The Shrine of Saint Joseph, which is at the corner of 11th Street and Biddle in St. Louis, Missouri, has a vast and interesting history. The church had its beginning in 1843 when the Jesuits founded the parish to serve a pleasant residential community consisting mostly of German immigrants. Also, the Church is the site of the only authenticated miracle in the Midwest.
After founding the parish in 1843,the Jesuits immediately instituted to build a church. Mrs. Ann Biddle a wealthy widow, known for her many philanthropic deeds, donated the land for the new church. The cornerstone for the new church was blessed by Bishop Kenrick on April 14, 1844. The completed building was a modest building faced west toward 11th Street was dedicated on the first Sunday in August, 1846 with Father James Van de Velde, later Bishop of Chicago, officiating.
Soon St. Joseph parish was a very active community. In 1862 a large parish school was built nearby, to care for the many children of the area. The Sisters of Notre Dame staffed the school. In late 1861 a German immigrant, Ignatius Strecker, was suffering from an injury he incurred while working at a local soap factory. Despite every known treatment Mr. Strecker grew worse and worse and was finally told by doctors that he had two weeks to live.
Just at this time a Jesuit missionary, Father Francis Xavier Weninger, came to St. Joseph's to preach. Mrs. Strecker happened to attend the service in which Father Weninger preached on the Blessed Peter Claver, who was held to have great intercessory powers with God. She was so impressed she hurried home to implore her dying husband to seek the help of Peter Claver.
The next day, Wednesday, March 16, 1864, Mr. Strecker managed to drag himself to the church. He arrived just as Father Weninger was blessing the congregation with a relic of Peter Claver. Observing Mr. Strecker's extreme weakness, the priest allowed him to kiss the relic. Immediately, the sick man seemed to experience a resurgence of strength. He began to heal and within a few days he returned to his job, and in a few months he was restored to full health.
Two years after this spectacular cure, the Most Reverend Michael O'Connor, a Jesuit priest, made a thorough canonical investigation of the incident. In 1887 the miracle was formally declared authentic by Cardinal Bianchi in Rome, and was chosen as one of the two required miracles in the canonization process of Peter Claver, who became a Saint the following year. St. Joseph's became the only church in St. Louis, which is the site of an authenticated miracle and developed a legend of assistance to the afflicted.
As news of the miracle spread, and the parish grew, it became obvious that the original church was no longer large enough to serve the congregation. It was decided to build a large addition to the old building and to revise the structure so that the entrance faced on Biddle Street. Bishop Kenrick laid the cornerstone for this second St. Joseph in 1865.
As work progressed on the remolding of the church cholera broke out in St. Louis in August of 1866. St. Joseph's parish alone had as many as 20 burials a day! Cholera was caused by contaminated drinking water and was contagious. The Jesuit Fathers and Brothers of St. Joseph did what they could to help the people but even the greatest medical minds of the time did not know how to combat this deadly disease.
At the height of the epidemic, Father Joseph Weber, pastor of St. Joseph gathered the parishioners together. With them they made a solemn vow that if St. Joseph would intercede for them, so that there were no further deaths from cholera in the parish, they would erect a suitable monument to him as a thanksgiving tribute. Then and there the congregation pledged an initial $4,000.00 for this purpose.
From that day on not a single member of any family who had signed the vow and pledge died of the dread disease. The parish decided that a fitting monument to St. Joseph to express their gratitude would be a special altar installed for their newly remodeled church.
Bueschers of Chicago, famous for their religious art work, were employed to carve an elaborate altar, which is designed as a replica of the Altar of St. Ignatius in the Jesuit Gesu Church in Rome, except that the figure of St. Joseph and the Christ Child are substituted for the figure of St. Ignatius. Beneath the central figures appear the words: "Ite ad Joseph" Go to Joseph.
Known as "The Altar of Answered Prayers" because of its origin, this beautiful work can still be seen at St. Joseph's Shrine, where it serves as the central altar. It was installed early in 1867, at a total cost of $6,131.00. The grateful parishioners raised the additional funds above their original pledge in recognition of their deliverance from the cholera epidemic.
The primary remolding was completed in 1866. Father Pierre Jean De Smet, noted missionary to the Indians, officiated at the dedication services on December 30, 1866.
