Our First Church
Prior to 1880, those living in the Flint Hill area, desiring to attend a Catholic church, regularly would travel by horseback or horse and wagon to St. Joseph Church in Josephville. In the early 1880's Rev. Theodore Krainhardt, pastor of St. Joseph from 1868 to 1899, traveled to Flint Hill to say Sunday Mass for the growing number of Catholic families. According to a number of sources, Masses were said in the home of Dr. Russell B Lewis. A few of the early families who attended these services were the Henkes, Kirchoffs, Bauers, Westhoffs, Orfs, Tegethoffs, Mentens, and Feldewerts.
Around 1880, Fr. Krainhards saw the need for a public place of worship in the Flint Hill area and urged the Catholic people to build a church. Deeds tells us that in late 1882 and early 1883, Catherine Ross, John B and Lucy L. Allen, R.B. and Anna Lewis, and William A and Mary Harnett all transferred parcels of land to the Archdiocese of St. Louis. These tracts became the center of what is now our parish property.
On July 10, 1883 Rev. Henry Brockhagen was commissioned to lay the cornerstone of the new Catholic church. This humble wooden structure was finished in only one month and five days. On August 15, 1883 Fr. Brockhagen blessed the new St. Theodore Catholic Church, named in honor of Fr. Theodore Krainhardt. Fr. Krainhardt celebrated Mass in the new church monthly and instructed children in an old frame building that was formerly a grocery store.
The first Catholic church in Flint Hill was a 20 x 40 white frame building. It had a small vestibule in front and a plain white wood cross which marked it as a "place of God."The church had a bell, but it was on a separate stand, being too heavy to place atop the Church. (When the next Catholic church was built in 1900, this bell was moved to the bell-tower where it remains to this day.) In 1891, Theodore Feldewert, Sr. donated a statue of St. Joseph in thanksgiving for being able to live near a Catholic church. This same statue is present in our church today.
The Early Pastors
St. Theodore School
As the Catholic religion strengthened in Flint Hill, there were approximately 30 families in St. Theodore parish with about 20 children attending the parochial school taught by a lay teacher. In 1895, the Archdiocese of St. Louis saw fit to send St. Theodore parish its own resident pastor, Fr. Wilhelm Kurtenbach. He lived very humbly in a small "sacristy" type room behind the altar in the church heated only by a small wood stove. After only two and a half years he died by drowning in the Mississippi River.
From February of 1898 until June of 1898 Fr. Bernard Schlathoelter, the chaplain to the Precious Blood Sisters in O'Fallon, took care of the spiritual needs of St. Theodore Parish. He would travel by train to Flint Hill to say Sunday Mass, have dinner at the home of a parishioner, then have a Sunday afternoon Vesper Service before catching the train back to O'Fallon.
Fr. August von Brunn arrived in September of 1898. His time in our parish was marked by many material improvements as well as spiritual growth. Fr. von Brunn lived opposite the church in an old abandoned frame building what was formerly the Harnett Hotel. In 1900, with the parish showing signs of growing in number of families Fr. von Brunn recognized the need for a larger church and on May 6, 1990, the cornerstone was laid in the church we now use. Most of the timber used in the construction came from the Dave Henke farm near what is now known as Mette Road. With the completion of the new church an 8:00 am Low Mass, a 10:00 am High Mass, and an afternoon Vesper service were held each Sunday where for the benefit of his largely German congregation, he would often preach his sermon in both German and English. This church saw a fire during Fr. von Brunn's pastorate which was thankfully confined only the the sacristy area and the church suffered only minor damage.
With the completion of the new church, Fr. von Brunn began building a rectory. In 1904 he moved into the present day rectory. The building that was formerly used as the priest's home was converted into a home for the Sisters of the Most Precious Blood who joined us as teachers in 1903. In 1908 a new convent was built and the old frame building was sold.
Fr. von Brunn insisted that children of his parishioners attend a Catholic school. Prior to 1900, school was held in a two-story frame building on the property. After the new church was built in 1900, Fr. von Brunn converted the first church into a school and divided it into two rooms. At this time, his housekeeper, Miss Katie Pohlmann taught the "little room"and Miss Margaret Schumacher taught the "big room." The school year began after Easter; there was a three-month summer vacation, and the children completed their grade by the next Easter.
In those days, school began early in the morning as students either walked or travelled by horse and buggy. It was not uncommon for students to take a two to three mile trek to school. The daily curriculum mainly stressed the "three R's" but also included religion, geography and history. On Friday afternoons the girls took sewing class while the boys took art class. The children ate from lunch pails, played baseball or "fox and hound" at recess and they studied at two-seated desks. At 3:30 pm they journeyed home.
Enrollment increased to the point wheree Fr. von Brunn saw the need to build a new school. The project began in 1912 and was completed in 1913. After the school was completed Fr. von Brunn continued his project of connective sidewalks from school to convent, to church, to rectory. Often schoolboys in the upper grades were inlisted to help. The first little St. Theodore church (later converted into a school) was ultimately dismantled.
