History 1866-1880

homeHistory 1866-1880

Father Francis Xavier Weninger, a famous Jesuit missionary, came to St. Joseph's Parish to preach a mission. Father Weninger preached on the Blessed Peter Claver, who was held to have great intercessory powers with God. Mrs. Strecker happened to attend the service and she was so impressed that she hurried home to implore her dying husband to seek the help of Peter Claver.

The next day, Wednesday, March 16, 1864, Mr. Strecker managed to drag himself to the church. He arrived just as Father Weninger was blessing the congregation with a relic of Peter Claver. Observing Mr. Strecker's extreme weakness, the priest allowed him to kiss the relic. Immediately, the sick man seemed to experience a resurgence of strength. He began to heal and within a few days he returned to his job. In a few months, he was restored to full health.

Two years after this spectacular cure, the Most Reverend Michael O'Connor, a Jesuit priest, made a thorough canonical investigation of the incident. In 1887, the miracle was formally declared authentic by Cardinal Bianchi in Rome. Therefore, it was chosen as one of the two required miracles in the canonization process of Peter Claver. He was canonized a Saint the following year. St. Joseph’s Church became the only church in St. Louis as a site of an authenticated miracle. It developed a legend of assistance to the afflicted.

In August of 1866, work progressed on the remodeling of the church. There was an outbreak of cholera at that time in St. Louis. St. Joseph's Parish alone had as many as 20 burials a day! Cholera was caused by contaminated drinking water and was contagious. The Jesuit Fathers and Brothers of St. Joseph did what they could to help the people. Even the greatest medical minds of the time did not know how to combat this deadly disease.

At the height of the epidemic, Father Joseph Weber, pastor of St. Joseph’s Parish gathered the parishioners together. They made a solemn vow that if St. Joseph would intercede for them, so that there were no further deaths from cholera in the parish, they would erect a suitable monument to him as a thanksgiving tribute. Then and there, the congregation pledged an initial $4,000.00 for this purpose.

From that day on, not a single member of any family who had signed the vow and pledge died of the dread disease. The parish decided that a fitting monument to St. Joseph, to express their gratitude, would be a special altar installed for their newly remodeled church.

Bueschers of Chicago, famous for their religious art work, were employed to carve an elaborate altar. It was designed as a replica of the Altar of St. Ignatius in the Jesuit Gesu Church in Rome. The only exception was that the figure of St. Joseph and the Christ Child would be substituted for the figure of St. Ignatius. Beneath the central figures appear the words: "Ite ad Joseph" Go to Joseph.

Known as The Altar of Answered Prayers, because of its origin, this beautiful work can still be seen at St. Joseph's Shrine, where it serves as the Main Altar. It was installed early in 1867, at a total cost of $6,131.00. The grateful parishioners raised the additional funds, above their original pledge, in recognition of their deliverance from the cholera epidemic.

The primary remolding was completed in 1866. Father Pierre Jean De Smet, noted missionary to the Indians, officiated at the dedication services on December 30, 1866.

Read more Shrine history from the years 1880 to 1954.

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