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On January 25, 1625 St. Vincent DePaul started a religious community of men. Its technical title is Congregation of the Mission, but in English speaking countries, it is referred to as Vincentian Fathers. Their purpose was to be of service to the poor, and to educate young men for the Catholic priesthood.
Two centuries later it had spread far and wide throughout the world, and was about to come to America. In 1803 the U.S. made the Louisiana Purchase. Bishop William DuBourg was appointed to spread the Catholic faith in that area. Europe was to be his source of funds and clergy. Fr. Felix DeAndreis, an Italian Vincentian, was recruited to lead a group to the Louisiana Purchase. Three years after they left Europe, Fr. Rosati, a member of the first group, arrived at Perryville on October 1, 1818.
From the log cabin beginnings, on a site a quarter of a mile north of the present site, in 1832 the present stone Church was built. Later in 1850, a brick Administration building was placed next to it. In a fifty year period, various wooden buildings were put up and later torn down. In line with the church and the Administration buildings, the “C” building of bricks was erected in 1892, followed shortly in 1894 by the “B” brick building.
After years of ups and downs in funds and students, the Barrens had a formal reopening in 1886 of a seminary for clerics only. To enter the Community, candidates had to spend two years of special training. A brick building was erected for that purpose in 1927. Shortly after, a substantial building was put up in 1931 for the students who had completed their novitiate and taken vows. They would spend six years studying philosophy and theology before ordination.
In the post World War II era, our Community leaders saw a positive trend for new members, and began improvements and new buildings. By 1954, the students had a new library and classroom building. A major donor was Mrs. Estelle Doheny. She gave not only funds, but also her personal interest in the new venture. She placed a quantity of her precious collections in the library building. In 1955, a new gymnasium and pool was added.
It was obvious by the 1980’s that the promise of additional students was false. The last of the students departed to other institutions in 1985. The whole complex was left to the priests and brothers to continue programs that had been on going for years. There was the care of various parishes in Perry County; the farm; religion by mail; the archives; the Miraculous Medal Association; the care of retired priests and brothers; and the Community cemetery which is dated by its first burial in 1844.
During the late 1990’s Southeast Missouri State University took an interest in the library building. Discussions between them and the Vincentian Fathers led to a contract on Nov.11, 2000. Thus, thousands of books from the library were moved to DePaul University in Chicago, and the Doheny treasures were sold.
On February 7, 2001 the keys of the empty library building were handed over to Southeast Missouri State University, and they began renovations of the library building to suit their purpose.
Information provided and used with permission from the Archives of St. Marys of the Barrens. 10/02
On Monday, August 19, 2002, the doors of the renovated library at the St. Marys of the Barrens were opened to students from Southeast Missouri State University and Mineral Area College. The first floor of the building contains offices, five classrooms, one computer lab, and one interactive television (ITV) lab. Throughout the fall semester, renovation work continued on the electrical, heating, and air conditioning systems in the building. Plans are to renovate the second floor to provide additional classrooms.
Sally R. Werner was named the Director of the Perryville Area Higher Education Center on October 28, 2002. Other personnel include Wilma Ochs, Secretary; Donald Clements, custodian; and work study students Tracey Julian and Mark Hughes.
On Thursday, October 26, 2006, the Southeast Missouri State University Board of Regents adopted a proposal which renamed the Perryville Area Higher Education Center to the "Perryville Higher Education Center."