By 1919, Fr. von Brunn had made it compulsory for the children to attend school for the full eight years in order to graduate. Prior to this time, some children would quit after making their first Communion at the end of fifth or sixth grade.
Early Parish Picnics
While building may have seemed foremost, the religious needs of the people were never neglected. Sodalities and various organizations were formed so that everyone in and around Flint Hill took active part in the spiritual and temporal affairs. Parish picnics, which were forerunners of our present day picnics and fall festivals, were initiated in Fr. von Brunn's time. The first ones were small in scale and consisted of barbecue (trenches were dug into the ground and meat was roasted on spits atop a bed of coals), homemade ice cream and beer. The men would sing in the afternoons. These early picnics were held in what is today the picnic grounds.
Fr. von Brunn, eager to diminish the parish debt subsequent to construction of a church, rectory and convent saw the picnics as opportunities to raise debt-freeing funds, as well as promote parish togetherness. The picnics grew to include not only the parish families who traveled by horse and wagon, but others who would come from St. Louis and surrounding areas. They would travel the Shortline train which had a station at Enon. Men from the parish would meet the train and bring the people to the picnic grounds to enjoy the expanding menu and numerous activities. The picnics now boasted a menu of baked chicken and ham, home-made pies, cakes and breads, all of which were prepared and donated by the parish families. Activities included a spinning wheel for the little children, "bowling" and a "shooting gallery" for the men. The old standards of home-made ice cream and beer were joined by soda and candy as enticements. In the afternoon a band would play music.
Picnics, at this time, were held on Pentecost Monday, which was celebrated as almost a second feast day. It was not until later that the picnic day was changed to summertime. Until this change took place, chickens were baked, as it was too early for the farmers to have spring chickens for frying. Later practices had parish families killing and dressing a set number of chikens before donating them.
Besides having picnics to raise funds, there were special collections and other social affairs, including dances and euchres, held in the parish hall. Around 1918 there were 75 or 80 families in the parish, mostly struggling farmers. but shortly after all buildings were complted, the parish was debt free, concrete evidence of the devotion and hard-working attitudes of the parish people. This devotion and pride kept their parish more than solvent for all the years of Fr. von Brunn's pastorate.
The Next 25 Years
Following the departure of Fr. von Brunn in 1922, the Archdiocese sent Fr. Joseph Fitzkam who arrived in July of 1922. He was a religious man who was amiable, kind and generous. He sit almost daily at the local store, chat with the townspeople and enjoy a Coca Cola. Organizations and activities were continued during Fr. von Brunn's pastorate were expanded. The parish hall was used almost monthly for dances, euchres and bingos were also scheduled.
The picnics were continued and around this time, the date was changed to August. Since there was no electricty at the picnic grounds, George Friese, a Wentzville resident brought an old generator on his truck to provide lighting around the dance floor. These picnics were a financial success that added revenue for the parish operating expenses. Fr. Fitzkam's ability to keep social affairs functioning were an answer to any moral problems the depression may have caused, but like everyone the parish fell on financial hard times.
Fr. Fitzkam also took an active role in the school. He gave religious instructions at least once or twice a week. By 1929 there were approximately 75 students in the school. The structure of the school remained the same and occasionally he said Holy Mass in the school if it was cold to avoid heating the church.
Fr. Fitzkam made many changes to the church, school and rectory. He had the church, rectory, and school painted. He also added the alcoves to both sides of the Church in 1928 or 1929 because the Westhoff family donated a large Pieta statue and he needed a place for it in the church.
Tragically Fr. Fitzkam died in a single car accident of which he was the sole occupant, on November 17, 1934. Fr. Fitzkam was replaced by Fr. Joseph Poelkin in February of 1935. Fr. Poelking served during the years when two conditions of national importance drastically affected lives at St. Theodore; the aftermath of the devastating Great Depression and later World War II. Faced with the economic pressure of a sizeable parish debt He was able to get the parish back into a solvent state.
The state of the economy along with Fr. Poelking's ill health, brought about the cessation of the parish picnic but the dances, euchres and plays continued to be held in the parish hall. These socials were well attended and were the main source of entertainment for the young people growing up in poor economic times.
Due primarily to the financial condition of the parish and the economy in general, St. Theodore Catholic School became a public school in the 1936 - 1937 school year. By making this change the parish would receive state aid for the use of the school building, payment for the teaching Sisters' salaries, books etc. What started out well drastically changed by the late 1940's when the Sisters were no longer allowed to teach Catechism in the classrooms, holy pictures were not permitted in the school and increased regulations about prayer and convent garb were enforced. This would set the stage for the reversal of the public school to the Catholic school with the next pastor.
World War II greatly affected the lives of the parishioners of St. Theodore. At least once a week Fr. Poelking would offer Mass for the welfare of the servicemen. Many families agonized over sons and brothers who enlisted. by the grace of God, only one man from the parish lost his life. Harry Engelmeyer died on D-Day on the Normandy beach head and was burried in the parish cemetary.
