Annual cleanup now named ‘The Dick Kellett Annual Shrine of St. Joseph Cleanup’
Volunteers from Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 562, Sprinkler Fitters Local 268 and Insulators Local 1 raked, bagged, mowed and planted at the Shrine of St. Joseph in preparation for the St. Louis Labor Council’s 41st Annual Robert O. Kortkamp Memorial Union Labor Mass and Interfaith Prayer Service on May 2.
One day before the annual memorial program honoring union members who died in the past year – particularly those who died on the job or from a work-related injury or illness – volunteers visited the shrine with trash bags, lawnmowers, rakes, leaf blowers to clean up the grounds and plant flowers.
The annual cleanup coinciding with the annual Union Labor Mass and Prayer Service has now been named “The Dick Kellett Annual Shrine of St. Joseph’s Cleanup.”
Kellett, a beloved, life-long advocate for working men and women, former officer with Local 562 and longtime president of the North County Labor Club, organized and participated in the cleanup for many years prior to his death last year.
This year, flower beds were cleared of weeds and planted with a prolific ground cover, promising a long-booming season to brighten the entrance to the Shrine.
“We’re planting Bidens (a flowering plant in the aster family),” said Tim Rone, of Insulators Local 1. “Do you think visitors will get the connection?”
Volunteers collected about 25 bags of trash from the often-neglected property in preparation for the annual memorial program.
Local 268 Union Representative Joe Besmer said he was proud to see so many give of their time to help with the cleanup.
“With enough volunteers, it takes just a few hours to clear out the overgrown weeds and nasty garbage,” Besmer said. “I encourage more of my brothers and sisters to volunteer. It’s good for the community. and lets people know that Organized Labor cares — and it really doesn’t demand much time.”
LABOR’S CONNECTION TO THE SHRINE
In fact, had it not been for the long support of the Labor community, the Shrine of St. Joseph, the patron saint of the worker, might not have survived.
The beautiful old church, at the corner of 11th Street and Biddle streets downtown, has a long and interesting history since its construction in 1844. This historical shrine is the site of the only Vatican authenticated miracle in a Midwestern church, which occurred March 16, 1864. In 1866, a second miracle happened when the parishioners prayed to be spared from the then ongoing cholera epidemic. The entire congregation was spared and pledged $4,000 to build a fitting monument to St. Joseph.
Sadly, over the years, with city development and population movement, the Shrine fell into disrepair. By the mid-1960s, most of the residents who had attended the church had moved away.
The St. Louis Archdiocese planned to tear the church down, but community support convinced them to lease the Shrine for $1 to the “Friends of St. Joseph” for $1, which became responsible for its maintenance and upkeep.
HISTORY CALLS UNION ACTIVISM THE ‘THIRD MIRACLE’
In 1980, several Labor unions stepped in to help the Friends of the Shrine of St. Joseph succeed in its restoration efforts, and complete a number much-needed repairs and upgrades, including tuckpointing, installing hundreds of feet of new electrical wiring, a new bathroom, ceramic tiles and other infrastructure improvements.
The “Friends of St. Joseph” continues to maintain the church, but the courtyard-like property surrounding the Shrine is owned and maintained by the city, which often neglects its upkeep.
You can see the remarkable Shrine and participate in mass in person or online. Out of an abundance of caution during the COVID-19 pandemic, masses at the Shrine are shared online for those most at risk via Facebook livestream at 11 a.m. on Sundays and noon on the first Friday of the month for the Celebration of the Eucharist.