History

Historical records of the Catholic Church in the Cape Girardeau area date back to May of 1821, when Mass was celebrated in the home of D.F. Steinback, son-in-law of city forefather, Louis Lorimier. By 1825, a Vincentian priest, Fr. John Timon, C.M., came from St. Mary of the Barrens Seminary in Perryville, Missouri, to celebrate Mass with local Catholics on a regular basis.

In 1833, land was purchased near the banks of the Mississippi River to build a church for Catholics in the area. St. Vincent de Paul Parish dates back to April 9, 1836, when Fr. John Mary Odin, C.M., left St. Mary of the Barrens Seminary to become the first resident pastor. He dedicated the parish under the patronage of St. Vincent de Paul. Church services were held in an old warehouse, as plans began to build a permanent structure.

The original church building was completed in 1839, but was destroyed by a tornado on November 27, 1850. The following spring, construction began on a second church building at the same location. The new church was consecrated on July 27, 1853, and still stands today on Main Street in downtown Cape Girardeau, and is now known as “Old St. Vincent.”

About 100 years later, during the 1950’s, it became apparent that Cape Girardeau was expanding west of the river. In addition, there was no room for expansion at the Main Street location, so the parish family of St. Vincent de Paul followed the city’s population and began moving west as well. With the leadership of Fr. Joseph Dyra, C.M., pastor from 1949-1964, the parish began moving to Diocesan property at Ritter Drive and Forest Avenue in 1956, when a new St. Vincent de Paul Grade School was built.

In 1961, a convent was built on Ritter Drive, near the school, to house the Sisters of Loretto. The Sisters helped staff the school for about 100 years, from 1877-1978. Also in 1961, a rectory to house the priests serving St. Vincent de Paul Parish was built on Forest Avenue. Parish offices were originally located in the rectory. Since 1991, the Parish Office and two meeting rooms have been housed in the former convent building.

On July 1, 1975, ground was broken for St. Vincent de Paul Parish Center, a multipurpose building built on the south end of the school. The building included a gymnasium and kitchen.Although attached to the school, it was built to be an activity center for the entire parish.

Changes continued to come quickly for St. Vincent de Paul Parish. On July 22, 1975, Fr. Martin Culligan, C.M., became the new pastor. He continued to lead the parish through the construction of the Parish Center with an eye toward the next goal: the construction of the new church. Ground was broken for the church on May 3, 1976. Construction continued through the summer and fall of 1976. On December 8, the feast of the Immaculate Conception, the current parish church on Forest Avenue was dedicated under the patronage of St. Vincent de Paul.

In April 1991, ground was broken for a school addition that added much needed administrative office space, and additional classrooms for St. Vincent de Paul Grade School. In 1997, ground was broken again for another parish addition. Long overdue meeting rooms were needed for the variety and number of groups that are a part of the parish community. The first phase included a two-story addition at the back of the church building. On November 4, 1997, bulldozers began removing the sidewalks leading to the doors of St. Vincent de Paul Church to make way for the addition of a Gathering Area at the front of the church.

Soon after the church additions were complete, attention moved to the former Notre Dame High School building, located on Ritter Drive. Built in 1953, the building was used by the high school until 1998. Because of the building’s close proximity to the rest of the parish grounds, it seemed appropriate for St. Vincent de Paul Parish to acquire the former Notre Dame School, convent, and adjacent grounds. The parish purchased the property from the Diocese in 1999, and named it The DePaul Center. It is currently used by St. Vincent de Paul Grade School, by school and parish sports teams,Christian Service, and a variety of other parish groups and functions.

As St. Vincent de Paul Parish continues to grow in faith … rooted in the past … and building for the future, plans will no doubt continue to surface and be addressed. Growth and change are not optional for human beings, or any living thing, and the entire history of the Catholic Church proves that growth and change are not optional for communities of faith either!