If walls could speak, these might say, “I wish Jefferson City the blessing and prosperity and progress. As for myself, I thank God for having spared me all these years.”
Anyway, that’s what Monsignor Joseph D. Selinger said on his 78th birthday, not long before construction began on the iconic building that bears his name.
Some 82 years later, Bishop W. Shawn McKnight visited St. Peter parish in Jefferson City to help celebrate the Feast of Ss. Peter and Paul and to rededicate the newly renovated Selinger Catholic Hospitality Centre.
“After much work and prayer by so many members of our parish, we gather now to bless and dedicate this renewed parish hall,” said Bishop McKnight. “It will continue to be a center for parish activities and a place where we may come to know one another and give witness to our faith in Christ.”
Named for a Hannibal native who served as associate pastor at St. Peter parish from 1888-90 and as pastor from 1904-34, the Selinger Centre has been a nexus of parish social life for over 80 years.
Msgr. Selinger (1859-1938) was present for the cornerstone laying and for the dedication, both of which took place in the year of his 50th priestly anniversary.
Bishop Christian H. Winkelmann, an auxiliary bishop of St. Louis and former pastor of Sacred Heart parish in Rich Fountain, dedicated the center on Dec. 5, 1937. A few years later, he would be made bishop of Wichita, Bishop McKnight’s home diocese.
The renovation of the building was the final piece of a three-part capital campaign that also included repairs to the church and school.
Work included updating the entrance with new steps, handicap-accessible ramps and built-in light fixtures; creating a handicap-accessible entrance to the lower level; refurbishing the upstairs kitchen and completely replacing the one downstairs; renewing and reorienting the downstairs seating area and restrooms; and updating the Quilting/Scouting Room.
Left intact are the terra-cotta wainscoting, the wooden athletic floor with its distinctive patina, and arched windows affording impressive views of St. Peter Church next door.
Catholic and evangelical
Joining Bishop McKnight at the altar for the feastday Mass were Father Charles Pardee, pastor of St. Peter parish, and Monsignor Robert A. Kurwicki VG, vicar general for the diocese and pastor of St. Michael parish in Russellville.
Assisting were Deacon David Thompson and Father Joshua Duncan, master of ceremonies.
“Here in this church building, dedicated to God in honor of St. Peter, we offer up our prayers for his intercession to help us remain faithful to Jesus,” said Bishop McKnight. “As Peter was the rock for the early Christian Church, we, too, can be a foundation, a resource, a support for others in our lives who may be tempted to fall away from the faith.”
He said the Feast of Ss. Peter and Paul, dating from the third century, marks the foundation of the ancient Church of Rome, the mother of all Catholic churches throughout the West.
“Peter, with his mission to the Jews, and Paul, with his mission to the Gentiles, symbolize the two poles of the Church’s single mission,” the bishop stated.
“Our Church is both catholic (Petrine) and evangelical (Pauline),” he said.
Peter and Paul gave witness to Jesus Christ not only in their preaching and actions but also in the shedding of their blood.
“We witness Christ with our very lives, by adhering intellectually to the content of Jesus’ teaching, the Church’s doctrines, in how we pray, especially in the celebration of the sacraments that Jesus gave us, and in living the Gospel virtues, especially charity,” said Bishop McKnight.
The bishop summoned the people to a deeper commitment to private and communal prayer.
“If we fail to practice prayer, individually in our homes, together as families and together as a parish family, we will fail in our mission in life and our mission as a parish,” he said. “Without prayer, we lose faith. Without prayer, we lose our hope. Without prayer, we lose the virtue of charity.”
While encouraging people to carve out time for individual and family prayer and for personal devotions such as the Rosary, the bishop emphasized that none of them can take the place of the Eucharist, the source and summit of Christian life.
“The value of the Mass celebrated here in Jefferson City in this Church of St. Peter is no less than that celebrated by the Pope in St. Peter’s Basilica,” he said.
After Mass, the people followed the bishop to the Selinger Centre for the blessing and a reception.
Fr. Pardee led prayers for all who are baptized; for the parish; for all whose work and contributions helped bring the renovation project about; and all who will use the building as a means of deepening their participation in the life of the Church.
Bishop McKnight prayed: “We ask You now to bless us and all who will use this parish hall. May all who come here know the presence of Christ and experience the joy of His friendship and grow in His love.”
Fr. Pardee then walked among the people, sprinkling holy water onto them and the building’s walls.
Participants then moved to the upper level for a pot-luck reception.
After dinner, Darin Rinehart, the parish council president, reflected on the occasion through the lens of gratitude.
“We need to be thankful to God for blessing us with a place like this and with the resources that we need to keep it up,” he said.
He thanked everyone who had a hand in making the center safer and more useful for generations to come.
“Together, we’ve breathed a new breath of life into this grand old building,” he said. “I think they did an impeccable job on it; and you, the parishioners, have given with an attitude of gratitude.”
He singled out Jack Kramer, who has been serving on the parish property committee for many years, presenting him with a large crucifix in recognition for all he has done.
“Grand old building”
In an article in the parish bulletin, parishioner Ed Rackers noted that more than 1,200 people attended the Selinger Centre’s dedication in 1937.
“It has provided enjoyment through the years through roller-skating, dances, school assemblies, tournaments, weddings, anniversaries, card parties, mission parties, Christmas bazaars, ham and bean dinners, pancake dinners, and most importantly Holy Mass,” he stated.
Mr. Rinehart said he loves watching people’s eyes light up when they tell stories about things that have taken place in the building.
“A lot of everything has gone through here,” he said.
Among them were professional boxing and wrestling matches, diocesan gatherings and even a few national conferences that took place during the 12 years when St. Peter Church was the diocese’s cathedral.
“I pray that we continue using this place as a center to further the Church’s mission and that we have many more occasions to celebrate,” said Mr. Rinehart.