“I love this house of yours, O Lord, the place where Your glory dwells.”
— Psalm 26:8
By Jay Nies
That old rugged cross still clings to St. Mary Church in Adair, a full 45 years after the last regular Sunday Mass was celebrated there.
The same cross also clings to the cover of Faith of Our Fathers: The Churches of Missouri, written by Holts Summit author and poet Linda Kerns, with help from the staff of Rural Missouri magazine and hundreds of its readers.
“All aspects of Missouri’s churches are covered in a 180-page book that celebrates the great faith of the state’s citizens,” stated Rural Missouri editor Jim McCarty, a member of St. Francis Xavier parish in Taos and self-proclaimed “lifelong Fr. Helias fan.”
The book, commissioned in 2007 by Missouri’s rural electric cooperatives and now available at a discounted price, is a visually striking survey of the places where heaven and earth converge under steeples and other sermons-in-stone dotting the state’s great agrarian expanses.
Filled with color photos, the hardcover book presents a mosaic of faith traditions, cultures and centuries, beginning with the earliest Christians to set foot in present-day Missouri: French and Spanish Catholics.
Ms. Kerns, a Baptist whose childhood in a small town in Tennessee brought her into contact with a few Catholics and an occasional Christmas Mass in their simple, unadorned church, said she was “blown away” the first time she went into St. Joseph Church in Springfield, Missouri.
“I had never seen anything so ornate in all my life!” she said. “I just stood there, trying to take it all in. It was amazing.”
Similarly, the first time she drove through Westphalia and beheld St. Joseph Church on the highest hill, “it just took my breath away,” she said.
She was pleasantly startled during a trip to Starkenburg to discover outdoor Stations of the Cross at the Shrine of Our Lady of Sorrows — which is featured prominently in the book.
She enjoyed learning the story about the Shrine of St. Joseph in St. Louis, where the still-resplendent, 50-foot-tall Altar of Answered Prayers was the congregation’s response to God’s deliverance from 1868’s deadly cholera epidemic.
She found it interesting that the earthly remains of a former pastor of St. Joachim Parish in Old Mines are buried under the church floor. That church, according to the book’s second chapter, dates from 1830, making it the oldest Catholic church still standing west of the Mississippi River.
Among the “People of Faith” highlighted in Chapter 4 of the book are Jesuit Father Ferdinand Helias, known as the Apostle of Central Missouri; and Venerable Father Augustus Tolton, the Church’s first recognizably Black priest in the United States.
Chapter 5, “The Works Thy Hands Have Made,” focuses on outdoor spiritual environments such the Starkenburg shrine; the National Shrine of Mary, Mother of the Church in Laurie; the Black Madonna Shrine and Grottos in Eureka; the Lady of St. Joseph Shrine and Schnurbusch Karst Window in Apple Creek; and the site of Father John J. Hogan’s Irish Wilderness settlement in southern Missouri.
Chapter 6, “Offerings,” highlights various goings-on at Missouri churches, including Mass at St. Francis Xavier Church in Taos and historical St. Patrick Church in Laurie.
The book also includes Jefferson City’s current and previous cathedrals, Conception Abbey in Conception, the National Shrine of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal in Perryville, and other Catholic churches and sites in Cedron, Freeburg, Loose Creek, Frankenstein, Salem, Sedalia, Rich Fountain, Spring Fork, St. Patrick, Leopold, Edina, Neier, Ursaline, New Hamburg, Bonnots Mill, Osage Bend, Glasgow, Steelville, St. Thomas, Ste. Genevieve and Vienna.
And these represent only one of many faith traditions featured in the book.
While sifting through the source material, Ms. Kerns was pleased to encounter the richness of faith that continues to be a major part of rural Missouri.
“As a Christian, it was really refreshing and motivating for me to see that there are still so many people who hold so strongly to their faith,” she said.
She also couldn’t overlook the heavy family ties that seem to go hand-in-hand with church membership.
“A lot of the information people sent in included personal family history,” she noted. “I think it’s interesting to see how much faith and family have to do with Missouri as a whole.”
Mr. McCarty’s great-grandfather, Patrick McCarty, came to Missouri from Ireland and settled his family on a Mississippi River island near Ste. Genevieve. Mr. McCarty recently went to Mass in St. Joseph Church in Prairie du Rocher, Ill., where his great-grandfather had been a parishioner.
“While waiting for Mass to begin,” he recalled, “I was thinking about my ancestors going to church there, and how Patrick brought the faith with him from Ireland, and how that faith had been passed down to my grandfather, my father, me, and my three children. I got goose bumps when the opening hymn was ‘Faith of Our Fathers.’
“So that, of course, had to be the title of the book.”
The beginning of each chapter includes religious poetry by Ms. Kerns, most of it written especially for the book.
“It was something I really felt needed to be part of the book to show my faith and my relationship with God,” she said. “These have always been at my very core.
“The architecture of so many of these churches amazes me,” she said. “I think about things like: What does it take to build a dome and have it look like a dome, and have it be stable and secure?”
Faith of our Fathers: The Churches of Missouri can be ordered online at ruralmissouri.coop/merchandise.php or by calling (573) 659-3423. The cost is $25 plus shipping.