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St. Francis de Sales 'leaning tower' to be fixed

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The towering St. Francis de Sales in south St. Louis (KWMU photo)

By Tom Weber, KWMU

St. Louis, MO – Architects say they finally know why one of the most recognizable landmarks in South St. Louis is leaning and sinking, and they hope to start fixing it soon.

St. Francis de Sales Church on Gravois was built so grand early last century it gained the nickname "Cathedral of South St. Louis." But the 300-foot bell tower that pierces the skyline is slowly falling away from the rest of the church.

Architect Josh Mandell was among those who recently conducted what's believed to be the first comprehensive study of the problem. They found the mammoth structure wasn't built on bedrock, which is why it's still settling. More specifically, it was built on "false bedrock," which builders at the time thought was the real deal, but is now known to be on top of clay.

"It was a problem of inadequate means of construction, which again you can't fault them," Mandell says. "Almost 100 years ago they were doing what they thought was correct."

Mandell says tower is moving a lot, but in no danger of falling over next week. He adds chunks of it could fall off if it's not addressed soon.

That's why plans are being made for an $800,000 fix to stabilize the tower, with work to begin either this summer or next. The repairs will include repairing the current foundation and also fusing it to the nearby bedrock.

Once the tower is stabilized, Mandell says other repairs and maintenance to the church's exterior could move forward; those could cost upwards of $2 million. There are also plenty of repairs to the church's interior that are needed, he added.

The church served as a place for Spanish language masses for years before the Archdiocese last year moved those masses to St. Cecila. St. Francis de Sales is now the place Catholics can go to hear a mass said in Latin, as delivered by members of the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest, the order that now administers the church.

Last year, as the St. Louis Archdiocese was in the midst of major restructuring (which included church closings), officials said moving Spanish masses out of St. Francis de Sales and bringing in Christ the King to run the building would generate a new source of revenue to allow for repairs.

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