He built a church edifice, St. John's, which at once became a center of large influence. Father McKenna retired in 1885 and died in 1888. Father John Ryan succeeded him in a successful pastorate of twenty years. Father P. J. Carney followed and in a short time succeeded in building a magnificent new church of brick and stone costing $75,000. Moberly, together with other places in twenty of the counties of Northeast Missouri was by decree of the Holy See in 1911, annexed to the Diocese of St. Joseph, Missouri.

Schuyler County
The principal Catholic congregation in this county is that known as Mudd's Settlement in about the center of the county towards the Iowa state line. Its establishment dates back at least half a century. It has been visited at intervals by many of the well-known missionaries of Northeast Missouri. While it has had for years a substantial church structure, it has never had a resident priest. It is now attended from Kahoka.

Downing, on the Santa Fe Railroad, has come up as a Catholic settlement since the building of the railroad. It is also attended from Kahoka.

Scotland County
As early as 1852 the congregation of Mudd Settlement was on the diocesan roll as a mission regularly attended by the priests of the diocese. The Settlement is today flourishing as of yore and is attended from Kanoka.

Memphis, the county seat, has more recently been placed on the roll of places attended by priests.

Shelby County
In 1869 Shelbina, the county seat, became the first Catholic parish in this county and the late Rev. D. Macken the first pastor. Rev. Father M. J. Collins, the present rector, built the present fine church. There are flourishing Catholic congregations regularly attended in Hunnewell, Lakenan and Clarence.

St. Charles County
In addition to the already mentioned parishes established in this county, Dardenne had its resident priest in 1859 and a year later the parish of Wellsburg and Dog Prairie was established under the direction of the famous pioneer missionary. Father Edward Hamill, later the founder of the rich Irish settlement in Saline County, now called Shackelford. St. Peter's was established soon after and under the pastorate of the well-remembered Father Stautinger the present Gothic structure was dedicated. O'Fallon was the next to build a permanent structure. Under the distinguished Father Brockhagen, editor and physician, as pastor for nearly a third of a century, O'Fallon has flourished.

Father Jasper, a specialist in scientific agriculture and political economy, has succeeded the late Father Brockhagen. A fine new church is now the program of the parish. Shortly after 1870, the nuns of the Order of the Most Precious Blood came to 'Fallon, having been expelled from Prussia under the Bismarck Falk Laws, since repealed, and established a large convent. This has since become the Order's Novitiate, Normal Institute and Mother-house for the numerous Sisters who teach in many parish schools of St. Louis and the state. At St. Paul's a large and still growing congregation has been established since Father Hamill's day and is now in charge of Father E. J. Kern. Flinthill has a flourishing congregation under Father Aug. J. Von Brunn. Josephsville and Wentzville also have good congregations under Fathers A. Becker and J. H. Krechther, respectively.

Sullivan County
The principal Catholic center in this county is at Milan, the county seat. Its history is hardly twenty years old. It is in charge of a resident priest, the Rev. John J. Jermain. Green City is also attended from Milan, and also three other places in the adjoining county of Putnam.

Warren County
As early as 1852 Marthasville in this county was regularly visited from Washington where the Franciscan Fathers are now, but the Jesuit Fathers then were established just south across the Missouri River. Dutzow was about the next place to have a church in 1868. Later Peers has been established. Father John J. Head, well known missionary of Northeast Missouri, built many churches in adjoining counties, and in 1882 built the commodious brick church at Truesdale. Father Head was enabled to effect this fine work by the legacy left for the purpose by Mrs. Ann Gallery, an old settler of Warren County. The Rev. J. T. Tuohy, LL.D., is at present in charge of this mission.

General Summary
Outside of St. Charles County, the history of the Catholic Church in the twenty-five counties of Northeast Missouri is little more than seventy-five years old. Not a congregation was organized or a priest regularly stationed in that entire section at that time. Sixty-four priests are today regularly stationed and resident in this section. There are seventy-one churches, twenty stations preparing to organize congregations and build churches, twenty-nine parish schools, having an attendance of 3,206 children. The Catholic population is about 25,000. All except the eight southern counties adjoining the Missouri river were, by decree of the Holy See, last year annexed to the Diocese of St. Joseph, Missouri, having been taken from the jurisdiction of the Archbishop of St. Louis. This, it is considered, will concentrate more direct attention upon these northern counties by the church officials and should stimulate rapid religious development.

Catholic Encyclopedia; Catholic History of the United States, by John Gilmary Shea, LL.D.; Reminiscences of a Missionary Priest, by the Rt. Rev. John J. Hogan, D. B., Bishop of Kansas City; Centenary and Annals of St. Charles Borromeo's Parish, St. Charles, Mo., by the Rev. James Conway, S. J.; Historical Sketch of the Church in Montgomery County, by the Rev. Paul Gross; Official Catholic Directory, 1849, 1850. 1851, 1852, etc., etc., to 1911. 


© Missouri American History and Genealogy Project
Created August 16, 2017 by Judy White

Source: History of Northeast Missouri, edited by Walter Williams, Volume I, Lewis Publishing Company, 1913