History of Old St. Ferdinand Shrine

Old St. Ferdinand Shrine and Historical Site is owned, preserved, maintained, and protected by Friends of Old St. Ferdinand, Inc., a non-profit organization founded in 1959.  The date the first settlers came to the rich, fertile Valley of Florissant is unknown, but it is one of the oldest settlements in the state of Missouri.  Some historians believe it was settled around the same time as St. Louis.  The first civil government was formed in 1786 by Francois Dunegant, who served was the civil and military commandant.  Spanish archives in Havana reveal there were 40 people and 7 plantations in Florissant at the time of the 1787 census. The village called “Fleurissant” by its French settlers and “St. Ferdinand” by its Spanish rulers was a typical French village with its commons and common fields.

The first church, built of logs under the supervision of Hyacenthe Deshetres, was erected on the southeast quarter of the block bounded by rue St. Charles, rue St. Ferdinand, rue St. Louis, and rue St. Denis under a grant Spain. The local commandant, Francois Dunegant announced the grant. Dunegant was appointed by Alejandro O’Reily, the Spanish General in New Orleans. On February 19th, 1821, Father de la Croix laid the cornerstone for the new brick structure which was to replace the little log church (destroyed by fire in 1836).

The cornerstone itself was a gift from Mother Rose Phillipine Duchesne, and in deference to her, the church was dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus under the invocation of St. Ferdinand and St. John Regis. St. Rose Phillipine Duchesne, one of Missouri’s foremost pioneer women, was canonized on July 3rd, 1988.  She had lived in the convent from 1819 – 1827 and again from 1834 – 1840. It was here she not only stabilized the area, but established the first school in Florissant.

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