St. Louis - Celtic Cross Monument

In honor of Irish immigrants

By Barbara Watkins
Review Staff Writer
(Copyright © 2002, St. Louis Review; originally published here: In honor of Irish immigrants)

Archbishop Justin Rigali has approved plans to erect a Celtic high cross at St. John the Apostle and Evangelist Parish in Downtown St. Louis.

The cross is to be a monument to the Irish immigrants to St. Louis who did so much to help build the city, said Joe McGlynn, a guiding force behind the project.

"I've been working on this for 30 years, off and on, trying to find the right place and right type of monument," said McGlynn, a member of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in University City. McGlynn, whose ancestors hailed from Ireland, is also founder of St. Louis' St. Patrick's Day parade, now in its 33rd year.

"We decided that the Celtic high cross is just very recognizable as an Irish theme, and St. John's is probably the oldest Irish parish still viable in the city of St. Louis," McGlynn said. "The birth and death records at St. John's are replete with Irish names. About 90 percent of that parish was (once) Irish."

St. John's Parish, located at 15 Plaza Square, has a long history. It was founded in 1847 at what was then the outskirts of the city of St. Louis. As years went by the population moved west from Downtown, away from the Old Cathedral (Basilica of St. Louis, King of France) on the riverfront. With the "new Cathedral" in the Central West End not yet built, St. John served as the "pro-cathedral" and the residence of then-Archbishop Peter Kenrick.

Father John J. Johnson, pastor of St. John, said the parish was honored to be chosen. "We were for quite a while known as the 'Irish parish,'" he added.

The Irish found acceptance in St. Louis, according to local author and historian Jesuit Father William Barnaby Faherty. "During the first 50 American years in St. Louis, the city gave a warmer welcome to Irish Catholics than any place in the world, including Dublin," said Father Faherty.

Archbishop Rigali, in approving the project, said, "This cross will evoke the great contribution of so many of the Irish people to the life of the Archdiocese of St. Louis. I am pleased that their contribution will be highlighted and linked with the cross of Christ itself, which is the very sign of our savior's victory over death and sin."

The 18-foot granite cross will be set in a 14-by-18-foot pool with fountains at each corner that will be lit at night through the water, said McGlynn. It will stand on the Plaza Square concourse in front of the entry of the church.

"The cross will be completely carved with all the different traditional Irish designs," McGlynn said, including knotwork, labyrinths, key patterns and spirals. The circle symbol that marks it as a Celtic cross dates back to the early monks, who included it on the cross to make the symbol more acceptable to sun-worshipping pagans, said McGlynn.

A fund-raising effort to help pay for the project is under way, McGlynn said.

A low wall, west of the cross, will hold mounted panels bearing the names of the contributors. "To have one's family name memorialized [costs] $350," said McGlynn, "which covers one line on a panel." Each panel will have 28 names.

All money raised will go toward completion of the cross, supporters said, and donations are tax-deductible.

For more information or to contribute, call McGlynn at (314) 727-1000 or Father Johnson at (314) 421-3467.

The Celtic Cross Monument was installed and dedicated on March 13, 2005. Sponsorship opportunities remain; if you would like to have your family name engraved on a granite panel, see the contribution page.