As early as 1880, St. Louis is listed in the Leavenworth Diocese records as being a Mission, with Fr. Schurz of St. Marks serving the Catholics of the Waterloo area. Fr. Schurz, and after him Fr. Schmiehasusen, offered Mass in the homes. St. Louis Parish was officially founded in 1881. In the spring of 1882, under the direction of Fr. Schmiehousen, a small frame church was built. The first church was located on the west side of Walnut Street, facing east, one half block north of the present church. This structure was blown away before dedication and another was built in the same location in the fall of the same year.
When Waterloo became incorporated as a town, one acre of land was allowed for church property. Later more property was acquired. In July of 1883, one half block was sold by the township of Louis M. Fink, Bishop of Leavenworth Diocese, for the price of $1. In March of 1886 land prices had soared and two acres of land was purchased from J.C. Endicott, at the cost of $40. At this time too, Mr. Endicott donated two acres of property (on Hwy K-17) for a parish cemetery.
In 1887 the Wichita Diocese was established. Waterloo at that time, was listed as having twenty families. Some of the pioneer families arriving before the turn of the century included Adolph Hampel, James Hyde Sr., Ben Lampe, William Struble, William Fry, Englebert Biggs, Michael McGuire, Edward Clark, Ben Clouse, Joe Spearing, Mike Gerber, Pete Hoffman, Matt Hoffman, Frank Hoffman, Mike Meng, William Kuhl, Karl Schwab, Herman Wehkamp, Thomas Vessels and C. Roche.
With the arrival of these families it was decided a new larger church was needed. In 1901 the present church was built under the direction of Fr. Alexis Centner, at an approximate cost of $3,500. Bishop Hennessy, the Bishop of the Wichita Diocese, dedicated the new church. St. Louis Parish still remained a Mission Parish and was served by priests who traveled from Wichita, St. Marks, St. Anthony’s and Kingman. These dedicated priests had to travel hundreds of miles a month in order to serve the early Catholic settlements. In his book, History of the Diocese of Wichita, Fr. John Moeder writes of the early diocesan priests, “It is impossible to trace all their activities. Their great work, no doubt, was traced delicately into the lives of the pioneers. Their memory is blessed because of the sacrifices they made for the people.”
The growth of the parish was intrinsically woven with the growth of the community of Waterloo. Waterloo never reached the pinnacle of success hoped for by some of its early settlers. The Cannonball passed it by one mile to the south, the railroad went through Murdock, and by a narrow margin of votes, Kingman became the County Seat instead of Waterloo. Today Waterloo has one church, St. Louis Catholic Church.
In Fr. Moeder’s book, one of the events listed as happening in 1903 is the first parochial school opens at Waterloo. This school building was created from the remodeled old church building. This Sisters of the Precious Blood Order came to teach. The first Sisters’ Residence was built directly west of the school building facing Grove Street.
The parish continued to grow and with the completion of the rectory in 1905, St. Louis Parish welcomed its first resident pastor, Fr. E.M. Coolen. He served the parish until 1908 when Fr. George Schneider came. Fr. Schneider stayed for two years, and in 1910 Fr. Bernard Garmann arrived at Waterloo. Fr. Garmann was to spend 32 of his 33 years as a priest in Waterloo.
In 1910, under Fr. Garmann’s direction, a new, one room, cement block schoolhouse was built. It was located directly east of the present church, facing south. The old foundation can still be seen. In the summer of 1911, St. Rose Parish of Mount Vernon was made a mission of St. Louis. Fr. Garmann made the nine-mile trip every Sunday with horse and buggy. He experienced many hardships; during the depression, he was unable to collect his full salary. Always striving to keep expenses down, he said Mass every weekday morning without the benefit of heat, no matter how cold.
A new Sisters’ residence was also built in 1913. In 1917, more property was purchased from Joe Spearing, and trees were planted. This grove was the site of many parish picnics and gatherings. In 1919 the Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother were engaged to teach, and continued to do so every term until 1966 when the school discontinued.
In 1924 it was decided to build a new schoolhouse. Under the supervision of Fr. Garmann and the church committee men: Pete Beat, Ben Lampe, Frank Hoffman and John Gerber, the building began. Joe Seybacker of Andale was hired to supervise the construction. All the men and any boys old enough to do any small jobs pitched in and helped. The bricks and all other materials were hauled from Murdock by team and wagon. Sand was hauled from the Smoots Creek. After much hard work they succeeded in erecting a modern two-story brick building. Each family was asked to pledge $300, but may families gave much more and by the time the building was completed the money had been raised and all debts paid. On August 25, 1924, feast of St. Louis, patron saint of the parish, Bishop Schwertner dedicated the building.
Under Fr. Garmann’s guidance, St. Louis Parish became a complete unit. In 1942 his health began to fail; he retired to St. Francis Hospital in Wichita. He died April 11, 1953. At his request he was laid to rest at Waterloo among the flock he had cared for. Following his time of service the parish had a number of priests. Msgr. Quentin Malone served from 1942-1945. Fr. Edward Albers came in 1945 and served until 1950. For a short time Fr. David O’Leary filled in until the arrival of Fr. Leroy Matz. At this time, in 1956, the parish celebrated its Diamond Jubilee. The parishioners at that time numbered 36 families. The day of the celebration included the Mass offered by Fr. Edward Albers. Bishop Carroll, Fr. Louis Struble, Fr. David O’Leary, Msgrs. Joseph Klug and William Schaefers were also in attendance.
Every parish has its ups and downs, and St. Louis was no exception. There was a time when the church steeple was taken down presumably because the boards were rotting. The church bell was sold to an antique dealer at Midway. A few years later, it was decided to replace the steeple. The new steeple was built on the ground by Chick Smarsh of the St. Rose Parish. A crane was brought from Hutchinson to lift the steeple and set it in place. The bell was located at an antique dealer in Mackville, Kansas. Several men of the parish, along with Fr. Middleton, bought it back for the price of $400. Due to rising costs it was decided to close the school at the end of the term in May of 1966.
In the years since the school’s closing, religious instruction of the children has been done by the parish priests, parishioner volunteers and sisters who could be engaged to teach summer school sessions or on Saturdays. In 1967 the parish priest changed his residence to the rectory at St. Rose Parish, Mount Vernon. The two parishes have continued to share the same pastor since that time.
Over the years the people and priests of St. Louis Parish have endeavored to keep the church and parish property in good repair. The parish Catholic Youth Organization is united with the high school parishioners of St. Rose parish.
It has proven to be difficult to find any written history of the parish since 1967. Various priests served the people of the St. Louis, Waterloo; St. Rose, Mount Vernon; and St. Joseph, Ost parishes over the years.
In 2013, Fr. Aaron Spexarth was assigned to be the Administrator of St. Joe, Ost; St. Rose, Mount Vernon; and St. Louis, Waterloo. In 2015 Fr. Spexarth was officially assigned as the pastor of the three parishes. During Fr. Aaron’s time here at St. Louis, he began to make necessary changes in the parish to meet the needs of the time. However, Fr. Spexarth’s time as pastor was short lived. As he began to make plans for new necessities, he was transferred in spring of 2017.
Following in Fr. Spexarth’s footsteps is Fr. Daniel Duling, who was assigned in June of 2017 and serves as the current pastor of St. Joe, St. Rose, and St. Louis. While he has only been here for a short time, he has begun to make his mark on St. Louis. He works to continue what Fr. Spexarth started to strengthen the future of the parish.