Historical Mileposts


Archbishop Peter Richard Kenrick invited the Redemptorists to set up a permanent home in St. Louis.


The Redemptorists purchased three and one-half acres at Grand and Cook Avenues.
Father Francis Xavier Seelos, C.Ss.R., visited the construction site of the future St. Alphonsus "Rock" Church while in St. Louis preaching a parish mission.  He became pastor of St. Mary of the Assumption Church in New Orleans.  He fearlessly ministered to those afflicted with Yellow Fever and he himself died on October 4, 1867 of this disease.  Father Seelos was beatified on April 9, 2000 by Pope John Paul II in Rome and thus declared "Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos, C.Ss.R."  


Ground was broken on May 1st for the church and on November 3rd the cornerstone was put in place and blessed by Rev. Joseph Melchers, vicar general of the archdiocese. The church was officially named for St. Alphonsus, the sainted founder of the Redemptorist Congregation. However, the construction men who built the Gothic stone church and the rock wall that surrounds it gave it the nickname, "Rock Church.” That affectionate designation continues today.
On June 23rd, Pope Pius IX entrusted the ancient and miraculous picture of Our Mother of Perpetual Help to the Redemptorists with the command, "Make her known to the world."


St. Alphonsus Church was dedicated on August 3rd by Archbishop Patrick J. Ryan.


On December 7, the first Mother of Perpetual Help Shrine at St. Alphonsus Church was blessed on December 7th during the first public triduum in homage to her under this title.


St. Alphonsus "Rock" Church officially became a parish church of the Archdiocese of St. Louis under the care of the Redemptorists.


In August, the school building was completed and the School Sisters of Notre Dame arrived from Milwaukee, Wisconsin to begin more than 100 years of cooperation in education with the Redemptorists at the "Rock."


On November 22nd, Rev. Augustus Tolton, first African-American Roman Catholic priest, visited St. Alphonsus "Rock" Church, met the Redemptorist Community, and offered Mass for the School Sisters of Notre Dame in their convent chapel.


The beautiful stained glass windows were completed and installed in the church.  Mayers of Munich, Germany were commissioned to create the windows.  The larger windows were priced at $600.00 a piece.  Mayers had a display sign at the St. Louis World's Fair directing visitors to see their work at the "Rock" Church.


On July 11, 1922, the Tuesday Devotions of Our Mother of Perpetual Help at St. Alphonsus "Rock" Church were inaugurated.  "Rock" Church became the "birthplace" of the weekly novena in honor of Our Mother of Perpetual Help that has spread throughout the world! 


Rev. Donald Corrigan was appointed to begin work among African Americans with the establishment of St. Clement's Chapel within St. Alphonsus "Rock" Parish.  A school was opened in September, 1941, with the Oblate Sisters of Providence in charge.  Mass was discontinued there in 1945; the school was closed in 1948. 


Rev. James Higgins, C.Ss.R., Pastor, ended segregation at the "Rock." The parishioners of St. Clement's (at 3723 Finney Avenue) were incorporated into St. Alphonsus "Rock" Church in accord with the directive of Archbishop Joseph Cardinal Ritter, who called for the racial integration of all Catholic churches and schools in the Archdiocese of St. Louis.


St. Alphonsus School was integrated.


Father Wendell Sams was the first African American Redemptorist priest ordained for the St. Louis Province.


St. Alphonsus "Rock" Church celebrates its centennial year.  Rev. Joseph T. Campbell, C.Ss.R. was appointed pastor this year.  Father Campbell developed a tremendous outreach ministry to the local neighborhood; most especially to the newly created Blumeyer Village public housing complex in the shadow of the church. 


The Summer Bible School Program was begun for the neighborhood children in collaboration with the Redemptorists and Redemptorist seminarians, the School Sisters of Notre Dame, and teenagers from the neighborhood.  The Program ended in 1975.


The parishes of St. Alphonsus, St. Teresa and St. Bridget joined resources to create Central Catholic Community School which eventually became Central Catholic-St. Nicholas grade school.  Central Catholic-St. Nicholas closed in 2010.  


Due to a decline in enrollment, St. Alphonsus "Rock" High School closed.
Mrs. Bessie McGee-Cunningham became the first African-American secretary at the "Rock."


The "Rock" Church contemporary choir was invited to sing at the Eucharistic Congress in Philadelphia, PA.  Father Art Mildenberger, C.Ss.R. was the choir director.
Rev. Joseph Fagen, C.Ss.R. died on Dec. 23, 1976 at the age of 89.  He was well known throughout St. Louis for his holiness.  It was said that he could always be found in one of three places:  chapel, the confessional, or his room.  His kindness and understanding were especially evidenced in the confessional.


Rev. Robert L. Wirth, C.Ss.R. was named pastor of the "Rock." Fr. Wirth faithfully served the "Rock" parish family until 1990. It was under his leadership that the church was renovated in the Afro-centric manner.


Father Charles Brown, C.Ss.R. was the second African American Redemptorist priest ordained from the parish.  He also was the first African American to teach in the Redemptorist College seminary in Waterford, Wisconsin.  He was a philosophy professor.  His family was still members of the parish.
Father Tony Judge was also ordained this year.  His family were long time members of the "Rock" and are still members of the parish today.  Father Tony Judge served as a missionary on the Amazon in Brazil after his ordination.  Both Father Brown and Father Judge celebrated Masses of Thanksgiving at the "Rock."