In 1880 the church was once again enlarged and remodeled. This work, which included the addition of an elaborate Romanesque Face and twin towers surmounted with delicate cupolas, was completed in 1881.
Further alterations had to be made in 1954, under the supervision of the shrine's pastor, Father Anthony Corey. At this time, for reasons of safety, the beautiful original towers were shortened, and the cupolas replaced by heavier, hexagonal caps, thus considerably altering the exterior of the building, and detracting form its former beauty. This was after the Jesuits left the parish and was staffed by priest of the Archdiocese.
While owned by the Archdiocese of St. Louis the now Shrine of St. Joseph is leased to The Friends of The Shrine of St. Joseph, Inc. a not for profit 503C3 corporation. All donations are tax deductible to the extent allowable by law.
St. Peter Claver’s Miracle
Ignatius Strecker, came to America from Germany in 1853 and settled with his wife and daughter in St. Joseph’s parish, St. Louis. He was a temperate, conscientious, religious man, devoted to his family, which eventually numbered nine children. He was also a hard worker in the soap factory where he found employment.
In this factory, one day towards the end of 1861, Mr. Strecker accidentally struck his chest sharply against a pointed piece of iron. His breastbone was injured, though no outward wound was at first visible. Still there was considerable pain, a burning sensation, and some swelling. This busy workman did not pay too much attention to his injury until after two months the tumor-like inflammation began to grow alarmingly and there was no way to drain off the accumulating malignant matter. Doctor Joseh Heitzig, the family physician, was called in.
Ignatius Strecker when certain external remedies were tried and failed to cure, Doctor Heitzig opened up the wound with an instrument, only to find the breastbone and some ribs on the left side in a state of incipient decomposition. A series of injections failed to clear this up, as did other remedies. The patient only grew worse. Moreover, violent coughing accompanied by copious sputum pointed to tuberculosis of the lungs. Fever set in, respiration became difficult, and food could not be taken. Mr. Strecker was so weakened and fatigued that he had to give up his employment and spend weeks at a time as an invalid in bed.
After nine months of steady treatment without success, Doctor Heitzig asked the family to call in Doctor William Schoenemann, considered one of the best specialists in America. After a thorough examination of some futile attempts at healing, the doctor pronounced Mr. Strecker incurable and gave him two weeks to live. However, Mr. Strecker did not die but lingered on for many months and finally turned from human remedies to place himself with resignation in the hands of Divine Providence. He began to prepare for death.
At this critical moment of the Streckers, the famous parish missionary, Father Francis Xavier Weninger, S. J. arrived at St. Joseph’s to preach a mission. After the mission Mrs. Strecker happened to be present in the church when Father Weninger was preaching a sermon on Blessed Peter Claver, pointing out his great intercessory power with God. After the sermon he blessed the people with a relic of the Peter Claver.
Mrs. Strecker was a woman of deep faith. She went home and begged her husband to ask Peter Claver to cure his fatal maladies. Although Mr. Strecker had never heard of Peter Claver before this, he began to invoke him and ask for his help. The next day, with the last ounce of his strength, he literally dragged himself to St. Joseph’s church and came in just as Father Weninger was blessing the sick with the relic. With sincere faith and strong confidence he placed himself in the line of the sick. Father Weninger blessed him and allowed him to kiss the relic.
What occurred now, Mr. Strecker always found hard to explain. He said he felt a sudden increase in courage, a strengthening of faith, and an utter assurance that he would recover his health through the intercession of Peter Claver. The relic had no sooner been applied than the external suppurating sore began to disappear. The breastbone and ribs healed rapidly and the tuberculosis of the lungs vanished – all within a week or two. In fact, the day after the blessing, with the relic, Mr. Strecker was back on the job in the factory, where despite great fatigue, he could already do a reasonable day’s work.
The breastbone and ribs healed rapidly and the tuberculosis of the lungs vanished – all within a week or two. In fact, the day after the blessing, with the relic, Mr. Strecker was back on the job in the factory, where despite great fatigue, he could already do a reasonable day’s work.
