Incarnate Word History
Incarnate Word parish was established on August 15, 1965. At that time, the area was composed of sprawling farmlands in West St. Louis County. These lands had become the center of an expansive home building program, which resulted in a rapid influx of Catholic families to the area. The majority of the territory encompassed by Incarnate Word parish was formerly within the boundaries of St. Monica's parish, which is located further East on Olive Boulevard in Creve Coeur. Incarnate Word parish grew rapidly. In 1967, its southern portion became part of St. Anselm's parish. In 1972, a segment near the northern boundary became part of the new St. John Bosco parish.
Father Paul Kaletta, the founding pastor of Incarnate Word, held masses in the chapel at Maryville College while living in an apartment in Four Season's subdivision. The Sisters of the Sacred Heart at Maryville College were gracious and generous hosts who shared their chapel with the ever-increasing number of Incarnate Word parishioners. The chapel easily accommodated the original 325 families as they awaited completion of the Incarnate Word school building. The first Incarnate Word church was housed in what would later become the gymnasium of the school. The rectory and school building were completed in late 1966.
Archdiocesan policy during the sixties did not promote the opening of new Catholic schools. The school building was rented to Villa Maria Montessori and the Parkway School District, but was reserved for use of the parish school of religion (P.S.R.) in the afternoon and evenings.
Father Kaletta placed the P.S.R. program under the direction of two Incarnate Word Sisters, Sister Joan Holden and Sister Jane Grail. The Incarnate Word P.S.R. program reached an enrollment of over 1500 pupils, which made it the largest in the Archdiocese at that time. Parishioners volunteered their services to teach the elementary, junior high and high school classes.
In early 1968, the parishioners urged the Archdiocese to purchase the lot (two acres plus a small frame house) immediately east of the rectory. They believed the original plot was too small to accommodate the rapid growth of the parish. The Archdiocese declined to increase the amount of the parish debt, so a small group of parishioners organized a non-profit corporation, The Auxilium Foundation. This foundation conducted a fund drive and purchased the lot. Later that fund was donated to the Archdiocese.
Following Father Paul Kalleta's untimely death on Christmas night of 1974, Father Joseph A. O'Brien was made pastor in the spring of 1975. Under his direction the Incarnate Word parish school was opened in the fall with an enrollment of 146 students. The first principal, Mr. Stephen Fink, and all the teachers were members of the laity, although religious instruction was under the direction of Incarnate Word Sisters.
The parish school board was founded in 1977, with Thomas Gunn as its first president. Its primary purpose was to provide guidance and a philosophy for the operation of the school. The Incarnate Word school curriculum follows the recommended guidelines of the Archdiocese of St. Louis and the State of Missouri. The focus is on a sound religious formation program with a strong emphasis on fundamentals. It provides well-balanced education to meet the intellectual, spiritual, physical and social needs of each student.
The parish continued to expand and enrollment in the school increased to the point that temporary classrooms were constructed in the original church hall.
In the fall of 1980, Archbishop John L. May granted Father O'Brien permission to start planning for a new, larger, and permanent church for Incarnate Word. Initial planning located the 600-seat church along Olive Boulevard directly east of the rectory. At this time the first building fund drive was conducted and resulted in pledges of $900,000.00. Before building plans were completed, illness caused Father O'Brien to be reassigned. Monsignor Norbert J. Dietz became pastor in the spring of 1981. Concerned with building the new church, Monsignor Dietz established a church building committee, composed of representatives of all the parish organizations: Isabelle Lenhardt (school principal), Mary Fleming (president, parish school board), Father Gary Vollmer (CYC and associate pastor), Deacon Jerome V. Toohey (lector and social action), Sue Tieber (teens and couples), Carl Massaro (ushers), Len Schneider (men's club), Rosetta Spadarotto (ladies club), Leo Paradis (choir), Al Striebel (athletics), Harry Bresnahan (maintenance), Ron Szweda (fund drive), Charles Shikany (fund drive), and Pete Origliasso (fund drive follow-up).
Under the leadership of Monsignor Dietz, the committee placed a 750-seat church contiguous to the existing church/school and added a church hall, which considerably increased the flexibility and usefulness of the building. The new plans also included conversion of the temporary church to a gymnasium, utilization of the sacristy area for preparation and dressing rooms, and provision for permanent classrooms in the former church hall.
Construction of the new church was begun in June 1982. Since the expanded plans resulted in a more expensive building than first anticipated, a second fund-raising drive was conducted in the fall of 1982. The new church was completed in time for the first Mass to be offered on Christmas Eve of 1983. The conversion work on the gymnasium and sacristy was completed in the summer of 1984. First time visitors are usually impressed with the uniqueness and beauty of the award winning Incarnate Word Catholic Church.
Father Robert J. Hermann became pastor of the parish in June of 1988. Through the use of three Parish Vision Weekends and a survey, parish priorities were quickly identified and used to develop a Parish Vision and a Mission. A stewardship program was implemented to generate the personal and financial resources needed to support the unfolding vision with its opportunity for new ministries. The number one priority, identified at this time, was the desire to get high school students to Sunday Masses. The introduction of the National Life Teen program has been an incredible blessing to Incarnate Word parish. Impressed with the lay involvement in the School, the Liturgy Committee, the Athletic Association, the Reach Out program, the R.C.I.A., and the annual Archdiocesan Development Appeal, he encouraged the development of a Parish Council, an Administrative and Finance Committee, a Stewardship Committee, Pastoral Planning Committee, a full time Youth Minister, Parents for Life, and Live On for college students and young adults. Parish organizations have been expanded and now include over 80 ministries inlcuding: the St. Vincent De Paul Society, the Knights of Columbus and the Ladies Auxiliary, Faith Sharing, Welcoming Committee, the Grief Support Group, and the Gardening Angels.
In June of 2001, Incarnate Word Parish completed a five million dollar expansion of its facilities. The new facilities included additional classrooms, a parish center that includes a gym and stage, parish offices, multipurpose and meeting rooms, and an Adoration Chapel. On September 9th, 2001, Archbishop Justin Rigali celebrated a Mass of Thanksgiving and initiated Perpetual Adoration in the new chapel. This was followed by a parish celebration in the new Kent Parish Center. Incarnate Word parish was recognized nationally with the Excellent Catholic parish Award by the Parish/Congregation Study-Pastoral Summit in 2000.
In August of 2002, Fr. Robert Hermann was appointed Vicar General of the Archdiocese of St. Louis. Fr. Hermann was ordained an Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of St. Louis on December 12, 2002. Fr. G. Timothy Vowels was appointed the new pastor of Incarnate Word in August 2002. Incarnate Word Parish celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2005 with various celebrations throughout the year that included a parish banquet and Eucharistic Celebrations with priests formerly assigned to Incarnate Word Parish. In the summer of 2005 Incarnate Word’s 15 year long campaign for a stop light on Olive Blvd. became a reality, improving the safety of all who enter and exit our parish grounds. A new rectory was constructed on the West side of the campus in the Spring of 2008 and then the old rectory was demolished. The relocation of the rectory provided the parish with much needed additional parking spaces.
Presently, Incarnate Word is home to 2,007 families; the parish school has an enrollment of 390 students and the parish school of religion has an enrollment of 310 students. In the past year, there were 61 Baptisms, 88 children received their First Communion, 100 were Confirmed, 12 marriages occurred and there were 21 funerals. Incarnate Word is a dynamic parish, which encourages all parishioners to participate in the life of the church.