St. Clare Parishioners Carry on ‘Amazing Torch of Faith’

Pat Vollmer remembers well St. Clare of Assisi Parish’s centennial celebration.

“We had an outdoor auction and a play,” she said. “I was pregnant at the time, and I played a nun in the play,” she said with a laugh.

She also remembers the many farm animals auctioned off that day.

“Some of the children cried when their animals were sold and the dads had to buy them back. All in all it was a wonderful day.”

Vollmer was just one of about 400 people in attendance for St. Clare’s open house, Sunday, Aug. 13. The open house was held in conjunction with the Feast of St. Clare of Assisi and featured tours of the parish’s 10-year-old church, the ancient fossil stone altar and baptism font, Turkish iconography of Christ’s passion and hand-blown glass windows of creation, as well as several prayer spaces. Tour guides explained the meaning of Catholic architecture in the church.

The open house was just one of many celebration days planned over the course of 150 days as the oldest Catholic community in O’Fallon celebrates its sesquicentennial.

Father James Deiters, St. Clare’s pastor since 1996, spoke in his Sunday homily about the significance of the anniversary.

“It is both a privilege and a great responsibility carrying forward this amazing torch of faith that has been passed onto us,” he said.

The anniversary year kicked off June 4 with a Pentecost festival. On June 18, the parish held a Corpus Christi Procession, a mile-and-a-half walk from the present church north along Cross Street to the St. Clare School chapel, the parish’s historic second home.

The anniversary will culminate with a liturgy  Oct. 7, with Bishop Edward K. Braxton as celebrant.

The present church is the third structure to bear the St. Clare name. O’Fallon was founded in 1854, and four years later the town’s Catholics celebrated their first mass in the home of Thomas and Catherine Mackin, at the corner of First and Apple streets. The first church, a simple 36-foot by 56-foot brick building, served a congregation of 40 Catholics who scrimped and saved to put together $700 for four lots on Third Street. The first St. Clare Church was dedicated Dec. 17, 1867. Father Anton Rustige of Lebanon, celebrated the first Mass Dec. 29.

A permanent pastor was assigned in 1868. A rectory was soon built and a Catholic school founded. By 1890 the parish recognized it was time to build again and the foundation for the second St. Clare Church was laid in 1890 at Third and Oak streets.

The second church was dedicated in 1895 and served as the parish home for more than a century.

As the 21st century dawned, the parish suffered more growing pains. In 2001, parishioner Louis Rasp gave the parish 20 acres and parishioners began to build the third church building. This year the parish marks not only St. Clare Parish’s Sesquicentennial but also the tenth anniversary of the present church building.