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Local Parishioner David Murphy Visits All 190 Catholic Churches In St. Louis Region

David Murphy at his home parish Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Catholic Church in O'Fallon, Missouri.
Colleen Murphy
David Murphy at his home parish, Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Catholic Church in O'Fallon, Missouri.

David Murphy prides himself on being a “goal-setting” type of guy. Every year, he sets out different goals for himself — whether they’re physical, spiritual or work-related. And hitting those targets isn’t necessarily the intention. For Murphy, it’s more about the journey. 

So for his 50th birthday last year, Murphy decided to make his goal “epic.” He wanted to go on a quest: one that turns a seemingly doable thing (say, going to Mass) into something grand — like attending Mass at every active Catholic church in the Archdiocese of St. Louis. 

Inspired by his love for his Catholic faith and its deep history in the region, Murphy set out to visit each of the 190 active churches in the archdiocese, which covers 10 counties and the city of St. Louis. His quest earned coverage in the local St. Louis Review. And on Monday’s St. Louis on the Air, Murphy joined host Sarah Fenske to share what he learned — and which local churches made his “epic list.”

He began by alphabetically organizing the list on the archdiocese website and putting it all into a Microsoft Excel sheet. And that was an effective strategy, until it came to the churches that are far out or don’t have many church members. The geographical area stretches north to Elsberry by Hannibal, west to Warrington, southwest to Franklin County and south to Ste. Genevieve. 

In the process, Murphy said he learned more about Catholic rules for the Eucharist.

“I looked up all the rules, and you can have communion twice in a day, but you have to go to Mass [in addition to] communion — you can’t just show up for communion,” Murphy said. “Sometimes it would be the same priest. I know he’s looking at me like, ‘Didn’t I just see you?'”

He explained that sometimes, a single priest will head up two or three different parishes, saying Mass at several different churches.

Getting on Murphy’s 'epic list'

Of the 190 churches, some captured Murphy’s attention more than others when it came to architectural and historical details. 

“What I like about churches is when they have 25-foot, 30-foot stained-glass windows. … I want them to have pictures,” he said. “I like when there’s lots of marble; I like when the pews are real old, and they’re creaky when you sit in them. To me, it was like all the souls of all the other people that [sat] in those pews were talking to me.”

If he had to pick one church as the most beautiful, it would “hands down” be the Shrine of St. Joseph in north St. Louis. 

“It’s unbelievable,” he said. “In the early ’80s, late ’70s, they were redoing this place, and they took out [about] 5,000 pounds of bird poop out of the ceilings. The whole place was falling down, and now to see it, it’s amazing.”

Among his other discoveries, Murphy said he learned about the different ways each church conducted services, but Mass was always the same. That came in handy when either he was the only one at the service or at a church that catered to different languages.

“The word Catholic, I figured out, means universal. So everywhere you go, it’s the same thing; it’s just [that] you’re in a different venue.”

Listen to the full discussion: 

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill, Lara Hamdan and Joshua Phelps. The engineer is Aaron Doerr, and production assistance is provided by Charlie McDonald.

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Lara is the Engagement Editor at St. Louis Public Radio.

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