During the 1830s, while Most Rev. Joseph Rosati was Catholic bishop of the newly designated St. Louis Diocese, families, mainly farmers, cultivated the lands in the vast Meramec River region, known now as “South County.” Two priests, Rev. Edmond Saulnier, a Frenchman, and Rev. Joseph Fischer from Lorraine, acted as missionaries to the area. The site - used as a gathering place during their visits - was on a ridge overlooking Mattese Creek. When the actual parish boundaries were established around this site, the fertile farmlands, meadows and woods were bounded by the Mississippi River to the east, the Meramec River to the south, Gravois Road to the west, and River des Peres to the north. At that time, there were some seven Catholic families registered.
From 1839 until 1844, when a resident pastor was assigned to Assumption, Fathers Saulnier and Fischer continued their missionary activities throughout the area. In 1844, Rev. Joseph Melcher, of Austrian birth, was assigned pastor. While residing in a makeshift log cabin at Assumption, he also attended to the needs of the churches at Maxville, Kirkwood and Clayton. After three years he was reassigned and later became the bishop of Green Bay, Wisconsin, in 1863.
Tradition tells us that the parish children were taught from the beginning, but it was not until 1881 that the parish school was staffed by qualified teachers. These were Franciscan sisters from Germany, and they taught in a log school. Parish historical records read, “In September 1881, Assumption School at Mattese Creek was taken over. The stipend for the school sisters is $350.00, free room, furniture, beds, dishes, coal and wood.” In the mid-1880s, these sisters were recalled by their order to work in the hospital in Carondolet.
At this time, the Rev. John Feltman, a native of Kentucky, became the first American-born pastor. During his 26 years of service from 1884 to 1910, he effectively joined the parishioners economically, socially and spiritually into a community of faith. He also secured the teaching services of Mme. Cora LeCompte, an educated French woman from Ste. Genevieve, Missouri, who spoke English, German and French. For the next 25 years, she dedicated herself to the children of Assumption. During this time, the school averaged 27 students, most of whom spoke German as their first language. Classes were taught in German in the mornings and in English in the afternoons. Father Feltman taught Catechism and Bible History classes in German. The classrooms were in a building constructed from the logs of the original first church. During the very cold weather, Mass was also said in school because the new church was too difficult to heat.
In addition to studying religion, the children were also taught arithmetic, history and reading in both German and English. These youngsters attended school for a few years and their education was considered complete when they made their Solemn Communion at the age of 10 or 11. They were then needed to help with the family farm work.
In 1911, Mme. LeCompte, after 25 years at Assumption, returned to Ste. Genevieve and was replaced by a series of lay teachers over the next several years. Father Feltman died that same year following a bout with pneumonia. Two priests, Fathers Thomas Dette and Charles Einig, served between 1911 and 1920 at which time Rev. Frederick Schlattmann was appointed pastor.
Father Schlattmann proved to be a vigorous force in the 27 years he was pastor. His strong leadership pulled together the parish families by initiating several programs, many of which although retitled and expanded by their guidelines, have become essential to parish life. He put great emphasis on the youth of the parish, particularly with quality parochial education. Twice a year, he published a pamphlet, Assumption Messenger, a copy of which was sent to each family in the parish. These bound copies are recorded moments in history and can be found in the parish library. Father Schlattmann guided the parish during the years following World War I, the Depression Years and the pain and rigors of World War II. In 1947 he was killed in an automobile accident at the age of 58.
Rev. F.C. Weiberg became pastor at the time of the post World War II exodus from the city of St. Louis. It was during these years and the pastorate of Rev. Joseph Little and Rev. Henry Kohnen that many changes in the physical plant of the parish were made. During these years, a number of new parishes were formed, in whole or in part from the original Assumption Parish boundaries. In the nearly 175 years since the time that seven families formed the nucleus of a single parish, there are now some 18 parishes and some 15,000 Catholic families.
In 1983, Rev. Albert Kovarik was named pastor and was followed in 1986 by Rev. Thomas Dempsey. Both of these men capably guided the parish family of more than 6,000 persons, approximately 1,800 families, under post Vatican II guidelines. Father Dempsey was named a Prelate of Honor in 1995 and continued as Assumption’s pastor until 2001.
Succeeding Father Dempsey in 2001 was Rev. Peter Blake who served the Parish until 2004, when Rev. John Seper succeeded Father Blake in 2004. Father Seper served until 2014, when Rev. Thomas Keller was assigned as Assumption Parish's 27th pastor.
In the early days, a small log cabin served Assumption as a church, gathering place, part-time school and priests’ residence. A cabin residence was erected as a residence during the time of Father Melcher in the mid-1840s. In 1848 when Father Simon Sigrist was pastor, a cornerstone was laid for a brick and stone church which was completed seven years later. In 1893, a bell tower and steeple were added to the structure. This church served the parish for 100 years until 1950 when a school combined with a church was built. The present Assumption Church was begun in 1976 and dedicated in 1977. Since that time, interior restructuring and redecorating have been completed.
Assumption School was upgraded from a frame building to one of brick in 1922, and in 1950 a new school/church was erected. In 1977, when the present church was dedicated, the previous one was redesigned as a school gym. In 1997-1998 Assumption’s parish center, including a gym was built, and the former gym was repurposed to provide additional classrooms and meeting space and offices for the school.
The original log cabin rectory, built in 1944, was replaced in 1971 with a wooden farm residence and in 1927 with a brick residence. In 1970, the present rectory was constructed and since that time has undergone interior modifications and additions to better serve its residents.
The single unchanged physical portion of Assumption’s history is the parish cemetery. From the earliest days, parish members have been buried here, including three former pastors and several slaves of parish members. This small plot of history exemplifies the earliest tradition of Christian burial in the churchyard, thus completing the circle of birth, life and death under the umbrella of God’s love.
This brief history of Assumption Parish and School centers primarily on the many pastors and associate pastors who have joined their talents with deacons and church employees over the years. However, from the beginning, to the present and into the future, an equally essential component of the parish is its people. Many of the names, long familiar, are still found on the street signs, store fronts and housing developments of the area. Assumption’s parishioners, including all who passed by for just a moment, along with those who established a lasting foothold, are the ones who make Assumption Parish truly a parish.
In 1990 following the 150th anniversary of Assumption Parish, a hardback edition of The Assumption Portrait was published. It included numerous historical details and accounts of persons and events within the parish, along with many historical photos. Anyone wishing to view a copy of this book will find it in the parish library.