Old St. Ferdinand’s Shrine is one of the few remaining
traces of St. Louis’ Spanish past and is at the site of one of the earliest
European settlements west of the Mississippi. Early settlers in the area
were French farmers and fur trappers who were attracted to the fertile
valley they called “Fleurissant,” which means “flowering” or “flourishing.”
It is believed that the village was settled around 1764, the same time that
St. Louis was founded. When the land was transferred to the Spanish the
settlement was renamed “San Fernando.”
A log church was built in 1788 on land given to
the village by the King of Spain. The St. Ferdinand parish was established
in 1789 and a second log church was built in 1792 four blocks from where the
current church is located. This log church served the community until the
original portion of the existing church was constructed.
A convent was built in
1819 and Mass was said in its chapel for the first time on Christmas Eve of
that year. It is considered one of the best examples in brick of the Federal
style architecture in the state. St. Rose Philippine Duchesne, a member of
the Religious of the Sacred Heart lived in the convent from 1819 to 1827 and
from 1834 to 1840. This order, whose primary focus is on girls' education,
was founded in France in 1800 and is restricted to women only. Mother
Duchesne is considered the founder of the American branch of the order. In
1825 she established the first Indian school for girls in the United States.
In 1818 Mother Duchesne founded the first free school west of the
Mississippi in nearby St. Charles. The Catholic Church beatified Mother
Duchesne in 1940 as the fourth saint in the United States. She was canonized
a saint July 3, 1988. One end of an upstairs room in the convent is now
furnished as a schoolroom as it might have been when Mother Duchesne taught
The cornerstone for
the Church, a gift of Mother Duchesne, was laid in February of 1821. The
rear section is the oldest part of this brick building, which was built
contiguous with the convent in the Federal style. Visitors will notice once
they enter inside, that most of the Church is constructed of logs, with only
the exterior and front section of the building constructed of bricks. During
the pastorate of Father Hayden (1877-1884) the church was enlarged to its
present size, its steeple was built and the stained glass windows installed,
giving the building its present Italianate Romanesque appearance. In 1958
the church lost its parish status and its name was changed to Old St.
Ferdinand’s Shrine to distinguish it from the new church. The church is the
oldest standing church in all of the Louisiana Purchase Territory and is
thought to be the oldest Catholic Church between the Mississippi and the
1823 the church was served by the Jesuits who established a seminary at the
Bishop’s Farm, now St. Stanislaus. In 1827 Father Peter DeSmet, later known
as "Black Robe" to the Indians he served through his missionary work, was
ordained at St. Ferdinand. He would later turn St. Louis into the
"missionary gateway to the West." In 1846 the Religious of Sacred Heart left
St. Ferdinand and the following year the Sisters of Loretto were appointed
to the parish. In 1880, the same year that the church was enlarged, the nuns
opened the New Loretto Academy. St. Ferdinand’s School was built in 1888 was
built to educate the children of the growing parish. The second floor was
added slightly later and is a classic example of the Missouri German style
with its segmented arched windows and ornate cornice. The brick Rectory,
built in 1842, in the Federal style was originally built as a one story
chapel for the Ladies of the Sacred Heart. It was later enlarged to two
stories and now serves as a museum. A replica of the original log church is
on display in the museum as is a collection of items from the early days of
the village of St. Ferdinand, including silver religious items from the
1700's and a collection of dolls in nuns' habits. While Mother Duchesne is
known to have had her own similar collection, this one is of a later
In 1959 the Friends of Old St. Ferdinand Shrine was formed to save the
church and the adjacent buildings from being torn down by the diocese.
The group raised enough funds to purchase the complex a few years later.
In 1960 the St. Louis Archdiocese designated St. Ferdinand as a Shrine
and in 1979 it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Friends of Old St. Ferdinand, Inc. purchased the shrine complex and own,
maintain, preserve and protect this valuable jewel. A number of special
events are held at the Shrine throughout the year including a historical
encampment of the St. Ferdinand de Fleurissant Territory in April, the
Valley of the Flowers Festival in May, the Florissant Old Town Festival
in October, a feast day mass for Sister Rose Philippine Duchesne in
November, and a Christmas concert in December.
Visiting Old St.
Sunday: 1-4 pm, April through December or by
appointment year round.
There is no charge to visit Old St. Ferdinand's
Shrine, although donations are appreciated.
Guided group tours are $2 per person, lunch can be included for groups of 12
or more at $10 per person (includes both the tour and lunch.
Old St. Ferdinand's Shrine is located in
Florissant, MO, a suburb northwest of St. Louis.
From downtown, take I-70 West to I-170 North.
Take I-170 North a short distance to the North Hanley Road exit. Take Hanley
Road north about two and a half miles. Hanley will become Graham and then
St. Ferdinand. Shortly after the road turns into St. Ferdinand it intersects
with Rue St. Francois. Turn left on Rue St. Francois and go one block to the
Learn more about the
St. Louis area.
Ferdinand's Shrine - Official site of Old St. Ferdinand's Shrine.