Life at “The Rock” in St. Louis

Redemptorist community members at "the Rock" church in St. Louis

by Rodney J. Olive, C.Ss.R. 

St. Alphonsus Liguori “Rock” Church has been in north St. Louis, U.S.A., for 150 years. I joined the Redemptorist team a year and a half ago. I am blessed to be part of a really great team and community as well. Our community is made up of confreres from many different areas: Steve Benden, the pastor, is from St. Louis; Peter Schavitz is from Chicago; Tom Donaldson, superior of the community, is from Kansas City; Dave Polek has lived in St. Louis for 50 years; Steve Fruge is from the Lafayette area of Louisiana; and I come from St. Thomas-USVI, in the Caribbean. 

Historic “Rock” Church in St. Louis.

The “Rock” Church – as it is commonly referred to in St. Louis and the surrounding area – brings the richness of African-American spirituality and culture to our Catholic experience. The Redemptorists are an intimate part of the “Rock” church family. The welcoming spirit of the church community embraces people from many different cultural backgrounds. In addition to our African-American brothers and sisters, there are descendants of the original German immigrants who started the parish, Caribbean people from various island nations, and people from different countries in Africa. We all come together as one family expressing a unique experience of Black Catholic spiritual life and worship. As many people have shared with me, “the experience speaks to who we are as a church family; it’s part of our spiritual DNA.” 

The pastoral ministry that emerges from the “Rock” Church also speaks to who we are. Fr. Pete and Fr. Tom are mission preachers who are on the road proclaiming the gospel. Fr. Steve, Br. Steve and I make up part of the parish staff. Our ministry calls us to focus, like Jesus, on the social teachings of the gospel, which impacts our experience of the sacraments and liturgical worship. 

A life-giving aspect of our pastoral ministry is how well we collaborate, feeding off of each other’s strengths. While we do not always agree with each other, we value the gifts each of us bring to community, and know that our combined gifts create something beautiful – for God and for our community. 

How do we realize this in our pastoral life experience? The last couple of weeks illustrates what our neighbors say: “If you need a safe place for the night, go to the Rock.” The homeless shelter here, and we also have provided a temporary place for a mobile home. Every Tuesday and Thursday we provide food and clothing to those in need at our pantry. During this pandemic the numbers have swelled from the usual 40 to over 70. God provides, through the generosity of parishes in the county, for our ministry at the “Rock.” 

The award-winning “Rock” choir performs during an African Spirituals Concert.

An important part of maintaining our energy and focus for ministry is our community prayer, both in the morning and in the evening. Everyone in the community is faithful and committed to this, especially during this pandemic. When asked “how are you doing?” by people in parish, I find myself responding like most of the “Rock” family: “I am blessed” or “So far so good, praise God.” 

Like everyone else, I look forward to gathering for worship on Sunday. This is especially true now that we livestream liturgies. It is a priceless experience of God’s life-giving love that always empowers everyone with us in church and those participating virtually. I praise God every day for bringing me here. It is an ongoing rich and life-giving experience of Redemptorist life and ministry. I have no doubt that the Holy Spirit is guiding us to a new reality as Redemptorists in the United States. 

courtesy of Denverlink Update, issue of January 15, 2021

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