The excitement surrounding St. Louis’s pending elevation to the ranks of U.S. professional soccer cities will hopefully bring to mind the memory of Bishop Charles Roman Koester (1915-97).
The Jefferson City native introduced “the beautiful game” to Italian families in St. Louis’s The Hill neighborhood.
Charles’s father, John F. Koester, published a weekly German-language newspaper in Jefferson City. It later became an English-language publication and was sold in 1927 to the predecessors of the Jefferson City News Tribune.
Charles’s seemingly prophetic middle name came from his maternal grandfather, Roman Schwaller.
After graduating from the former St. Peter High School in Jefferson City, Roman’s grandson actually spent four years in Rome as a seminarian, becoming an avid soccer fan in the process.
Upon returning to the St. Louis archdiocese in 1942, during World War II, he was assigned to St. Ambrose parish, comprised mostly of Italian immigrants living in a neighborhood known as The Hill.
He encouraged the boys of the parish to take up soccer — first in the form of “pick-up games” in the churchyard and empty lots and later in organized leagues.
He continued his influence in the Catholic Youth Conference (CYC) even after being appointed an auxiliary bishop of St. Louis in 1971, at age 55.
Bishop Koester continued returning home to the Capital City to visit family and friends and offer Mass with the Discalced Carmelite Sisters in what is now the adoration chapel of Cathedral of St. Joseph parish.
He also sometimes brought news from St. Louis to men from St. Louis who were incarcerated in the Missouri State Penitentiary.
His long-time friendship with Hall of Fame baseball players Yogi Berra and Joe Garagiola, both of whom grew up on The Hill, fueled his lifelong fandom of the St. Louis Cardinals.
He later befriended Hall of Famer Tommy LaSorda, longtime manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers.
In all, he was assigned to seven parishes as a priest, followed by three more as a bishop.
He retired from full-time ministry at age 75 and moved to the Regina Cleri home for retired priests in St. Louis.
He died on Christmas Eve of 1997, at age 82.
Visitation took place for two days in St. Ambrose Church, followed by a Funeral Mass in the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis.
St. Joan of Arc parish in St. Louis still sponsors the Bishop Koester Memorial Soccer Tournament.
The Missouri River Regional Library in Jefferson City has in its local section an extensively illustrated booklet on the life of Bishop Koester.
Mr. Bode, a member of Cathedral of St. Joseph parish in Jefferson City, is a former editor of The Catholic Missourian.