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Churches by Denomination

Cole County Catholic Churches

St. Peters Catholic Church

The first visit of a Catholic priest to Jefferson City was in 1831. There is no record of the number of families of that belief living in the county at that time, but from that year the visits of the itinerant missionary priests were regular, with an ever-increasing frequency. The records kept in the diocesan chancery of St. Louis reckon Jefferson City the 59th parish in the diocese and state that in 1831 the first holy mass was celebrated by Rev. Phoenix L. Verreydt, a native of Belgium and a member of the Society of Jesus, at that time a resident at the Indian mission of Portage des Sioux, St. Charles, Missouri.

The same records state that Jefferson City was again visited by the Jesuits in 1836, and it is presumable that these zealous missionaries did not neglect the Catholics of Cole County in the intervening period. In 1838 Father Helias came to New Westphalia (now in Osage County, then part of Gasconade) as resident missionary priest, and from there made regular monthly tours throughout the adjacent counties; his visits including twenty-five missions, among them Taos and Jefferson City. There being no church at that time in Jefferson City, the meeting was in a private house. He placed the mission under the patronage of St. Ignatius, who continued to be venerated by the mission as their patron saint until the year 1846, when the first church was built and dedicated under the title of St. Peters. In 1842 Father Helias transferred his residence, by order of his superior, to Taos, from which place he continued to attend the flock at Jefferson City until the appointment of a resident pastor in 1846.

First Catholic Church building in Jefferson City


In 1845 the Catholics of Jefferson City were sufficiently numerous to undertake the erection of a building. There being no resident priest here, the following named laymen: J. W. Wolters, G. H. Dulle, Anton Maus, M. Wallendorf, F. Roer, B. Eveler, G. Pirmer, P. Meyers, C. and F. Kolkmeyer, J. H. Gels, G. H. Kroeger, J. H. Kroeger, J. H. Heitker, P. Reisdorff, B. Replo, H. B. Rackers, Herman Tellman and Patrick Buckley, undertook the then Herculean task. The result of their united efforts produced the first building shown above.

Soon after the erection of the church, Messrs. J. B. Wolters and B. Eveler were sent to St. Louis to request the Right Rev. P. R. Kendrick to grant them a resident spiritual advisor. Rev. James S. Murphy was chosen and assumed the duties of resident pastor in July 1846. The pioneer Catholics and pastors of Jefferson City Catholic Church were strangers to the many comforts now found in all well organized parishes. Father Murphy remained in charge until December 1848.

The next pastor was Rev. Joseph Mejster, who assumed the duties of pastor of St. Peters in 1849, continuing until 1853. The third pastor was Rev. Joseph Blaarer, who ministered to the spiritual needs until May 1854 when he was succeeded by Rev. William Walsh, who remained in charge until January 1863. During his administration the second church was built, the old church being used as a school house.

Second Catholic Church building in Jefferson City

The next pastor, Rev. Jacob Mueller, served from January 1863 until March 1875 and was succeeded by Rev. Henry Muers who died August 24, 1876. He was succeeded by Father Otto Joseph Stanislaus Hoog (see sketch) who was largely instrumental in building this church into one of the leading church organizations of the state.

Third Catholic Church building in Jefferson City


The third church building was erected under his administration and the congregation numbered more than 500 with an attendance of 403 at St. Peter’s parochial school in 1900.

St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church, Taos (2004)

St. Francis Xavier’s Catholic Church at Taos has an interesting history, it being the first church erected by the Catholics in Cole County. On May 11, 1838, Rev. Father Helias (see sketch) came to Westphalia (now in Osage County, but then a part of Gasconade) to preach the Gospel and administer the sacraments to the Catholics who were widely scattered through that part of Missouri. He first visited Taos on May 28, 1838, and said Mass in the home of Herman Nieters family.

He continued his residence in Westphalia, from which point he visited the scattering members of his numerous charges for four years. With the approval of his superiors, he moved to Taos and transferred to this place the books with the records of baptisms and marriages. From that time Taos was for a number of years the center of all the missions in that part of the state. From here Father Helias regularly visited about 25 different places named on the record, some of which are not now known. Some of the locations have been washed away by the Missouri River. His circuit included St. Thomas in Cole County; Portland in Callaway County; Columbia in Boone County; Moniteau (now Cedron) in Moniteau County; Boonville, Pisgah and Pilot Grove in Cooper County; Franklin in Howard County; and last, but by no means least, Jefferson City where he worshipped first in the house of Gen. Anthony Kramer, near where now stands the Capitol. The nearby places he visited regularly, while more distant points only twice a year, his circuit frequently involving a trip of more than 100 miles.

