St. Agatha Parish History
The history of St. Agatha Parish dates back to the year 1871. The end of the civil war, only six years previously, had given impetus to the development of new sections of the city, and one of these was the neighborhood of the present St. Agatha Parish. Among the new arrivals were many Catholics of German extraction who found themselves far removed from SS Peter and Paul Church, their mother parish. Added to the difficulties of distance was the most unsatisfactory kind of transportation; the sidewalks were of the crudest construction. Clearly a new parish was needed to serve the good people of this area.
Reverend J. A. Stroombergen was assigned to start the canvassing of the area. Within two weeks he had visited two hundred families and obtained pledges from them totaling $5,000 for the new enterprise. Failing health very quickly forced him to retire. The Reverend Herman Leygraaff succeeded Fr. Stroombergen. His first official act was to purchase a piece of ground just off of 9th and Utah Streets for $1,800. A building serving the threefold purpose of church, school, and rectory was built at a cost of $17,000. Laying of the corner-stone took place on October 29th, 1871, in the presence of a large number of clergy, the entire parish, and many visitors.
In September 1872, the parish school was opened, with one lay teacher, and two Sisters of the Most Precious Blood. The following year, those Sisters were housed permanently in the first floor of the new school building and the pastor was moved into a new rectory that was also built in 1872.
April 7, 1893, marked a happy day for the good Sisters of the Most Precious Blood, who for some years had lived in the crowded quarters on the first floor of the school. On that day, they moved into a new house at the northwest corner of the parish property. This building, spacious and practicable, has often been referred to as the Mother House of the Precious Blood Sisters, because for a short time at least it served as the center of operation for a young community of sisters then gaining a foothold in the archdiocese.
The year 1896 is notable for two great events. In that year, the present rectory was built at a cost of $13,000. The second important event of that year was the observance of the silver jubilee of the parish on October 25th.
Near the turn of the century, in 1899, growing pains again attacked the parish; the church was too small to accommodate its growing number of adults and its six hundred and fifty school children. But Fr. Schrage had built with foresight in 1884. It was now a comparatively easy matter to enlarge the church by building a transept and new sanctuary, thus enlarging the building considerably and at the same time rendering it architecturally complete.
First church and school
Father Leygraaff, having accomplished this auspicious beginning, left after three years to assume a professional chair at the Salesian Seminary in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He was followed by the Reverend William Hinssen, in 1874, who spent nine years of his tenure at St. Agatha in beautifying the church with a high altar, two bells, a new organ, and numerous statues, vestments, and sacred vessels. By the year 1879, only eight years after its founding, St. Agatha Parish numbered 300 families.
In 1883 a new rector, Father Henry Schrage, was appointed. He purchased the ground on the corner of 9th and Utah for $6,000. Excavation began on October 14th, 1884. On April 12, 1885, the corner-stone was laid and on September 27th of that year, the new church was dedicated.
1900 - 1999
As mentioned previously, the number of school children had increased so rapidly that the old school, by the year 1900, was too small to accommodate them properly. Nothing, however, could be done about it at that time because of a heavy parish debt of $50,000. By 1909, though, the debt had been greatly reduced and plans were underway for a new school-hall combination. Despite the unlooked-for difficulties, the building began on March 10, 1909 and was completed by Thanksgiving Eve. The occasion was suitably celebrated with an elaborate musical program rendered before almost 1500 persons. By 1918, St. Agatha was beginning to enter what was called its “golden Age”, under the careful guidance of Fr. Otto T. Siesener. The Golden Jubilee of the parish was fittingly observed in 1921, first with a complete redecoration of the church and then a grand celebration on Sunday, October 23rd.
New school and hall building in 1909
Two months had hardly passed when the parish suffered a severe loss in the devastating fire of December 31, 1921. The fire was detected about 3:30pm. The priests left their confessionals and barely had time to rescue the Sacred Species and sacred vessels before the full force of the flames drove them out of the church. The fire raged on until late in the night and the next morning presented a sorry spectacle at 9th and Utah Streets. An improvised altar was set up in the hall , and pews were brought up from the lower church. Mass was said for the faithful there until the church was repaired in October 1922.
