Saving the Shrine

The Friends of Old St. Ferdinand campaign to preserve area landmark

 By Nicholas Elmes

The Friends of Old St. Ferdinand are spearheading a new fundraising campaign to preserve one of Florissant’s most historic landmarks.

The group is working to raise over $400,000 for critical repairs to Old St. Ferdinand Church and its surrounding buildings.

Friends of Old St. Ferdinand President Doug Riser said the historic Catholic church has had a presence in the St. Louis area since 1791.

“This was the first Catholic Church built between the Mississippi and the Rocky Mountains,” he said.

“It actually started as a log cabin built in 1789,” said Riser, noting that the first brick structure built on the current site was constructed in 1819.  “Then in 1821 they built the original church here and in the 1880’s they extended it to its current size.”

“The Historic Old St. Ferdinand Shrine church and convent both are older than the Old Cathedral in St. Louis,” said Florissant Mayor Thomas P. Schneider. “The convent predates Missouri’s statehood in 1821 and may be the oldest building still standing in the Louisiana Purchase territory. I arranged for Ameren UE to illuminate the buildings to protect them and to reflect our rich history.”

“For nearly two centuries Old St. Ferdinand has served the Spanish, German, French and Irish communities that have made Florissant one of the biggest and most historic cities in Missouri,” added Schneider.  “We hope that residents in Florissant and greater St. Louis will respond with donations to maintain one of the area’s most important historical institutions for generation to come.”

While the church’s age alone would make it worth saving, Riser said it also holds historical significance because of the clergy who have served at the church over the years.

“The convent was constructed for Mother Philippine Duchesne, who later was canonized by the Roman Catholic Church as St. Rose Philippine Duchesne,” said Riser. “She spent many years here and this is the only area in the Midwest that had a saint staying in it. The floors in the sanctuary are the original floors so you can literally walk in the footsteps of a saint.”

But the many years of history mean that preserving the structures is no small feat.

“It is an ongoing process, but it has gotten so bad that we have to put a lot of money into it to preserve it,” said Riser, noting that conservative estimates of the repairs top out at over $400,000. “We have a lot of brick work that needs to be done, redoing the mortar and sealing it. We do not know how long some of the bricks are going to hold up. Some areas are still sturdy, but other areas are questionable where we have pieces of bricks fall off every day. It is critical.”

Other critical major repairs include: repairs and painting of the rectory porch; the convent porch; major window work with some sash replacement, as well as painting and puttying of all others; replacement of the handicap access ramp; repair and painting of church doors; and moisture control problems associated with sump pump plumbing.

And then there is the issue of the ceiling in the sanctuary.

“We have a major crack where the walls are starting to move out a little bit and impacting the structure of the roof,” said Riser, noting that the actual roof was just recently redone, replacing heavy slate with lighter, longer-lasting composite shingles.

To help raise the needed funds, The Friends of Old St. Ferdinand have created a Go Fund Me page at https://www.gofundme.com/RestoreTheShrine where donors can easily give to the project online.

The Friends of Old St. Ferdinand have also created a group called the 200 Club, in honor of the Shrine’s upcoming 200th anniversary in 2019.  All donations will be acknowledged by publication of donor names in the Old St. Ferdinand newsletter.  Those donating $200 or more will be recognized with name plates mounted to an honor board outside of the rectory office. 

Checks should be made payable to Friends of Old St. Ferdinand and mailed to Friends of Old St. Ferdinand, #1 rue St. Francois, Florissant MO 63031. Those donors wishing to join the 200 Club should mark “200 Club” in the memo section of their check or in the comment section of the “Go Fund Me” page. Donors are also asked to affix a return address with the name of the donor they wish to be recognized.

For more information call the Friends of Old St. Ferdinand office at 314-837-2110 between 9 a.m. and  noon Monday through Saturday, e-mail oldstferdinandshrine@gmail.com or visit its web site at www.StFerdinandShrine.com.

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