During Fr. Poelking's pastorate the interior of the church was completely renovated. He bought three new altars, new Stations of the Cross, and had the lighting structures we use today installed. Due to a lack of central water supply, men from the parish dug and constrcted a large (16 foot deep by 16 foot wide) square cisetern behind the church.
Fr. Gerhard Schmidt
In January of 1949 Fr. Poelking was replaced as the pastor by Fr. Gerhard Schmidt. Bulldozers, concrete mixers, and crews of men working were an every day sight on the parish grounds with most of the labor being performed by volunteers. His first project was to enlarge and deepen the basement of the rectory. Other projects included landscaping, bulldozing of dead or unwanted trees and pouring new concrete sidewalks and steps at various places on the parish grounds.
In addition to the building, Father also carried out his pastoral duties and re-established many customs that had fallen by the wayside. The school children sang, wedding dances were held, parish plays were produced, suppers were held as well as fall festivals, and the biggest yearly event of all, the parish picnic was reestablished. In 1951 the convent was remodeled and in 1952 water was piped to the picnic grounds. In 1953 the school reverted back from a public school to a parochial school and in 1954, after several years of discussing the addition of more usable space under the school, the men of the parish dug out the basement of the school.
In 1956 Fr. Schmidt underwent a serous surgery but returned to health and in the next two years continued working on the parish picnic grounds by building a lunch stand, concrete dance floor and rebuilt the kitchen. In 1965 the Bross family donated property to the parish to enlarge the school and in 1966 two classrooms were added.
As an active pastor he guided the parish through the years of church changes in the 1960's and the Second Vatican Council. In September 1969, the 5:00 pm Saturday evening Mass was initiated. In 1969 and 1970 he began mimeographing his own Sunday bulletins and lay people were trained to distribute Holy Communion. In the early 1970's he appointed eight men and four women to a Lay Advisory Bard (Parish Council) and shortly after introduced the First Sunday of the Month envelope. The first St. Theodore School board consisting of four men and two women was also elected by a general vote in February of 1971. With his health failing Fr. Schmidt was made Pastor Emeritus in July of 1971 and Fr. Joseph J Portucheck was named pastor.
The Past 50 Years
In July of 1971, when Fr. Joseph Portucheck was named pastor, Fr. Schmidt continued to live at St. Theodore and the two priests shared the responsibilities for the weekly and Sunday Masses. In 1971 St. Theodore School had its largest First Communion Class of 32 second graders. Sadly in the same year the Precious Blood Sisters could no longer supply an organist and so the job of liturgical music planning, training of Choirs and securing of an organist was undertaken by a Liturgy Committee. Fr. Portucheck introduced many liturgical celebrations including May Crowning, monthly penance services,First Saturday Devotions, and Stations of the Cross during Lent. Additionally he initiated the parish school of religion for high school students attending public schools and in 1972 started the Catholic Youth Council (CYC). In 1979 Fr. Schmidt passed away and later that year Fr. Portucheck was re-assigned to be the Pastor of Sacred Heart Parish at Elsberry, MO.
Fr. Portucheck was replaced as pastor by Fr. Eugene Bendel, the previous pastor of Sacred Heart in Elsberry. He initiated the Legion of Mary and met monthly with the various parish organizations including School Board, Parish Council CYC, and St. Monica's Sodality. He was a conscientious caretaker of the grounds and parish buildings. In 1981, the Convent of the Sisters of the Most Precious Blood choose to withdraw from the school due to the small number of Sisters available for teaching. Fr. Bendel undertook a secret ballot to ask if the school should be continued without the Sisters and the parish voted overwhelming to continue St. Theodore School. In the fall of 1982, the school opened its doors to 88 students with its first lay principal, Dolores Schaefer. Fr. Bendel also started the Parish Dinner Auction which is still popular today.
Fr. Urban Knoll served as pastor from 1990 - 1994. During his time the church and rectory were redecorated and a bathroom was installed in the church. The parish continued to grow and in 1994, Fr. Albert Mattler was installed as pastor. He was a strong support of St. Theodore School and during his tenure the new Parish Center was built. After celebrating his 50th anniversary as a priest, Fr. Mattler was replaced by Fr. Gary Vollmer (Fr. Frog) in 2005. Fr. Gary was a compassionate priest who encouraged many acts of charity and began the yearly Mexico Mission Trip. Fr. Gary served generously at St. Theodore for 12 years until he was granted senior associate status at St. Joseph in imperial. Fr. Anthony Gerber was appointed pastor in June of 2017 and sought to develop the spiritual growth of St. Theodore. During his time the Blue Sisters arrived and a youth ministry program was started. Additionally renovations were made the the parish office, rectory and school library. In Feburay of 2020 Archbishop Carlson assigned Fr. Gerber to be the senior associate pastor at Sacred Heart Parish in Florrisant and Fr. Peter Fonseca to be the pastor of St. Theodore.