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Sun, 09.21.1947

St. Louis Parochial Schools Integrate

Protesters 1947

*On this date in 1947, St. Louis parochial schools were put on notice to include Black children or face religious discipline.

Archbishop Joseph E. Ritter publicly said he would excommunicate any St. Louis Catholic who continued to protest the integration of parochial schools. The start of this order was one of Ritter’s first acts in 1946, his first year in St. Louis. At that time, he instructed all pastors in the archdiocese to end racial segregation in the parochial schools. The U. S. Supreme Court would not take the same action with the nation’s public schools until 1954.

As the school year opened in the fall of 1947, Catholics who opposed the archbishop’s edict appealed to the Church’s apostolic delegate in Washington. They were sharply rejected. Next, they considered taking legal action in the civil courts, but the archbishop learned of their plans.

In response to Ritter's desegregation order, a group of over 700 white Catholics from 49 St. Louis area parishes, calling themselves the "Catholic Parents Association of Saint Louis and Saint Louis County," threatened to sue him. The association claimed that his order violated Missouri state law. Association Co-Chair William T. Rone said, "We do not want Negro children alongside our children in the schools." Ritter refused to meet with the association leaders; his spokesman said, "He is the father of the whole flock and must care for all, regardless of race."

On that date (which was a Sunday) in 1947, church pastors throughout the archdiocese read a letter from Ritter to their congregations informing the opponents of multi-racial schools that any civil lawsuits would result in automatic ex-communication. The organized opposition quickly disbanded.

Ritter was widely praised for his decision and resolve to enforce it. He was recognized in St. Louis and throughout the United States. Ritter saw the decision as a simple matter of justice.

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