ST. LOUIS (1884)
Mass was first said in Louisville about 1879 in the home of David Kerr, who in 1864 became the area's first white settler. It was also on Kerr's farm that Louis Nawatny first found coal in 1877. Kerr and Nawatny arranged with C.C. Welch to sink a mine shaft. At 200 feet, Welch found a rich vein eight to thirteen feet wide, and Louisville began to blossom as a coal mining center.
Soon other mines were sunk, and Nawatny platted a townsite at the junction of Coal Creek and the Colorado Central Railroad tracks on October 24, 1878, naming the town after himself. By 1880, the fast growing coal town had 450 residents.
Anthony J. Abel, the pastor of Sacred Heart of Mary Church in South Boulder, continued to visit Louisville after saying the first Mass in David Kerr's home. In 1881, he was succeeded as pastor of the South Boulder area by Godfrey A. Raber, a newly ordained Swiss priest who came to Colorado for the healthful climate.
Father Raber and Bishop Machebeuf strove to give Louisville its own church. After the bishop bought two lots at the corner of LaFarge Avenue and Walnut Street from coal mine owner C.C. Welch on October 9, 1883, Father Raber and his parishioners built a splendid little frame church, completed in 1884 and landscaped with trees and a white picket fence. Father Raber looked after the St. Louis mission until 1887, when the Benedictine fathers of St. Vincent Archabbey of Beatty, Pennsylvania, took over Boulder County at the request of Bishop Machebeuf.
Rhabanus M. Guttman, OSB, headed the tiny band of missionary Benedictines who headquartered at Sacred Heart of Mary and tended Louisville and other Boulder County missions. Typically, these circuit-riding Benedictines arrived Saturday afternoon to hear confessions, spent the night with a parish family, and said Sunday Mass the next morning. In 1894, the Benedictines spent $564.40 on St. Louis Church, adding a choir loft and a sacristy with a sleeping nook. In 1899, Henry Hohman,OSB, became the first resident pastor, buying a small frame cottage that, with additions over the years, served as the rectory until 1953. The Benedictines sent Italian- or Slavic-speaking priests whenever possible, which delighted the two major immigrant groups of the parish. Although these miners could afford little or no salary for the priests, they rewarded them with ethnic feasts.
Father Cyril Rettger, OSB, pastor from 1903 to 1916, purchased twelve lots in the block west of the rectory and began work on a four-room, one-story frame school house. Four Benedictine sisters from Erie, Pennsylvania, opened the "St. Louis School and Business College" in the fall of 1905. Despite its proud name and fashionable bungalow architecture, the school could afford only one textbook, the Baltimore Catechism, which was also used as a reader and a speller. Over 200 students from Louisville and the nearby coal mining towns of Erie, Lafayette, Marshall, and Superior enrolled in the tiny, fifty-by-seventy-foot school. The Benedictines were succeeded in 1909 by the Franciscan sisters of St. Francis Convent from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, who ran the school until 1927. Subsequently, the Sisters of the Most Precious Blood and the Presentation Sisters from Ireland helped staff the school over the years. When the last sisters left in 1985, lay teachers took over all classes, kindergarten through sixth grade.
At the 1907 school dedication ceremony, Bishop Matz told the assembled parishioners that "the church would always defend the rights of the laboring man, and would come to his farms and mines with new churches and new schools." Father Rettger likewise sympathized with his working-class flock, who were trying to establish a local of the United Mine Workers. The struggle to unionize, gain safe working conditions, and secure a minimum wage of $3 for a maximum work day of eight hours led to bitter labor wars. Father Rettger's support of the miners apparently led to an attempt to assassinate him while he was saying Mass, a near miss vividly commemorated by a bullet hole in the window nearest the altar.
Benedict Ingenito, OSB, took over in 1933 and began an annual bazaar to raise money for a new church near the school. This $40,000 brick church, designed in the Romanesque style with a red tile roof and an elegant rear bell tower, was dedicated on June 28, 1942, by Archbishop Vehr. Since that year, the parish complex in the 900 block of Grant Street has been growing. The parish spent $35,000 in 1950 to add two brick wings to the school, replace the old outhouses with indoor plumbing, reface the 1907 school in a brick veneer, and modernize the entire complex with glass brick windows, Celotex ceilings, and flourescent lighting. The old convent, a brick house where the sisters had been living since 1907, was replaced in 1953 with a new $33,000 structure now used as a preschool center. A new rectory was completed in 1961 for Harold Glentzer, OSB, the last Benedictine pastor, who served from 1959 to 1973, followed by John E. Casey, SJ, pastor from 1973 to 1980, and John J. McGinn, an archdiocesan priest who has been pastor since 1980. Anticipating future expansion, Father McGinn has acquired eight acres near the church.
In 1984, Father McGinn lead St. Louis's parishioners in a centennial celebration. By that time, Louisville had become a town of over 5,000 with about 400 families in the parish and ninety-two children in the kindergarten and elementary school. Priest and parishioners met at the church, then marched in procession to Louisville's Memory Square Park for an open air centennial Mass on Sunday, September 16, 1984.