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Vincentians to dedicate new mission house in St. Louis

The historic French religious community first arrived in Missouri 200 hundred years ago and established the city's first Black Catholic parish.

Fr Jeff Harvey, seminarian Mark Buehrle, and Fr Toshio Sato on August 14, at the new Vincentian Mission House in St. Louis.

The Congregation of the Mission, also known as the Vincentians, will dedicate a new formation house in St. Louis on Saturday, August 19, part of an effort to reconnect with their local roots and promote vocations to their charism of social justice and charity to the poor.

The dedication Mass, to be celebrated by Archbishop Mitchell Rozanski, will take place outside the new Vincentian Mission House (VMH), a former governor’s mansion in a neighborhood known as “The Gate.” Multiple other bishops are expected to attend and the public is also invited to the event, which the local provincial says will mark “a new beginning.”

“You can only really be effective and advance your mission when you're visible, available, and engaged,” said Fr Patrick McDevitt in an interview this week with St. Louis Public Radio. He heads the Vincentians’ Western Province.

“We also saw a great need in [St. Louis] for Vincentians. You know, the poor are at our heart, and the poor are found in urban areas. So we needed to be closer.”

The Vincentians originally arrived in the city in the early 19th century, when Bishop Louis DuBourg, SS of Louisiana and the Two Floridas (a diocese that included St. Louis) requested members of the Congregation to come from Europe to Missouri to establish a seminary. 

One of the recruits, Fr Joseph Rosati, was named the first bishop of the new Diocese of St. Louis in 1823 and later established the city’s first Black Catholic parish, St. Mary’s Chapel.

Though the Vincentians withdrew from seminary administration in St. Louis nearly three decades ago, they have remained in the region. Since the move from nearby Earth City, Missouri, two years ago, the Vincentians’ Western Province headquarters has been located in the Midtown neighborhood of St. Louis, roughly two miles north of the new mission house.

McDevitt says the latter is meant to be a hub that characterizes the mission of the Congregation and its outreach to the larger community.

“That house is there to be a place of discernment and recruitment for men who are interested in a vocation to the Vincentian life,” McDevitt said. 

“It should be a place of hospitality and welcome. It should be a place that really idealizes all of our values, and that it is a place where men will learn both in terms of theology and the Vincentian way of life.”

In his interview with the NPR station, McDevitt specifically mentioned the need for seminarians to have on-the-ground experience with the society’s various apostolates, including feeding the poor and the unhoused, as well as working in parish ministry.

“Yes, we pray, but we serve,” said McDevitt.

“The streets are our monasteries. The streets are our church.”

The Vincentian family—which includes the two religious communities founded in France by St. Vincent de Paul, the Congregation of the Mission and the Daughters of Charity, as well as the various branches of the Sisters of Charity—is perhaps best known for the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, a lay-run organization with chapters in regions around the globe. Its national president, John Berry, is expected to be present at the dedication in St. Louis.

The Vincentians currently number roughly 300 priests and brothers across three provinces in the U.S., including two bishops: Andrew Bellisario of Anchorage-Juneau and David M. O’Connell of Trenton. 

Though they have only in the past-century begun to attract Black vocations stateside, they are one of the few male religious communities in America to currently count among their number a Black seminarian born in the Western hemisphere. They are also unique in that their director of formation, Fr Jeff Harvey, is an African American.

Clockwise from left: Fr Tom Esselman, Fr Jeff Harvey, seminarian Mark Buehrle, and Fr Toshio Sato on August 14, discussing the dedication of the new Vincentian Mission House. (St. Louis Public Radio)

The Vincentian seminarians currently study at the Aquinas Institute of Theology, next door to the society’s Midtown property and the Jesuits’ St. Louis University. That arrangement will continue as the Congregation’s students move across the train tracks—literally—into a more economically and racially diverse environment.

“We needed to come back to our ancestral home,” said McDevitt.

“We're taking an old structure and making it new, so the hope is that we will be able to invite people to get to know us and also to form people in our way of life.”

Saturday’s Mass will begin at 10am CT at 3259 Lafayette Ave. and will be followed by a blessing from Archbishop Rozanski and mission house tours conducted by the Vincentians. Refreshments will be served thereafter and valet parking will be provided.

Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger.

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