The 140 year history of St. Joseph Parish, Cottleville, MO
“The town of Cottleville is one of the oldest in St. Charles County. As far back as 1800, a group of houses existed near the spot where the old Boonslick Road crosses the Dardenne Creek, about ten miles southwest of St. Charles. This road at one time was an Indian trail and later was one of the major highways leading westward through Missouri for covered wagons, and stage and mail coaches. Largely as a result of travelers getting stranded when the creek overflowed over the road, small places of business began to open.
In 1866, about 35 Catholic families lived nearby. They attended All Saints Parish in St. Peters when the road was not impassable from the Dardenne Creek. In this event, they would have to travel to a Catholic Church in St. Charles, or the priest from St. Peters, Father Wapelhorst, would try to make it out and hold services in an old farm house. It became evident that Cottleville needed a parish of its own. Fr. Wapelhorst appointed two local men to get money donated and pledged from the community and an acre of land was purchased. Soon plans were made for a brick church. Windows and doors were purchased and the native limestone foundation was laid. With bricks, sand and lumber on hand, winter set in unexpectedly and the work was halted. When Fr. Wapelhorst was transferred to Wisconsin to assume duties as a professor in January, the new pastor of St. Peters felt he was unable to take on the added responsibility of Cottleville. As a result, dissension arose among the members of the young congregation and work on the building was abandoned. During the next nine years, several attempts were made to persuade the Catholics to reorganize, but without success, largely due to the financial strain on all but a few of the local families. Two priests had spent a short time there, but both moved on to thriving parishes.
Success came at last in the spring of 1874, after five leading men of Cottleville went to St. Louis and made an agreement with the Archbishop to build a church and residence for a priest. Now over $2,000 was pledged for the new church and it was completed in six months with the hard work of many local men. It had the look of a large two-story, wood frame house with the church located upstairs and the living quarters for the priest on the ground floor.
For the next two years, Franciscan priests traveled by train from St. Louis to St. Peters and then by horse and wagon first to Dardenne to say Mass and then to Cottleville. One elderly priest nearly collapsed at the altar after the journey in the heat of the summer.
Then in 1876, Rev. Joseph Reisdorff became the first resident priest. His fluent use of German was a great asset since most people spoke German in the area. By 1876, Cottleville had eleven stores, two hotels, two carpenter shops, two public schools (one for Caucasian children and one for Negro children) and three churches, Evangelical, Methodist and Catholic. The population was 500. When the parish grew, Fr. Reisdorff was able to purchase two large bells (in 1877) which were hung in a bell tower erected near the entrance of the church. (These same bells are mounted in the steeple of the new church today.) After ten years of service, Fr. Reisdorff asked to be relieved of his duties when some local protestants objected to his playing cards and drinking beer on Sunday with parish families. (I think I would have liked knowing our first pastor!)
For the next six years, Cottleville became a mission of Dardenne, until the people believed the priest, Rev. Schmidt, was only interested in raising funds from them in order to build a new church in Dardenne. No services were held for almost three years until Rev. Hundhausen, an elderly priest living in retirement in St. Peters, took over. He served for five years until he sustained an injury which incapacitated him.”
“Next came Fr. Schultz who stayed for nine years. Then Fr. Striewe served fifteen years up to 1925. The parish had steadily grown and the old two-story church was no longer adequate. The dream of a brick church was finally realized in 1924 during Fr. Striewe’s pastorate. The men of the parish again worked hard on the new building. They kept their horses busy hauling gravel from the creek and materials from the railroad stations. What a beautiful church it was! The inside was very ornate with scrolled woodwork and lifelike statues.
The next pastor, Fr. Range, oversaw the building of a six-room rectory for the priest in 1926 during his seven-year service at the parish.
Nearly seventy years after its beginning in a farm house, St. Joseph Parish entered its longest period of pastoral stability when, in 1932, the beloved Fr. William Pezold arrived. From the many stories that are told of him, one quickly perceives that he was a man held in high esteem by all who knew him. His reputation of being a humble, kind, Godly man who so generously gave of his time and love for the Lord has traveled far beyond the little town of Cottleville. To many he is a legend.
Shortly after his arrival, he obtained the teaching services of three Sisters of the Most Precious Blood from O’Fallon, Missouri. The first church of 1874 was renovated, with the upper floor serving as the living quarters for the sisters with two classrooms on the ground floor. Fr. Pezold picked up the forty students in the Chevy “school bus” which looked more like a large car than a bus since it held about six pupils a trip.
After six years, the class rooms of the old building became too small for the increasing enrollment. So, with the help of the Catholic Rural Life Conference and contributions from parishioners and friends, a new school was erected in 1938 (This portion of our current school was renovated in 2009). It could accommodate 160 students in the upper classrooms. Downstairs was a spacious hall with a seating capacity of 325. It was used for lunch and for a play area in the wintertime.”
“Around the early 1940’s, the government built the TNT plant at Weldon Spring displacing many families when the towns of Hamburg and Howell were removed. With the help of the Bank of O’Fallon and donations from his friends, Fr. Pezold was the inspiration behind All Saints Village. Thirty-five acres of farmland became attractive home sites for families, Catholic and non-Catholic alike.
Another priest, Fr. Svehla, came out of retirement in1942 at the age of seventy to join Fr. Pezold. He served for twenty-five years. Together, the priests founded the Parish of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in New Melle in 1945. They took care of this church as a mission of St. Joseph Parish for eleven years at which point, New Melle received their first priest.
By the late 1950’s, St. Joseph Parish once again had outgrown its existing church. Sixty-five percent of the Parish gave or pledged money for a larger church despite their shedding of tears over the old church that had served them for fifty years having to be torn down. The new beautiful colonial-style church with colorful stained glass window was completed in 1961. (This church was renovated and now serves as our Parish Center.)
With the parish continually growing, Fr. Pezold needed some assistance, since he had been on his own since 1967 when Fr. Svehla died. In 1970, Fr. Maguire came to St. Joseph as the new pastor where he quickly assessed the dire need of repair to the sisters’ residence. When it was discovered that the ninety-six year old first church had a cracked foundation, it was decided to remodel the rectory to serve as a convent. (Currently, the Dominican Sisters from Nashville live in the convent and teach in our school.) The old convent was torn down and a new brick rectory including office space was built in its place.
With the old school now bursting at its seams with students, a new school building was erected in 1970 adjacent to the old one. Initially, it consisted of removable partitions. But later it was turned into permanent classrooms. Later a gymnasium was added.
In 1977, at the age of eighty-four, Fr. Pezold died after serving St. Joseph Parish for forty-five years. The memories of Fr. Pezold will live on forever because he touched so many lives.”
After Fr. Maguire served the parish from 1970-1976, Fr. Griesedieck was appointed the new pastor. He served for twelve years as Pastor and died of cancer at the age of 57 in 1988. I suspect Fr. Griesedieck witnessed the gradual change of our parish from a rural area to a suburban area.