Parish History!

The Beginning

St. Joseph Church, located in Imperial, formerly of Kimmswick, began as a mission church in March of 1874.

St. Joseph Parish has thrived since its early mission days when Mass was celebrated in different homes. In May of 1876, the deeds of four lots were acquired and by June the original frame church was erected on ground then known as Sylvan Heights. In May of 1877, the Vicar General Henry Muehlsaipen blessed the church. The first recorded baptism was on Oct. 22, 1876, when the infant daughter of Michael Arnold and Margaret Schwarz was named Elizabeth and received into the church.

The Franciscan Fathers were in charge of the parish until 1880. Visiting priests, many from Maxville (the present city of Arnold) spoke from St. Joseph’s altar for many years.

A New Parish!

It was a joyful day, Oct. 3, 1905, when Archbishop Kain appointed Fr. Edmund Salland as the first resident pastor. Fr. Salland, formerly of Holy Ghost Parish in St. Louis, was known for his devotion and dedication and spent 22 years in service to the parish. While at St. Joseph he built a convent, school and a rectory. In 1927 he built the masonry Kimmswick church but was transferred to a neighboring parish in Maxville before its dedication.

The school, built in 1909, was staffed with lay teachers in its earliest days and then the Ursuline Sisters took charge. In 1941, the Dominican Sisters took over and five years later the new social work order known as the Christ the King Sisters was in charge of the school. In August of 1949, the School Sisters of Notre Dame took on the duties at the school for the coming decades. The 13 students enrolled when the school first opened were described as ten German, two Irish, and one French student.

Onward from Humble Beginnings

Fr. Daniel Sullivan became the second pastor and, like Fr. Salland, remained at the parish for 22 years, from 1927 to 1949. Fr. Michael Toomey succeeded Fr. Sullivan but only served about two years before falling ill. The fourth pastor, Fr. John Denehey, served a short time until his abrupt death in February of 1952. One month later, Fr. James Franey was appointed pastor and ministered to the parish for the next ten years.

It was in 1952 that the elaborate new Wurlitzer organ was donated to the church by Mr. and Mrs. Anthony P. Naes and dedicated by Fr. Franey. In 1955 the “Carillonic Bells,” also a gift from the Naeses, were installed and dedicated on New Year’s Day.

In 1956, the old frame church, which by now housed three classrooms, was torn down. The parish was given the use of the former Riverside Tavern for the third, fourth, and fifth grade classrooms until the new school was finished. The Kimmswick school was open for occupancy on Sept. 16, 1957, and His Excellency, Archbishop Joseph E. Ritter, was present for the school’s dedication on Nov. 3 of that year.

Fires & Floods

In February of 1958, fire broke out in the church and according to witnesses, the fire originated behind the altar. At the time, the schoolchildren were eating breakfast in the basement. The fire was discovered by one of the sisters. There was much damage. Neighbors, local priests, and Liguori workers helped to remove vestments and statues from the Church. Notably, the image of Our Mother of Perpetual Help in our current Church survived the fire. For a while, Sunday Mass for St. Joseph parishioners was held in the newly constructed chapel at Liguori.

Frozen and busting water pipes in the convent as well as an explosion in the furnace followed the Church fire. Finally, tainted cistern water caused the clergy and the sisters to carry water in buckets from the rectory and convent to the school until an new water connection could be made.

During his last year at St. Joseph’s, Fr. Franey was given a part time assistant, Fr. Lawrence Schieber. When Fr. Franey and Schieber were appointed to a St. Louis parish, Fr. John Geoghegan then began his 10-year stint at St. Joseph.

Fr. Ralph Zimmer took Fr. Geoghegean’s place as pastor in 1972. After one year he was replaced by Fr. George Haar, who spent five years at St. Joseph. Fr. Haar made many needed repairs to the rectory and convent. He also replaced the roof of the church that had been damaged in the fire years before. Fr. Haar was reassigned in June of 1978.

Fr. Ronald Tiefenbrunn was immediately appointed pastor. Fr. Tiefenbrunn knew the original pastor, Fr. Salland well, as Fr. Salland had been his childhood pastor at Immaculate Conception in Arnold after Fr. Salland left St. Joseph.

On a bitterly cold November night, another fire broke out in the basement under the rectory dining room. Fr. Tiefebrunn barely escaped. This brought the various improvements to parish buildings to an abrupt halt.

The 72-year-old structure was boarded up and Fr. Tiefenbrunn moved into a temporary mobile home. Father worked with dedicated parishioners to replace all the documents and information that had been destroyed. The rectory was torn down and rebuilt.