St. Henry, Holy Roman Emperor

The History of Our Parish

A Story of God's Love - Page 3 of 20

The Early Years - Part II

Betty F. Powell, in Chapter IX of her 1975 work, History of Mississippi County, Missouri on pages 217 through 220 gives us a more in-depth account of the beginnings of the Church in Mississippi County.

Chapter IX

Churches

Many diverse religions took hold in Missouri Territory in the early 1800's.  The French were still the stronghold of the Roman Catholic church.  During the frontier period the Jesuits were re-established in Missouri after an absence of nearly half a century.  The Baptists and Methodists, the earliest arrivals among the Protestant groups, gained probably the strongest hold in frontier Missouri.

A missionary movement got underway in the east about 1815, and ministers of all denominations were sent to the "heathen west".  Not only Baptists and Methodists, but Presbyterians, Episcopalians and soon the "Campbellites" came to Missouri.  The traveling preacher who represented most of these groups had meetings in the winter time in the cabins of some of the "congregation".  This was not very satisfactory for the cabins were often too small.  In the summer time the meetings were in the open air.

The itinerant ministers that characterized the frontier period were usually self-sacrificing, honest, and spiritually-minded.  The settlers usually welcomed the visits of the preachers, and tavern keepers often kept them without charge, and even thieves showed respect for the itinerant minister.

The almanac of 1859 described the religious groups in Mississippi County at that time:  "The Methodist Church has two preachers in the county, the Rev. T. W. Mitchell at Charleston, and Rev. McKnight on the Wolf Island circuit.  They have, in addition to their house in Charleston, a house upon the Lake, also places of worship at Concord, Norfolk, Rush's Ridge, Lucas Bend, Wolf Island, Kay's Chapel and Long Prairie.  The church numbers about five hundred members in the county.  The Baptists have a church at Charleston under charge of the Rev. K. Young.  They have flourishing societies at Wolf Island, St. James and Rush's Ridge, and number about four hundred.  The Reformers of Campbellites have an organization with some forty members scattered through the county.  The Presbyterians have a church near Judge Allen's in the Wolf Island settlement, and number through the county some fifty members.  The Catholics have a very neat house of worship in the upper part of the county and number about one hundred members."

L. L. Reavis in his survey of Mississippi County around 1878 wrote, "Preaching was had and churches were organized in a very early day.  The Baptists were probably the first to come, and were the most numerous for many years, but the Methodists, with that vigor and zeal that always characterized them in the early settlement of the West came into the various neighborhoods, and from small beginnings, grew up to be the strongest religious body in the county."

Reavis does not mention Catholics who were the first to build a church in what is now Mississippi County, and the records seem to show that the Methodists were organized before the Baptists.

Catholic Churches

The first settlers of Texas Bend near the northern boundary of Mississippi County were German Catholics from the vicinity of Cincinnati, Ohio.

The Vincentian Fathers from Perryville collaborated with the resident pastor of the church at New Hamburg, Missouri, taking charge of the Catholics in the whole of the present Mississippi County.  As far back as 1800 they built their first church at Texas Bend, about six miles north of Charleston, a rude log structure, but so built that the logs were dove-tailed and could well withstand the ravages of flood, drought and wind.  It was thought to be the first Catholic church between Ste. Genevieve, Missouri and Memphis, Tennessee.  For many years this log church stood in a field until another was built on a more central location at the site of the present Texas Bend Cemetery.  Both structures have disappeared and toward the latter quarter of the 19th century the Pastorate was moved to Charleston.

In 1888 Father Frances Brand was appointed pastor of Charleston.  The young priest not only worked in Charleston, he also built a parochial residence at New Madrid.  At one time his territory stretched 140 miles along the Mississippi River.  he also conducted a series of lectures for persons outside the Catholic faith and paid regular visits and said Mass in private homes in Texas Bend, East Prairie, Sikeston, Bird's Point and Belmont.  He was recalled to St. Louis after seven years of arduous labor.

Father Henry Hussman, a native of Germany, succeeded Father Brand in 1895. The present Romanesque church was built in 1905 under his supervision.  Plans for the church were furnished by architects Wessbecher and Hillebrand of St. Louis and it was erected under the supervision of R. H. Jones and M. C. Brown at a cost of $18,500.  It was dedicated on June 4, 1907, and was greatly improved in 1910 by the purchase of stained glass windows and frescoing during the pastorate of Rev. H. C. Petri.  In the summer of 1924 three bells were purchased for the church.  They were cast by the Struckstede and Brothers of St. Louis.  The bells continue to summon the community to pray and work.

Father Henry C. Petri succeeded Father Hussman as pastor in 1909.  During the first months he worked in Arcadia and around Charleston.  Later, the Archbishop requested him to come to St. Louis.  He was loved by all who knew him and in 1925 a celebration was held in his honor on the occasion of his silver jubilee.  At this time he said that he wished to be buried in Charleston where he had labored so long for Christ.  Father Petri died on May 24, 1930, and was laid to rest in Calvary Cemetery at Charleston.

In June of 1930 Father John Robert Wieberg came to Charleston from Advance, Missouri.  In addition to his other duties he organized the Mens', Ladies', Young Mens', Young Ladies' Teresian and Guardian Angel Sodalities, the Credit Union, and the Benevolence Society.

In 1936 a new pipe organ built by Wicks Organ Co. of Highland, Illinois, was installed in the church through the efforts of the Rolwing brothers.

Father Charles P. Schmitt succeeded Father Wieberg and arrived in Charleston January 14, 1949.  The church was in need of extensive repair. Engineers found that dry rot had damaged the wooden framing of the steeple, rendering it unsafe.  It was replaced with a new square steeple.  A complete renovation of the interior was begun in 1955.  A new marble altar was built and new stations of the cross painted by Belgium artist Dom Gregory DeWitt.  The renovation was completed in 1956 and consecrated on April 25 of that year.

In September of 1963 Shirley Staples was the successful bidder on the contract for a new rectory and convent building at Saint Henry's Church, with a reported cost in excess of $100,000.  At the completion of the buildings they were blessed by Bishop Strecker on May 10, 1964.

St. Henry's Parish has been served by the following: 1873-77 - Rev. Henry Willenbrink; 1877-79 - Rev. Francis Bettels; 1879-80 - Rev. J. A. Connolly; 1880-83 - Rev. F. Kleinschnittger (Klein); 1883-84 - Rev. F. Pommer; 1884-85 - Rev. J. L. Gadell; 1885-86 - Rev. H. H. O'Reilly; 1886-87 - Rev. Henry Thobe; 1887-88 - Rev. Francis Bettels; 1888-95 - Rev. Francis Brand; 1895-1909 - Rev. Henry Hussman; 1909-30 - Rev. Henry C. Petri; 1930-49 - Rev. John R. Wieberg; 1949-present - Msgr. Charles P. Schmitt.

St. Martin's Catholic Church at East Prairie was dedicated July 14, 1896.  The Rev. Father Eschman of Cairo, Illinois, delivered the dedication address.

On June 28, 1950, Father Raymond W. Rau was appointed as the Administrator of the new parish of St. Mary Goretti in East Prairie.  Holy Mass was celebrated in the town until a church was erected.  The present church was completed and dedicated by Archbishop Ritter on June 28, 1953.

Powell, Betty F. History of Mississippi County, Missouri Independence: B N L Library Service, 1975.