When Father Helias was making one of his earlier visits to Taos (then known as Haarville) from Westphalia, the congregation offered 40 acres of ground for building a church, school and home for the priest, but refused to hand the deed for the land to Father Helias, who then purchased 10 acres of land from Henry and Gertrude Haar. The old home of Mr. Harr became the oldest part of the parsonage, the kitchen.

The first church in honor of St. Francis Xavier, was built of logs in 1840 and dedicated to St. Francis Xavier, a former Jesuit missionary to India. This house was later removed to the home of Ben Forck.

Also a school was started with the church on the forty acres intended for the place of the church. The first teacher was Mr. Weger, who died there later. The school at that time was not frequented regularly, and the instruction for preparing for the sacraments could be only very imperfect because of long and frequent absence of the pastor.

Father Helias relied on the donations of his family and friends in Europe for the support of his missionary work in those days. His mother, the Countess of Lens, was the main support for the church in Taos. With money furnished by his mother, Father Helias built a stone house connected with the kitchen by a hall. In 1845, the second church was built for the growing congregation of settlers which was dedicated on April 6, 1844 and claimed the distinction of being the first stone church building in Central Missouri.

A cemetery was first laid out on the 40 acres, but since the church was not built there its use was discontinued, and a new one of about one acre was selected near the church. When this became full, the original cemetery was enlarged and is now in use again, both cemeteries having been blessed by Bishop Kenrick of St. Louis.

Father Helias died in 1874 at the age of 80, having spent 36 years of his life in Taos. He was buried in the old cemetery. In 1964, ninety years after his death, his body was exhumed and laid to rest in a marble crypt in the church. His death was sudden although not unexpected, as he told his friends that he expected to die in such a manner. He had written the remembrances of his death on the back of small pictures and distributed among his friends, the date to be filled out after his death.

After his death several priests visited Taos at intervals until Rev. Father John Gruender was appointed pastor. By his zealous and earnest efforts, new life was infused into the congregation, which made a number of improvements, a new school house was built, which was later used as a teacher’s residence, and an addition was made to the parsonage. In 1881 a large number of the congregation withdrew and erected a church at Wardsville, this being the youngest of the many parishes that went out from the mother church.

In 1880 the congregation had grown from its original 20 to over 150 families and the little “rock” church was too small, so plans were made for the building of the present church. It was completed in 1883 with all the materials obtained from the local area and volunteer labor of hundreds of parishioners. It was dedicated on September 29, 1884 by Bishop Patrick Ryan of St. Louis. The old church was used as a school.

In 1885 Father Gruender made a trip to Europe, his duties during his absence being performed by Father Schulte. He was followed by Rev. Father Joseph H. Schmidt, he being the third regularly appointed pastor, a record remarkable for a church of so long a history.

In the 1980s the church was completely restored and decorated by the Schettler Studios of Carroll, Iowa. The sanctuary was enlarged and the three altar shrines, which were crafted by monks of the Josephine in 1885, were refinished in antique ivory and gold leaf. The statues were hand-painted in a variety of hues and colors and lifelike skin tones. A completely new lighting system was installed with chandeliers throughout. The pews were refinished and equipped with seat cushions and carpeting was installed throughout the church. The ceiling painting of “Christ and the Children” and the paintings of the “Four Evangelists,” painted in 1895 by the Oppenheimer Studios of St. Louis, were cleaned, retouched, and framed in gold leaf.

The Church of St. Francis Xavier has the distinction of possessing three paintings by the Italian Renaissance artist Guido Reni (1575-1642), one of which, “The Flagellation,” is a masterpiece. These paintings were a gift of Father Helias’ mother, the Countess of Lens and were brought from Europe by the Superior General of the Jesuit Order in 1846 to adorn the little rock church that was built in Taos in 1845. It is now the centerpiece of the High Altar in the present church in Taos. The other paintings of St. Francis Xavier and St. Francis of Assisi by the same artist decorate the two side altars.

The Reni paintings in the Church of St. Francis Xavier once formed an altar piece for a small village church outside of Naples. They were painted in 1601. At the time of their purchase by the Countess they were part of a collection of the Art Museum of Naples.

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