The summer of 1926 saw extensive improvements in the school hall to help render the building fireproof. Total cost, about $10,000. Two new bells were installed in the clock tower in September 1928, aiding to summon the faithful to divine services at St. Agatha. The summer of 1937 saw another redecoration of the church. Father Siesener gave much time and thought to this project and the results were very pleasing.
St. Agatha Church
In late February 1941, this saintly pastor of St. Agatha, fortified with the sacraments of Holy Mother Church, passed away. In June, of that same year, the Most Reverend Archbishop John J. Glennon had appointed the Reverend James Ehlenz the new pastor. With his arrival, Fr. Ehlenz found that his special work would in general be improvements of the parish properties. Each building in turn needed improvement or repair, and each got it. Throughout the following year, extensive improvements were made in the school building, including a thorough cleaning and painting, new flooring, light fixtures, a public address system in all the class rooms, and a completely new kitchen in the upstairs hall of the school. Now the ladies of the parish could serve 500 people at one time on the occasion of picnics and other festivities. In the summer of 1945, this renovation project was complete. Improvements were also made in the church during this same time. The Communion rail was moved outward into the sanctuary thus giving all a better view of the altar. A new Tabernacle was built into the altar, and a “baldachin” installed above, this making the altar conform more closely to the prescriptions of the liturgy. In the years that followed, each of the pastors, Msgr. Bernard Granich, and Father James Rodis, set their goals and made their niche’s within St. Agatha.
Where children’s voices were once heard, St. Elizabeth’s Day Care Center now occupies the main floor of the school. Sisters of the Most Precious Blood still live in the convent, but the upkeep and care of the Parish property goes on. Tuck-pointing around the four buildings was done early in 1993, and the parking lot has been resurfaced numerous times, following the removal of the concession stand from the west side of the property, providing us with much needed parking space. Starting in early 1992, the organ underwent a complete refurbishing, a much needed project, the last such undertaking being in the 1920's. (See Organ History)
2000 - present
Thus we have come here, several years past the century mark in the history of our parish. From the time of its foundation in October 1871, until the present time, many zealous priests, both pastors and assistants, have spent themselves in promoting the welfare of their people here. In that time, too, thousands of loyal parishioners have given generously of their time and money in assisting the clergy to carry out the various works and projects necessary to keep a parish thriving. But at no time have the parishioners responded so enthusiastically as they have in the onset of this century in helping to raise the money for the extensive improvements just completed. Such cooperation is deeply appreciated by the clergy and gives promise of many more years of harmonious relationships between the priests and their people. May we all proceed together in the peace and charity of Christ towards the next natural milestone in the history of St. Agatha.
Bird eye view of st. Agatha parish
December 2004 marked yet another milestone in the history of this parish. Fr. James Rodis was asked to retire from service to the Archdiocese, and another group of priests, The Order of Christ The King Sovereign Priest, to serve St. Agatha’s. They shunned the English Masses for those strictly in Latin. This Order served the parish until July 2005, when this Mass was relocated from St. Agatha’s Parish to that of St. Francis de Sales. St. Agatha’s became the new parish for the Mass in Polish. The Parish, now known at the Polish Roman Catholic Parish, offers Masses both in English and Polish.
On July 1, 2005, Archbishop Burke established St. Agatha Parish as the only official Polish Church in St. Louis. The Parish, from then on known as the Polish Roman Catholic Parish, was headed by Pastor, Rev. Czesław Litak and offered Masses in both English and Polish.
At the end of 2007, the Adult Day Care Center closed here at St. Agatha and moved its residents to its other locations. The church building, because of its exceptional history and beauty has been very popular as a wedding location for many engaged couples.
In the summer of 2012, Fr. Litak returned to his native Poland and a priestly order, The Society of Christ Fathers for Poles Abroad, began to manage St. Agatha Parish. On September 1, 2012, Fr. Hubert Zasada, SChr. became the new pastor of St. Agatha Church. After his return to his native Poland, Fr. Litak was a resident of the Gołkowice parish. During his yearly visit to St. Louis in 2014, Fr. Litak passed away in St. Agatha Rectory on December 15, 2014. His pastoral life and work was celebrated during a special funeral Mass at St. Agatha Church on December 23, 2014; his body was shipped back to his native Poland for burial.
St. Agatha Church - Polish Roman Catholic Parish
Archdiocese of St. Louis