Early in 1952, Bishop William L. Adrian asked Father John Welsh, the pastor of Blessed Sacrament Church, to find a suitable piece of property to the northeast of Blessed Sacrament’s parish boundaries for the purpose of establishing a new parish that would serve the growing Catholic population in that area. A piece of real estate of approximately 20 acres at the northwest corner of Shady Grove Road and White Station was located and purchased in early 1953.
The soon-to-be church complex was named St. Louis in honor of Msgr. Louis J. Kemphues, dean emeritus of the West Tennessee Deanery, and his patron saint, Louis IX, a 13th century French king. The building program would be in four phases: a convent, rectory, school and church. The convent construction began February, 1957 to house the Dominican sisters who would help organize plans for St. Louis School. The ground breaking for the school followed the next month. The rectory foundation was laid in April and church construction began in September.
On June 16, 1956 Father Francis Pack was assigned to work with the building program and was appointed first pastor of the new parish. Due to ill health, Fr. Pack left the appointment and Fr. Paul W. Clunan was appointed the second pastor of St. Louis Parish in June of 1957. Fr. Clunan made home visits to parishioners to personally ask for pledge contributions to help build this new parish.
Fr. Pack celebrated the first St. Louis parish Mass on January 6, 1957 in the gymnasium of St. Agnes Academy. St. Louis Church was dedicated April 25, 1958 with Bishop Adrian celebrating Mass.
Fr. Clunan was the lifeblood of the church for 35 years. His leadership role helped the laity implement the decrees set forth in the Second Vatican Council. He successfully guided his flock during the trying days of the civil rights movement and the struggle for racial equality. With him his parishioners fought the fight for human justice and an end to abortion. In 1967, the title Monsignor was bestowed upon him. Msgr. Clunan retired February 9, 1992 and continued to live in Memphis until his death on July 29, 1998.
His successor was Father J. Peter Sartain, a young Memphian who had served as chancellor of the diocese for five years. He was named Vicar General when Msgr. Clunan retired. On the 40th anniversary of St. Louis Church, Father Sartain broke ground on the Clunan Center, the beginning of a five year renovation and building plan.
During this time, the sanctuary was renovated and the narthex was added. A beautiful Casavant-Freres pipe organ was designed and installed thanks to the generous gift from an anonymous parishioner.
On December, 1999, Fr. Sartain was appointed Bishop of Little Rock and was replaced as pastor of St. Louis Church by Rev. John B. McArthur.
Father John B. McArthur, pastor of St. Paul the Apostle Church in Whitehaven, was appointed by Bishop J. Terry Steib to be the fourth pastor of St. Louis Church. He quickly brought a love of parish work to his new assignment. Approachable, supportive and attentive to his parishioners, he is humbled by the needy, the sick, and the genuine love of God, apparent in the lives of his St. Louis parishioners. Among his special gifts is that of homilist — the Good News takes on significant meaning when interpreted in Father McArthur’s homilies.
One of his first major projects was the construction of the meditation garden in the courtyard between the church and The Clunan Center. It was dedicated in honor of the Holy Family and in appreciation for Bishop Sartain’s pastorate at St. Louis.
Our new Bread of Life Adoration Chapel was dedicated by Bishop J. Terry Steib on January 6, 2008. The chapel is located on the east side of the connecting corridor between The Clunan Center and the Church. The chapel has four stained glass windows, all with a theme of the Mysteries of the Rosary. There will also be stained glass in the skylight above. There are four sculptures, which depict scenes from the Bible with a Eucharistic theme. St. Louis is one of only two parishes in the Diocese of Memphis to have Perpetual Adoration. It is a precious and rare blessing for St. Louis and for the Diocese.
We celebrated the 50th anniversary of our parish in the year 2007. We enjoyed many special Liturgies, including the Opening Celebration Mass on January 6, 2007. Many social and spiritual activities were held for all members from the founding families to our newest toddlers. Bishop J. Terry Steib celebrated Mass at the Closing Celebration on January 6, 2008.
St. Louis Church was a child born of the need for a new parish in the rapid growth area of East Memphis and of a Bishop’s foresight and confidence in the parishioners who would worship there. In maturity, St. Louis has flourished. With God’s love and outstanding pastors, the church has met its original needs and has become a shining example of parish life on earth.
Bishop J. Terry Steib notified Fr. John McArthur in May of 2009 that he had been chosen to be Chaplain of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI and received the title of Monsignor. Five other priests of the Diocese of Memphis received the honor at the same time: Fr. Victor Ciaramitaro, Fr. Edwin Creary, Fr. Val Handwerker, Fr. Al Kirk, and Fr. Tom Kirk. The Investiture Ceremony was held at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception on September 8th, 2009.
Many proud St. Louis parishioners were in the congregation to celebrate with their new Monsignor. A reception was held the following Sunday in the Clunan Center to allow all parishioners to join in the celebration.
In September 2011, the sanctuary was closed and renovations began. The existing Crucifix and statues behind the altar were relocated and framed in a new niche. Beautiful stained glass, which is backlit behind the altar, and a Baldacchino (canopy) over the altar were installed. A new back altar and magnificent gold tabernacle were put in place. New side altars were constructed for the statues of the Blessed Mother and St. Joseph. The ceiling and niches behind the statues were hand-stenciled in blue and gold. The Stations of the Cross were lowered and encased in wooden frames with lighting. The sound and lighting systems were upgraded. Parishioners were very excited to celebrate Christmas Mass in the renovated sanctuary.
In March 2012, ground was broken for a new Junior High Wing for St. Louis School. Eight new classrooms, a science lab, music room, and a Distance Learning Center were constructed. Our 7th and 8th grade students were thrilled to move into the spacious new classrooms with new furnishings and interactive learning tools in January 2013.