Time Capsule Reveals Pieces of CSJ History

Sister Jane Behlmann, archivist, examines a letter found inside the 1896 time capsule, which was opened on March 28 at the St. Louis Fire Department Headquarters.

by Jenny Beatrice

The copper box was sealed with lead for 122 years, holding reminders of the presence of the Sisters of St. Joseph at Our Lady of Good Counsel Convent, otherwise known to the sisters as “Cass Avenue.” To others, this former mansion was known as the Clemens House, having been built by James Clemens, a cousin of Mark Twain.

A fire in July 2017 consumed the building, leaving mostly memories behind. James Meiner, a landscaper by trade, was salvaging historic pieces of the home to restore when he found a time capsule that was buried in the cornerstone of the chapel the sisters added onto the building in 1896.

On March 28, the capsule was opened at the St. Louis Fire Department Headquarters in front of an enthusiastic audience, which included the sisters, a descendent of the Clemens family and media, among others. Meiner, alongside Sisters Marilyn Lott, province leader, and Jane Behlmann, archivist, revealed the contents to the crowd.

Twenty items were found such as yellowed newspapers, deteriorated religious medals, a worn statue of St. Joseph and a commemorative gold coin. Notably, a handwritten letter speaks to the sisters’ founding ministry of teaching the deaf, indicating that the sisters used the auditory-oral method years before it was thought to be initially implemented at St. Joseph’s Institute for the Deaf. The building was purchased in 1885 primarily for deaf education. “We have always thought that the oral method only began for us in 1934 at the University City campus,” says Sister Jane.

As time went on and the deaf institute moved, the convent served as home for the many sisters serving at parish schools in North St. Louis and North St. Louis County. By 1949, the convent was no longer needed and was sold to the Vincentians. Later, it became a Catholic Worker House, and in recent years, developer Paul McKee had hoped to renovate the historic home.

And although the home can no longer be restored, Meiner’s find brought Cass Avenue’s history up from the ground and into the light once again.

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