St. Ferdinand Parish Adds New Front Gathering Place at County’s Oldest Parish
A dedication ceremony for the new expanded gathering area and a totally new front entrance to St. Ferdinand Catholic Church was held earlier this month. This is the oldest parish in St. Louis County dating back to 1788.
St. Ferdinand Parish continues to be a vibrant Catholic parish with a successful parochial school and a stable parishioner base. In addition to its rich history, St. Ferdinand is famous for its popular year round Friday fish fry
In the mid 1700s the French entered the Mississippi Valley and Louisiana territory as settlers, farmers, and merchants. They named the area “Valley of Flowers” or “Florissant” due to the beauty of the valley. A French Catholic village was established and the Spanish governor appointed Francois Dunegant to be military and civil commandant in 1786. The Governor gave the town the Spanish name of St. Ferdinand de Florissant after St. Ferdinand III, who was King Spain from 1217 to 1252.
Two years later in 1788 a parish was established with the same name as the town. The first church of French log construction was built in 1789 near the present Fire House at St. Francois and St. Ferdinand and a brick church was built in 1819 and still stands today known as St. Ferdinand Shrine at the foot of St. Francois Street.
St. Rose Philippine Duchesne founded the first Society of the Sacred Heart motherhouse in the United States on the parish grounds. She also established the first Indian school for girls in the U.S. and a free school for boys and girls at St. Ferdinand’s. It is a special gift to have an actual Saint a part of the fabric of the Parish’s History. In addition, the famous Father Peter DeSmet, known as the Apostle of the Indians, was mentored by St. Philippine and ordained at St. Ferdinand’s in 1827.
The Sisters of Loretto came to the parish to staff the school in 1847. Priests of the Society of Jesus oversaw St. Ferdinand parish until 1958 when archdiocesan priest were assigned to preside there. In the 1950s a new building, which is now the school, housed St. Ferdinand and the current church was built on the same property in 1960 on Charbonier Road near Howdershell.
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