Slovak and Carpatho-Rusyn Genealogical Research
Saint John Nepomuk
The Saint Louis Mother Church
of Eastern European Catholics
St. John Nepomuk will have a Goulash Festival on November 11, 2007.
Chicken will also be served.
At the hall 1625 11th Street in St. Louis, Missouri.
11 AM to 6 PM
$8.00 adults, $4.00 children
Special Christmas Cards of the chapel will be available for sale.
$5.00 for 12 cards plus shipping. Call 1-314-631-8410 to order if you can't come to the festival.
The first body of emigrants from Bohemia sailed around the United States to New Orleans, Louisiana. Finding the climate there too warm, they sailed up the Mississippi River, and landed at St. Louis. Not all of them remained there. Some decided to try their fortunes in city life, while others again determined to proceed farther up the River, to continue their lives as farmers, in Iowa, Wisconsin, and Michigan. That was in 1848.
St. Louis then numbered about 150,000. The Bohemians must have landed somewhere around the foot of Soulard St., because to proceed farther meant to run into the business district, and north St. Louis was too settled then, which undoubtedly must have made the value of property higher than in South St. Louis. The section south of the business and manufacturing district was called French Town. Here they started to look for homes, and many found employment in the factories around here. Most of these settlers were poverty stricken, and there are no records which can tell of the hardships these pioneers must have endured. As more of their countrymen came to St. Louis and settled around Soulard Street, that part became known as "Bohemian Hill".
In 1854, a small group of Czech Catholic immigrants was laboring against great odds to organize the first Czech parish in America and to build a little wooden church, Saint John Nepomuk.
The church of St. John Nepomuk became the first tangible accomplishment of the St. Louis Bohemian community. The growth and progress of St. John Nepomuk from 1865 to 1896 was remarkable. From the original small church of 1855 the parish grew one of the largest in St. Louis.
In the early 1890's the church was getting extremely crowded, so that it was evident that some changes would have to be made. Therefore, Father Hessoun was very anxious to do something about it. One of two solutions had to be decided upon, either to enlarge the present church or to establish a second Bohemian parish. Father Hessoun was in favor of enlarging the church, and for that purpose he bought some property west of the church.
Another big difficulty was in the way. Immediately to the rear of the church was an alley, making enlargement impossible. But the Monsignor settled that by getting the city to give him permission to build over that alley, and run a new one along the side of his newly bought property.
Father Hessoun had all the preparations for enlarging the church, when Vicar-General Muehlsiepen advised him not to do so, but to establish a new parish farther west in St. Louis, since many of the Bohemian families were moving out that way.
Accordingly Father Hessoun in 1889 bought a lot on McNair and Pestalozzi St. for $9,000. Two years later this was sold at a profit, and for the money Father Hessoun bought a large tract of land still farther west, one block wide (from Crittenden to Arsenal) and 5 blocks long (from Nebraska to Texas, except for a few lots which already had been previously sold, and in some cases built upon). This land was partitioned off into lots, and with the money Father Hessoun built the second Bohemian church in St. Louis on Oregon Ave., and dedicated it to St. Wenceslaus in 1895.
The Slovaks who emigrated to St. Louis in the latter part of the 19th century attended St. John Nepomuk Church, as the Czech and Slovak languages are quite similar. In 1895, they began to have services in their own tongue, and also used the chapel on the third floor of the west school.
In 1898, they bought a small Baptist church on 12th and Park which was for sale due to the dissolution of the congregation. It was named Holy Trinity Slovak Parish. Father Linek became pastor there immediately after his ordination December 20, 1914.
When 12th St. was widened in 1922 he had the church moved a short distance west. In 1924 when the Lutheran congregation on 1809 S. 9th St. moved, Father Linek bought the property and moved the Holy Trinity Slovak Church and school to its present site with due pomp and parade.
At the turn of the century a growing community of Croatians attended St. John Nepomuk Church. Once a month a sermon in the Croatian language was delivered to them. In 1904 they received permission to start their own parish, and accordingly they bought a Jewish Synagogue on Chouteau Ave. just east of 12th St., remodeled it and dedicated it to St. Joseph.
When the Ursuline Sisters moved away from 12th & Russell in 1928, where they had conducted an academy, the St. Joseph Croatian Congregation bought the property, comprising an entire city block, remodeled the buildings for a church, school, rectory and convent.
Their old church on 12th and Chouteau was purchased by the Catholic Hungarians and named St. Stephen's Hungarian Church. Previous to this, many of the Hungarians had also attended St. John Nepomuk Church. In 1957 the parish merged with and moved to Saint Mary of Victories Church. The official name of the parish is now St. Stephen of Hungary Parish at Saint Mary of Victories Church.
In the last decade of the nineteenth century a sizable number of Ruthenian, Lemko, and Ukranian Catholics of the Eastern rite had settled in the neighborhood of St. John's, and attended this parish. On May 6, 1894 for the first time in the middle-west they held services by their own priest in their own rite in St. John Nepomuk Church.
On May 27, 1896 Saint John Nepomuk Church was destroyed by a tornado that ravaged Saint Louis and the Bohemian Hill area of Soulard. A new and larger Saint John Nepomuk Church was rebuilt on the site.
The first brick St. John Nepomuk Church was 62 by 114 feet. The second brick church, built after the cyclone, is 38 feet longer, with the same width. The steeple was always 170 feet above the level of the street.
As their numbers grew, Father Hessoun permitted the Eastern Rite Catholics to use the children's chapel, then on the third floor of the old west school, for their services in their own rite every Sunday.
When the St. John's High Church Episcopal, on Dolman and Hickory, closed its doors in 1907, the Ruthenian Catholics bought the property and Catholic services were held there for the first time on the Feast of the Assumption of our Blessed Mother, 1907, and the church was formally dedicated to "St. Mary of the Assumption". The cost of acquiring the property was $10,000.00.
In the 1930's the Saint Mary of the Assumption church switched to the Ukrainian Rite and it wasn't until the 1970's that the Ruthenians re-established a Byzantine Catholic community in Saint Louis.
The Polish Parish, Our Lady of Czestochowa, on Victor St. between Third and Fourth Sts. was founded in 1908. Previous to the building of their own church, many Polish people of this neighborhood attended St. John Nepomuk Church.
In 1917 the Lithuanian Catholics of this neighborhood, many of whom had attended St. John Nepomuk Church, began their own parish, with their church on Park and Armstrong, opposite Lafayette Park, now St. Joseph's Lithuanian Church.
In November, 1999, Father Portucheck retired and was replaced by Father Paul Spielman.
The Chapel is now served by Father Paul Spielman.
St John Nepomuk Weekly Mass Schedule:
Thursday - 12 Noon
Saturday Mass for Sunday - 4:30 p.m.
Sunday Mass - 9:30 a.m. - Czech Hymns are sung on Sunday
Phone number: (314) 231-0141 or (314) 231-2484
You will be well rewarded in visiting this most wonderful historic church that played such an important part in the lives of almost all Eastern European immigrants to the Saint Louis area. From the magnificant Stained Glass to all the statuary, your visit will leave you with lasting impressions. When you visit Saint Louis, work the church into your travel schedule.
Source information from the 125th Jubilee of St. John Nepomuk Church, a history of the first Czech church in the United States and the priests who served this congregation together with congratulatory messages, program of celebration, decorations of the church and other items, published 1979
Order the 125th Jubilee of Saint John Nepomuk Book
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