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HOME > RELIGION > CATHOLICISM > THE CHURCH OF ST. CATHERINE OF ALEXANDRIA > HISTORY
 
HISTORY
 

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History. Officially established as a parish by 1716, the Church of St. Catherine of Alexandria was not the first Catholic church in the Russian capital. However, from the time of the foundation of the present church in 1763, its location and history promoted it as the mother church for all Russian Catholics. The building as it stands today is in the early neo-classical style, and was executed by the French architect J.B. Vallin de La Mothe. The appearance of a Catholic church in the imperial capital was due to Peter the Great's desire to give all Christians in St. Petersburg the right to worship in churches of their own denomination. In 1710, the Czar himself became the godfather of the first baby baptized in the city's Catholic mission, which was the forerunner of this parish.

The construction of St. Catherine of Alexandria, the largest, and now the oldest Catholic church in Russia, lasted twenty years - from 1763 to 1783. The Czars who ruled during that period gave leadership of the church to various religious orders: Catherine II to the Franciscans; Paul I to the Jesuits (1800-1815); and Alexander I, after the Jesuits were expelled, to the Dominicans (1816-1892). In the years following 1892, though the pastors were diocesan priests, Dominicans continued to live and work in the church. At that time, the parish was composed of eight national groups: the largest among them was the Poles, then (counting down to the smallest) the Russians, the Germans, the French, and the Lithuanians. Gradually, the church expanded throughout the city. The educational and charitable organizations established by the parish included two grammar schools - one for girls and one for boys.

The pastors of Saint Catherine were also deans of the north-west region of Russia. In the last years before the 1917 Revolution, the parish numbered over 30,000 parishioners. Remembered foremost among the church's pastors is Monsignor Konstancy Budkevich, appointed in 1903, who was shot at Lubyanka prison in Moscow on Easter night, 1923. Afterward, two French Dominicans ministered to the surviving Catholics in Leningrad. The last of them, Father Michael K. Floran, OP, finally left the city in 1941.

The parish was closed permanently in 1938, and the church was pillaged. At first the building was used to house the Ethnographic Museum, and later it was converted into a warehouse. Then, in 1968, the government decided to remodel the building for use as a concert hall for the Leningrad Philharmonic. In 1984, as the reconstruction was ending, a tragedy occurred. The official report states that three young people crept into the church and started a fire, setting the scaffolding aflame. By the next morning, the interior was completely destroyed - the plaster ceiling had caved in and the walls had cracked.

However, the fire of 1984 must be considered an act of Divine Providence - if the plans to transform the building into the Philharmonic hall had been carried out, it is unlikely that St. Catherine ever would have been restored as a working church. In 1992, the year after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the city government gave the building back to the Catholic Church. Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz again entrusted the church and parish, which he had revived in 1991, to the Dominican Order. The former sacristy was used for Mass. The church of St. Catherine of Alexandria once again became a "House of God, House of Prayer", as it is written over the main door of the church. A particularly beautiful sign of the "resurrection" of the church is the crucifix that hangs behind the altar in the former sacristy. In 1938, when the church was desecrated, the crucifix was discarded. A twenty year old girl risked her life to carry the cross home, which she, in turn, gave to the only Catholic church that was still operating at that time - Our Lady of Lourdes. In 1992 the crucifix was returned to St. Catherine.

The restoration of the church's interior began with the Chapel of the Annunciation, which was consecrated in October 1998, in honor of Our Lady of Fatima. On Palm Sunday of the Jubilee year (16/4/2000) the presbytery of the church was reopened and consecrated, and today Mass is celebrated there on Sundays and feast days.

It should also be noted that the remains of the last Polish king, Stanislaw August Poniatowsky, laid in the church crypt for 140 years (1798-1938), along with the remains of another Polish king, Stanislaw Leszczynski (from the year 1858 to1922). Currently, the crypt contains the remains of Jean Victor Moreau, a French general in Napoleon's army who subsequently abandoned his troops to join the Russians. St. Rafael Kalinowsky was known to have prayed at St. Catherine during his student years at the Academy of Military Engineering (1855-1859), and from 1907 to 1911, Bl. Ursula Ledochowska assisted at a boarding school for girls on the church grounds.

At present. Since 1992 the parish has been growing steadily, and, remarkably, today it consists of over 600 parishioners of various nationalities. Though the majority of the parishioners are Russian, Masses are also offered in Polish, English, Spanish, and Korean. Many of the parishioners are actively involved in providing classes to prepare people for baptism (catechumenate), a Sunday school for children, youth groups, Dominican lay meetings, a choir, and a camp for children during the summer and winter. St. Catherine also hosts two centers which serve the Northwest region of Russia: the Catechetical Center, which organizes educational meetings for the catechists and various other catechetical projects, and the Family Center, where couples can both prepare for marriage and also received marital counseling.


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