Cover Stories

Friend Indeed: Friends of the Rural Parish Workers

They live in old trailers and rudimentary one-room dwellings. Sometimes, a school bus provides a home. Often, they don’t have electricity to light their lamps; their water comes from a well. Cadet, Mo. is a dirt-poor community barely an hour from St. Louis. Once mined for rich deposits of lead and chalky barite, this is known as the ‘Old Mines’ area of Washington County. It has the highest rate of unemployment in the state.

For more than 74 years, however, an organization called Rural Parish Workers of Christ the King has watched over the poverty-stricken community, living among its people and helping to provide food, shelter and clothing to those in need. The four women workers—director Natalie Villmer, Doris Ann Bequette, Neva Calvert and Monica Pashia—form a secular group of the Archdiocese of St. Louis. They have taken vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, and live by the Rule of St. Benedict. They are supported in their mission by the Archdiocese and an organization in St. Louis called Friends of the Rural Parish Workers. Each year, with the help of the Friends, the workers meet the basic needs of more than 3,000 Washington County residents. “The place is economically devastated,” says Cathy Inkley, one of the 45 friends who have raised more than $300,000 for the cause in the past five years.

ofc-rural-parish-9The Friends group’s biggest fundraiser is its annual fashion show, now in its 49th year. Since 2006, West County Center has supported the show, which highlights fall fashions for men, women and children from the center’s stores like Altar’d State, Banana Republic, Dress Barn, Evereve, Gap, GapKids and Macy’s. “It’s a fantastic event,” says Sean Phillips, fashion blogger and regional marketing director for CBL & Associates Properties, who produces the show. “It’s very important for West County Center as a community partner to get involved in charitable events for good causes. The Rural Parish Workers is one of those.”

Phillips promises glitz: lights, big screens, videos and the flashbulbs of paparazzi. In discussing what guests will see on the event’s catwalk, he wears his fashion blogger hat. “Distressed denim is big this year,” he says. “Animal prints, velvet, sweaters and layering long tops. Olive green is the new neutral for fall. And the best thing is, you can go to the mall right away and buy what you’ve seen.” The show’s models are all people involved with the Friends in some way, and Inkley, now one of this year’s three event chairs, served as a model 29 years ago. “I wore a pink knit dress,” she remembers. “It was a glamorous affair.” The show takes place at The Ritz-Carlton on Oct. 7.

She says you can reach Cadet by going 40 miles south on MO-21 and turning off onto MO-CC. You know you’ve arrived because the little stone sign says Rural Parish Workers. An old plantation house serves as the workers’ office—a welcoming, homey place where the local inhabitants don’t just come for help, but to help. It’s that sense of community, Inkley says, that makes the place so special. “Even if a person has nothing, they sometimes want to be the ones to give. Everyone helps out here, and that restores faith and rebuilds dignity.” The people of Old Mines may not have riches, she adds, but they do have hearts of gold.

Pictured: Fashion show models Tracey Guthrie, Claire Fusz and Kathy Thompson
Photo courtesy of Friends of the Rural Parish Workers

Friends of the Rural Parish Workers hosts its annual luncheon and fashion show Oct. 7 at The Ritz-Carlton. Pictured on the cover: Sean Phillips, fashion blogger and creator of stlouisinstyle.com. For tickets and more information, call 314.918.1064. 
Cover design by Jon Fogel | photos by Suzy Gorman | Makeup by Randi Davis

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