Sunday, September 14, 2008

Road Trip to St. Louis

Part 5: Carondelet

On Tuesday, August 19, my friends Kathleen and Joey and I visited the Motherhouse of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet – St. Louis Province. We were given a tour of this historic St. Louis landmark by Sister Kate Filla (pictured above, center). Both Kathleen and I are consociates of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet – St.Paul Province.

The St. Louis province serves as the headquarters for the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet (CSJ), which is comprised of four provinces (St. Louis, St. Paul, Albany, and Los Angeles), three vice provinces (Hawaii, Japan, and Peru) and one congregational mission in Chile. Worldwide the Sisters of St. Joseph have been serving “the dear neighbor” for more than 350 years.

Above: The Holy Family Chapel at the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet - St. Louis.

Above: The beautiful courtyard at the motherhouse.

Above: Kate and Kathleen admiring the beautiful and unique floors of the motherhouse. If I remember correctly, the floors are made of black walnut and maple. This combination of a hard wood and a soft wood has prevented the floors from warping over the decades. And of course, apart from this practical value, the combination of these two woods ensures a truly stunning effect.

Above: A mural depicting the early ministry works of the Sisters of St. Joseph in St. Louis.

Above and below: The beautiful interior of the 1889 Romanesque Chapel of the Holy Family.

Above: The relics of seven saints and martyrs from the earliest days of the Christian Church are housed in the Chapel of the Holy Family.

Following is a description of these relics from a 1998 article by Joan Little in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

Tucked away in a corner of a chapel are the skeletons of seven saints and martyrs from the earliest days of Christianity. Three of the saints are Romans whose remains are elaborately clothed; they are displayed in glass and wood coffins.

But they are not at some historical church in Europe. They are here. The saints have been under glass for nearly a century at the motherhouse of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet in south St. Louis.

Experts say it is one of the most rare collections of holy relics in the country. Many other shrines contain only small bone fragments of saints, not the entire remains. “It’s so rare to see anything like that anymore,” said the Rev. Paul Niemann, a liturgical specialist for the Archdiocese of St. Louis.

St. Anthony’s Chapel in Pittsburgh claims to have the largest collection in the United States with 4,000 relics; the Maria Stein Chapel outside Cincinnati says it has about 600. But both of those have only one saint’s entire body. The saints may also be one of the best-kept secrets in St. Louis because the chapel is not open to the public. The sisters frequently give tours but only upon request.

St. Aurelia, St. Discolius and St. Nerusia Euticia are the three Roman saints given a full display. The skulls, teeth and separated bones of two other early martyrs, St. Berenice and St. Berisimus, are behind two glass cases on each side of the altar. Behind closed marble doors within the altar are the skulls and bones of two more martyrs, St. Vincent and St. Aurelius. And in five glass niches along the front of the altar are single bones, each of them carefully wrapped in gauze, from 70 other saints.

Aurelia and Discolius were said to be child martyrs originally buried in the Catacombs. St. Nerusia Euticia was a young noblewoman of Rome in the second century, according to documents the sisters obtained from the Vatican. The skeletons of all three are wrapped in gauze, through which the bones can be seen in the hands and feet. They are dressed in blue-and-gold brocade Roman tunics and hair wreaths. They have wax over their faces, which gives them a doll-like appearance.

St. Berisimus is believed to have died at the age of 8 in the Coliseum during the reign of Antoninus Pius. St. Berenice was put to death by the sword. Euticia and Discolius have stone slab tombstones with their names in crudely lettered Latin that are said to have been taken from the Catacombs. The stone slabs hang next to each of their coffins.

To read Joan Little’s article in its entirety, click here.

Above: A statue of St. Joseph and Jesus in the grounds of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet - St. Louis Province - August 19, 2008.

NEXT: Part 6: Hannibal.

See also the previous Road Trip to St. Louis posts:
Part 1: Following the Mississippi
Part 2: Dubuque
Part 3: St. Louis
Part 4: The Arch

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