The first Gospelfest was hosted at the "Rock" with the support of other parishes. The event was been turned over to the North City Deanery and renamed the North City Deanery Catholic Revival.
Mrs. Dorothy Bennett joined the staff as the first African-American Pastoral Minister.


Sister Thea Bowman, F.S.P.A., evangelist, scholar, and gospel singer from Canton, Mississippi visited the "Rock" Church.  She sang at the Sunday Mass. She was truly an inspiration to African American Catholics and to the entire Catholic Church.  Sister Thea died on March 30, 1990 at the age of 52 of cancer.


Father Robert Earl, C.Ss.R. founded the St. Alphonsus Housing Corporation in order to revitalize the local neighborhood.  Sr. Joy Jensen, S.L. was hired as the first director.   Father Earl also founded "Concerned Citizens for Blumeyer."  Project Nehemiah was established as a bi-annual neighborhood beautification project.

Danny DuMaine was hired as the minister of music for the Voices of St. Alphonsus (11:00 Choir).


On June 10th, the St. Alphonsus "Rock" Church family rejoiced as our own Father Maurice Nutt was ordained to the priesthood by African-American Bishop J. Terry Steib, S.V.D.  The ordination was held at the "Rock".


Renovation of the church with an African-American motif was completed.
Father Charles (Chuck) Bierwaltes, C.Ss.R. was appointed Pastor.  He completed the renovation of the church by installing air-conditioning.  Father Chuck also reorganized the Parish Council and established new by-laws.  Father Chuck, an avid drum player, was the drummer for the "Jesus Gang," a gospel singing group comprised of children from the Blumeyer Village housing complex.
Minister Malcolm Speed was hired as the minister of music for the Voices of Praise (8:15 Choir).


Parishioner Leslie Johnson, Sr. was ordained as a Deacon.  The ordination was held at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis.
Sr. Renee DePorres Fenner, D.C., joined the staff at the "Rock" as Liturgist and Pastoral Associate. Rev. Robert Earl, C.Ss.R., died of cancer at the age of 53.  He was Associate Pastor of the "Rock" Church.  Father Earl was known as an activist for the underprivileged, homeless, and those living in substandard housing.  Father Juan Lasso de la Vega, the Superior General of the Redemptorists was in St. Louis at the time of his death, was attending a North American Redemptorist Youth Conference which was hosted at the "Rock."   Father Lasso celebrated Father Bob Earl's Funeral Mass at the "Rock" Church.


The "Rock" Church celebrates its one-hundred-twenty-fifth birthday!  Father Chuck and the anniversary committee organized activities throughout the year, including a dinner dance, ad book, and celebratory banners along Grand and Cook avenues.


Rev. Maurice J. Nutt, C.Ss.R., was appointed pastor of St. Alphonsus "Rock" Church. At age 30, he became one of the youngest Roman Catholic pastors in the United States, as well as, the first African-American pastor at the "Rock."


Fr. Rick Potts, C.Ss.R., was named as Associate Pastor of the "Rock."
The "Rock" began celebrating Family Life events (ie. Woman's Day, Men's Day, Elder's Day, Youth Day, Redemptorist Day).
"Sign Me Up" Sunday, "a festival of ministries" was inaugurated as part of the Stewardship Committee.
Father Maurice J. Nutt, C.Ss.R. reorganized the housing ministry efforts by founding the Grand Rock Community Economic Development Corporation.  Judge David Mason served as first chairperson of the board.


The St. Alphonsus ”Rock" Church Scholarship Foundation was established to award renewable college scholarships to parishioners and the neighborhood community.  Dr. Patricia Nichols was the first chairperson of the board. 


Father Maurice J. Nutt, C.Ss.R. completed his doctoral thesis, Preparing Non-African Americans to Preach in African American Catholic Settings.  He received his Doctor of Ministry degree in Preaching from Aquinas Institute of Theology in St. Louis.  He and his classmate, Father George Franklin from St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands were the first African American Catholics to earn doctorates in preaching.


St. Alphonsus "Rock" Church was selected as one of 300 Excellent Catholic Parishes out of  20, 000 Catholic Parishes in the United States from the Pastoral Summit.  The "Rock" Church met several objective criteria distinguishing itself as an outstanding Catholic parish. The Danforth Foundation honored the "Rock" Church by selecting it as the first recipient of the I Dare You Award.  A celebration was held in June at Powell Symphony Hall with Rev. Bernice King, J.D., daughter of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as the guest speaker.  The church received a One-Hundred-Thousand Dollar cash prize. 


Rev. Richard M. Potts, C.Ss.R. is appointed Pastor of St. Alphonsus "Rock" Church on July 21, 2001.


Rev. John Phelps, C.Ss.R. is appointed Pastor of St. Alphonsus "Rock" Church on September 11, 2005. 


Fr. Bob Wirth, C.Ss.R. is named Associate Pastor. He serves until August 2007 as associate.


August 16, 2007 lightning strikes the roof of the church causing a five alarm fire. The parish begins celebrating Mass in the gym.


Fr. Matthew Bonk, C.Ss.R. is installed as pastor of St. Alphonsus "Rock" parish on September 9, 2007.


A funeral for Fr. Bob Wirth, C.Ss.R. fills St. Alphonsus’ gym with loved ones and parishioners on October 5, 2007.