St. Clare of Assisi Roman Catholic Church is one of the pillars on which early O’Fallon was built. Today, a century-and-a-half after its founding, the church is still a cornerstone of an ever-changing, ever-growing community.
“The degree of love and sacrifice our parishioners have committed to these building projects through the years is both amazing and inspirational,” said the Rev. Jim Deiters, who has served as pastor at St. Clare Church since 1996. “The fact that today we have yet another wonderful space in which we can worship, receive the sacraments and pass down Catholicism to coming generations is truly a testimony to the faith of our founding fathers and mothers and to the goodness of God, who has blessed our efforts for 150 years.”
In celebration of its sesquicentennial anniversary, and in conjunction with the feast of its patron saint, the church is planning an open house from 2 to 4 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 13. The entire community is invited.
O’Fallon was founded in 1854. The first Mass in town was celebrated in the home of Thomas and Catherine Mackin, at the corner of First and Apple streets, four years later.
St. Clare was O’Fallon’s first Catholic church. The parish was officially established on Dec. 17, 1867, with 40 members, who had donated the money to build a small, brick church. The following year, the parish opened the school.
For five years, starting in 1890, St. Clare’s parishioners worked on building a second church at Third and Oak streets, which would serve as the parish home for more than 110 years. Now, it serves as the school chapel. Today, St. Clare Catholic School, which was expanded in 2013, is located at 214 W. Third St. It serves children in preschool through eighth grade from four metro-east parishes.
The church’s congregation has grown exponentially over the years. It now includes members from more than 1,000 households, drawn from an area that includes 26 zip codes.
To accommodate that growth, a lifelong parishioner, Louis Rasp, donated 20 acres of farmland to the parish in 2001 for a new building. The new church, located at 1411 Cross St. in O’Fallon, seats 1,100 and was dedicated by Diocese of Belleville Bishop Edward K. Braxton on Sept. 30, 2007.
“The majority of our time in O’Fallon has been spent in the old church. So I keep saying this one is ‘new,’ even though this year marks the 10-year anniversary since it was built. But it’s still new to us, and we try to keep it fresh and new looking,” Deiters said.
The fact that today we have yet another wonderful space in which we can worship, receive the sacraments and pass down Catholicism to coming generations is truly a testimony to the faith of our founding fathers and mothers and to the goodness of God, who has blessed our efforts for 150 years.
The Rev. Jim Deiters, pastor of St. Clare Church
“People always ask, ‘Where is St. Clare?’ ” Deiters said. “ ‘Oh, the big church up on the hill. I’ve always wanted to come in and see it. Are we allowed to come in?’ (they’ll say), and that sorta of thing. While our doors are always open during the day for people to come in, we really want to have one big open house and welcome the community in. So it’s going to be one of our main outreaches to the community to celebrate our faith in O’Fallon.”
The public is invited to join the parish members for refreshments, live music, tours of the church and a look back at its history.
“We really want it to be a very welcoming thing, and we’re trying to make sure people understand that it’s for everybody — of all churches and denominations — just to come and see us, the beautiful building and architecture and classic art, too,” Deiters said.
The patron saint
St. Francis, the founder of all Franciscan orders and the patron saint of ecologists, had a “love and concern for Creation,” Deiters said. “So the church has very clear teachings on ecology and caring for the Earth.”
To that end, the congregation has taken on a Franciscan spirituality on several ways.
“We do all of our own gardening and raise all of our own flowers, fruit, pumpkins and holiday trees for decorations inside, too,” Deiters said. “And (we do) activities for youth groups from our 2-acre garden behind the church. And, as another gift to the community, we’re planting lots of things that attract different types of bird species and butterflies to help with natural wildlife.”
Deiters traveled to Italy to study the original St. Clare Church in Assisi as plans were being drawn up for the new church in O’Fallon. He came home inspired to spearhead the design.
“Even the color of stone we tried to match, and even the pattern of laying the stones, too,” Deiters said. “We wanted to go back to that root. but we also wanted to carry over some of the Gothic style architecture from the previous church in town. So what we have now is a combination.”
The church boasts modern features, such as geothermal heating and cooling, which play off its many antiquities, such as relics of saints, as well as an altar and baptismal font made of fossilized stone 100 million years old.
The church is also adorned with original art. Items include a Turkish iconography of Christ’s Passion by Meltem Aktas, a crucifix crafted in Italy, near Assisi, and two hand-blown glass rosette windows, each 10 feet in diameter, referred to as “Brother Sun” and “Sister Moon.” The windows were designed by Elizabeth Devereaux from Chico, Calf., after she was inspired by the “Cantical of Creation” poem, written by St. Francis.
The church is a great venue for music.
“It’s been designed and built with the proper materials to have perfect acoustics, too. So you don’t have to have a microphone in here,” Deiters said.
St. Clare often plays host to concert choirs, such as Masterworks Chorale of Belleville.
“Traditionally, the Catholic church has always promoted all the arts, so we wanted to be sure that our church was used by the community for other spiritual and cultural events, too,” he said.
The parish offers more than 80 ministries for people to grow in their faith. Hundreds of parishioners also serve in liturgical and support ministries, volunteering their time locally and abroad.
“St. Vincent de Paul Society is our ministry to the community helping the homeless, the poor and the hungry needy families. We also participate with a couple of other churches for the Feed My Lands program, where we make sack lunches to take to all the children in the neighborhoods. When they’re out of school, they don’t have a lunch program, and so we make several hundred sandwiches,” Deiters said.
Aside from next week’s open house event, St. Clare will have its 17th annual Oktoberfest parish festival Sept. 30, offering food, games, music and activities for the community on the church’s historic Third Street grounds.
“We always see our Oktoberfest as a ministry to the community, too — a real celebration of community, and so we see it as our gift to the community. While it is a fundraiser, we see it more as a ‘fun’-raiser to really bring the whole of O’Fallon and Shiloh, and the whole metro-east community, together,” Deiters said.
At 4 p.m. Oct. 7, the church will have its 150th Anniversary Mass of Thanksgiving. Braxton is scheduled to attend. A community reception follows in the fellowship hall, Deiters said.
St. Clare’s open house
What: The open house is part of a series of events celebrating the parish’s 150th anniversary. Tour guides will explain the meaning of Catholic architecture in this church, which features a100 million-year-old fossil stone altar and baptismal font, Turkish iconography of Christ’s Passion, also known as Stations of the Cross, and hand-blown glass windows of the Creation. Historical artifacts and relics of saints will be on display. Live music and refreshments will add to the celebration. Call 618-632-3562 or visit www.stclarechurch.org for more information.
When: 2 to 4 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 13
Where: 1411 Cross St., O’Fallon
For More Information: Call 618-632-3562 or visit stclarechurch.org online