‘One hour a week is all we need’ Parishioners at rural St. Charles County Catholic Church appeal decision to merge

The Archdiocese announced last month that St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church would be absorbed into St. Charles Borromeo.
Published: Jun. 7, 2023 at 10:12 PM CDT
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ST. LOUIS, Mo. (KMOV) - Parishioners at a rural St. Charles County Catholic Church are pushing back against a decision by the Archdiocese of St. Louis to absorb their parish into a different parish in the city of St. Charles.

In late May, Archbishop Mitchell Rozanski announced in their ‘All Things New’ consolidation plan that 178 parishes are merging into 135 parishes.

That includes St. Francis of Assisi subsuming, or absorbing, into St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church.

“One hour a week is all we need, a priest to come and say one Mass on Sunday,” said Lori Bauer.

That is Bauer’s simple request to the Archdiocese of St. Louis.

She’s a parishioner at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church, in Portage Des Sioux, a church that while being rebuilt multiple times, has sat in the same spot since 1799.

It was first occupied by French settlers, at one point burned down in 1879, and then was rebuilt into its current incarnation.

And the same church pews have sat there for the last 150 years.

The rural church currently has a traveling priest say Mass every Sunday at 8 a.m.

“Not everybody in the community goes to church here on Sunday mornings but it is key to so many people,” said Bauer.

But that could change.

Effective August 1, the parish is set to be merged with St. Charles Borromeo, roughly a 20-minute drive from St. Francis.

For some, the drive would be quite the trot.

“I’m thinking about 35 minutes, we would probably give ourselves 40 minutes to be comfortable,” said Rene Nation.

Nation and her husband dutifully bus their nine young children to St. Francis every Sunday.

As you might imagine, they have a system, such as keeping clothes and shoes in their van, all to make the 10-minute drive and get to Mass on time in Portage Des Sioux.

She worries in the long run, dealing with unpredictable kids, they’ll have to miss Mass at St. Charles.

“And I just feel that after so long of doing that, us going to Mass would eventually fade out,” said Nation.

But both women, and many others, are fighting to keep their church alive.

On Wednesday they sent in 149 letters from the community telling the Archdiocese they’re aggrieved, essentially they’re appealing the decision.

One of those letters is from a 98-year-old parishioner, Olga Echele, who was baptized at the church in 1925. She said seven generations of her family have attended Mass at the church.

A spokesperson for the Archdiocese of St. Louis told News 4 they’ll wait until the appeals deadline passes to make any public comment on any of the parish mergers.

In the decree, they outlined why the parish is merging, including past flooding issues, a declining Mass population and only 68 total parishioners.

Bauer took issue with all the reasons, but made a point to say that it’s a community church that is growing.

“We are a small parish but when push comes to shove people in this community step up, they help us with our parish picnic, they’re there for every event supporting us.”

Her husband, Doug Bauer, also pointed out that the local school district, Orchard Farm, is building a new high school, and that people are flocking to St. Charles County.

Doug and Lori also said that while the church did flood in the massive 1993 flood, it has since avoided flooding.

Lori Bauer said if the Archbishop doesn’t agree with them, they’re willing to go to the Vatican, which has the final say.

“We think that this is a historic church and we think, that if that’s where we need to go to have our voice heard, then that’s what we need to do,” said Lori Bauer.