St. Michael’s Catholic Church established with the help of a missionary priest

The legacy of St. Michael’s Catholic Church in Russellville began in earnest in the 1860s, with the founding of St. Joseph’s Catholic Mission east of Stringtown.

A small group of immigrant families met in a log church on a hill west of the North Moreau River, where mass was held every few weeks. The final Mass was celebrated at Stringtown Church in 1894 as new Catholic parishes were established in nearby communities.

Reverend John Schramm, a German immigrant and assistant pastor of St. Peter’s Parish in Jefferson City, was one of the missionary priests who traveled to Stringtown to lead the Mass. He was not only instrumental in establishing the parish of St. Martin’s in 1885, but helped guide Catholics in the Russellville area in forming their own parish in 1887.

“On October 15, 1887, $100 was donated by five persons and paid to (Basil) McDavitt and Elizabeth McDavitt for a parcel of land deeded to the trustees of the Catholic Church … in the town of Russellville, for the purpose of ‘establish a Catholic community,’ says the book printed for Russellville’s 150th anniversary in 1988.

The book added: “The deed was filed for registration on October 26, 1887; and in the same year a stone was laid by the Reverend Schramm, symbolizing the intention to build a Catholic church and parish there.”

The congregation of St. Michael’s in Russellville used contributions and money raised through picnics to cover the costs of building a wood-frame church on a 1½-acre lot, which was dedicated on October 22, 1890. They were also able to purchase an additional parcel of property in 1891, moving a small schoolhouse from Stringtown to the site.

“In 1906, St. Michael’s was made a parish,” says a church directory printed in 1987. “Until then it was a mission of St. Martin’s,” the booklet adds.

Father John Wehner, St. Michael’s first pastor, began his ministry in Russellville in 1901, the same year he was ordained. The priest remained with the congregation until they became a parish in 1906. He died in 1933 when he was only 56 years old.

Continuing to grow, the parish was provided with the resources to build a presbytery while having a resident priest to perform many administrative functions and conduct masses. However, as reported in the August 30, 1934, edition of the Central Missourian, services were discontinued at St. Michael’s after Father Reh left in September 1933.

“Regular services are to resume again at St. Michael’s Catholic Church … beginning next Sunday, July 8, at 10 a.m.,” reported the Central Missourian on July 5, 1934. “Father Edward A. Bruemmer , associate pastor at St. Peter’s Church in Jefferson City, will be in charge of the spiritual and financial affairs of the parish.”

Under the leadership of Father Bruemmer, the parish remains dynamic. Over the next several years, a number of capable administrators, most from nearby St. Peter’s Catholic Church, were assigned to the Russellville congregation for mass and other church services in addition to conducting classes. of confirmation.

The Reverend Norman Ahrens, trustee of St. Michael’s, wrote to the congregation on May 9, 1968: “Construction of the parish hall is now proceeding in earnest. Needless to say, the new room will be welcome.

Two years later, the once bustling parish, which has just completed the new parish hall, is closed. In a letter to parishioners dated February 13, 1970, the Reverend Michael McAuliffe describes the circumstances that led to this difficult decision.

“When I arrived in the diocese, I saw that we were facing an immediate shortage of priests, and as you know this is affecting the Church everywhere,” McAuliffe wrote.

“In light of these facts and with the growing demand that small parishes be merged into larger ones for the benefit of both the priest and the people…I must close this parish and assign you, its parishioners, to the parish St. Martins…”

St. Michael’s Parish remained closed for nearly 15 years, reopening on December 24, 1984, under the leadership of Father Mel Lahr. The parish has since remained an integral part of the local community, experiencing steady levels of growth in recent years.

The old school, church, and parsonage have long since been demolished, but the property has undergone many updates and improvements, including a new church and parish house.

The passage of time has brought many changes, but St. Michael’s Parish maintains a connection to its early roots. The church continues to care for the small cemetery on a hill overlooking North Moreau in Stringtown, where many early Catholic immigrants were buried beside an old log church.

“It’s a wonderful story and a parish I’ve been proud to be a member of since 1985,” said Sharon Murphy. “It’s always been so easy to make friends here and work with others – everyone immediately pitches in when there’s a project to complete.”

The church’s heritage, highlighted in a section of its mission statement, aptly describes its role in the tapestry of Russellville’s history as well as its dedication to the community.

“We are committed to the spiritual growth of all parishioners and are called to be messengers to others of God’s peace, love and forgiveness in our lives. We welcome opportunities to cooperate with other communities nuns,” Murphy said.

Jeremy P. Ämick is writing about the Russellville area for his upcoming book “Hidden History of Cole County”.

Jerry B. Hatch