The doctors were astonished, especially Dr. Schoenemann, who, though not a Catholic, declared that he recognized in the cure a miracle of God’s omnipotence. The cure was complete. There was never any relapse. Years later when Mr. Strecker died on June 4, 1880 in St. Nicholas parish, adjoining St. Joseph’s, the City Board of St. Peter Claver Health issued a certificate that he died of typhoid fever and not as a consequence of his previous illnesses. He was buried in old St. Peter and Paul Cemetery.
Two years after the cure a thorough canonical investigation was made by the Most Reverend Michael O’Connor, for many years Bishop of Pittsburgh but now a member of the Society of Jesus. The miracle was formally declared authentic in Rome by cardinal Bianchi in 1887 and chosen as one of the required two for the canonization process of Peter Claver. He was canonized the following year and his feast is now celebrated in the universal church on September 9th.
Some of Ignatius Strecker’s grandchildren are still living in St. Louis.
Altar of Answered Prayers
The magnificent main altar is the result of a pledge made by grateful parishioners who made a promise to St. Joseph in 1866. The altar became known as The Altar of Answered Prayers because of St. Joseph’s intercession in the mist of a cholera Alter of Answered Prayers epidemic in 1866. During the epidemic there were ten and sometimes twenty-five funerals a day from St. Joseph’s Church. However, because of St. Joseph’s intercession, the parishioners who made the promise and their families were spared.
The cholera epidemic. Asiatic cholera is generally caused by contaminated drinking water and is contagious. The symptoms appear suddenly, chiefly severe diarrhea and stomach cramps. Requiring early and energetic medial treatments or the victim may be dead within twenty-four hours. Although modern sanitation has practically conquered this disease, there are still sporadic outbreaks of it in various parts of the world.
The growing city of St. Louis had its share of cholera epidemics, in 1833-34, 1848-49, 1854, 1856 and in 1866. These were due to an inadequate sewer system, unhealthy spots like Chouteau’s Pond, and the influx of immigrants landing at New Orleans and coming up the Mississippi River by steamboat to establish homes in St. Louis and other points further west.
280 deaths daily. The last cholera epidemic was particularly virulent. It began without warning in August and lasted two full months, causing an average of 280 deaths daily. The St. Louis newspapers played it down, so, as not to cause panic among the people, but the city’s health situation was really critical. Along with many others the Jesuit Father’s and Brothers of St. Joseph’s parish worked day and night to render assistance to the parishioners and other victims. There were ten and sometimes as many as twenty-five funerals a day from St. Joseph’s Church on the northeast corner of Eleventh and Biddle streets and there were also many burials of parishioners in unblessed ground.
The promise. Father Joseph Weber, pastor of the parish and superior of the Jesuit community at St. Joseph’s, gathered the parishioners together on Sunday morning. They all made a solemn vow to God, that if through the intercession of St. Joseph the parish were spared further deaths from cholera, they would in thanksgiving erect a suitable monument in honor of St. Joseph, patron of the parish church. To this end the parishioners pledged an initial four thousand dollars, a considerable sum in those days.
The miracle. To the amazement of the pastor, his assistants, religious Brothers, and all the parishioners, their prayers of fervent petition was heard. Not one member of all the families who had signed the vow and the pledge was stricken with cholera after that day. Miracle or not, these are the facts, testified to in the old yellow-edged documents in the church’s archives.
Regular Mass Schedule
Every Sunday: 9:00 a.m. (Extraordinary Form) and 11:00 a.m. (English); First Friday: 12 Noon
Sunday, November 11 at 11:00AM 2ND Annual Veteran's Mass (Veterans wear your medals and/or ribbons)
Thursday, November 22 Thanksgiving (NO Mass at the Shrine)
Friday, December 7 Noon First Friday Mass
Monday, December 24 10:30PM Carols 11:00 PM Mass Midnight Christmas Mass
Tuesday, December 25 at 11:00 Christmas Day Mass
Tuesday, January 1 at 11:00AM New Year's Day Mass
Novena to St. Joseph
After the 11 a.m. Mass nine weeks before the feast of St. Joseph.
St. Padre Pio Devotions
Every Second Sunday of Each Month St. Padre Pio Devotion and Rosary are recited before 11:00 a.m. Mass. Plus, Benediction after Mass.