Restoration Begins: A New Mission
Ironically, instead of repurposing the old church and assigning to it a new use, the restoration of St. Francis de Sales is entrusted to an old purpose: the old liturgy for which it was designed and built. Its architecture is ideally suited for the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite, and the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest, a young order dedicated to this traditional form of Latin Mass, was given charge of the old church to serve a new mission.
Restoration of the church building and campus began in 2005. A new era also began for the new community. Read: New Focus.
Need for Restoration
Since its dedication in 1908, the fate of St. Francis de Sales church closely dovetailed that of the city of St. Louis. As the city grew, so the parish grew continuously through the 1950s, adding a thriving high school to its campus in 1939. After 1950, however, the population of St. Louis steadily declined due to the outward migration towards the suburbs. Fox Park, the neighborhood of St. Francis de Sales, followed the same pattern. By 1974, the parish dissipated to the point that the St. Francis de Sales high school was forced to close for good. With decades of dwindling support, the condition of St. Francis de Sales church, and indeed the entire campus, deteriorated visibly and rapidly.
As the city of St. Louis embarked on various urban renewal projects, so did the Fox Park neighborhood. The DeSales Community Housing Corporation was formed from the congregation of St. Francis de Sales in an effort to stay the tide of decline. In recognition of its architectural, cultural and historical significance, St. Francis de Sales church was entered into the National Register of Historical Places in 1978. In spite of these efforts, the decline continued, and the church was in danger of becoming an exoskeleton devoid of its living substance.
In June of 2005 St. Franics de Sales parish was closed by the Archdiocese of St. Louis and was consolidated with another neighborhood parish. In the absence of an alternate solution, the church building was scheduled to be torn down and sold.
Preservation through Original Usage
As elsewhere in the Church, in St. Louis Archdiocese there was a need to serve the faithful who attended the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite, the classical Latin Mass. Then-Archbishop (now Cardinal) Raymond Burke of St. Louis (2004-2008) sought to fulfill this need while finding an effective means of safeguarding a cultural treasure of St. Louis.
In July 2005, an important change took place in the effort to preserve St. Francis de Sales church: it was erected as an Oratory of the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest (“Institute”), serving St. Louis as the premier center of the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite. Since the architecture and the interior of St. Francis de Sales were originally designed for this use of the Roman Rite, the church was perfectly suited to its new mission.
With its new mission as an Oratory, the appeal of St. Francis de Sales would be extended beyond the boundaries of the original parish, and beyond any singular demographic group. For the first time, there was hope that the deserted infrastructure would slowly regain active and purposeful use. The perfect balance between usage and preservation would be an effective means of safeguarding a cultural treasure of St. Louis.
A New Oratory
In January 2005, the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest was invited to become a part of the great Catholic tradition of St. Louis, first serving the Roman Rite of 1962 at St. Agatha parish, then at St. Francis de Sales.
In July 2005, the church building and campus of St. Francis de Sales were entrusted to the care of the Institute to maintain and to administer the sacraments according to the 1962 Roman Missal. As an Oratory of the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest, it would serve the entire archdiocese of St. Louis and would be the center of the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite.
Sunday and daily Masses were offered in the Extraordinary Form, as were all Sacraments. Various venerable Catholic devotions were rekindled.
To meet the needs of the liturgy as well as the needs of the growing congregation, the restoration of St. Francis de Sales, including numerous repairs, became an urgent necessity. The church and sacristy had to be replenished for the liturgy. The rectory had to be refurbished to accommodate the clergy and staff. The campus buildings had to be renovated for the education of children in a new electronic age.
Thus began the restoration of St. Francis de Sales. Founded in 1867, church building consecrated in 1908, and in the 21st century, it has been called to serve God in the traditional form of the liturgy once again.