Msgr. Louis McCorkle enters eternal rest

On the afternoon of Sunday, 13 June 2021, The Rev. Monsignor Louis W. McCorkle, priest of the Diocese of Jefferson City, MO, was called from this life to enter the company of saints in heaven. A native of St. Louis, and having been ordained for the old Diocese of St. Joseph in 1953, Msgr. McCorkle had been a member of the presbyterate of Jefferson City from the time of the latter’s establishment in 1956. At the time of his death he was a resident of St. Stephen’s Infirmary at Conception Abbey in Conception, MO, to which he had retired in 2009.

Louis Wellington McCorkle was born on 28 May 1921 in St. Louis, MO, the son of Claude W. and Emma Angle (née Ludwig) McCorkle. He was the oldest of four children, followed by two brothers and a sister. When he was five years old, the family moved to north St. Louis County, settling near the community of Normandy. He was baptized in the Lutheran Church at age 7, along with one brother and his sister. He attended McKinley Grade School there, and graduated from Normandy High School in 1940.

When a junior in high school, Louis befriended a fellow student who happened to be Catholic; the friendship proved to be a decisive vector in his life. He became interested in the Catholic faith, and at age 19 was received into the Church by Rev. August Eckhoff, associate pastor at St. Barbara’s Parish in St. Louis. The young Louis entered the Passionist Preparatory Seminary in Normandy (1941–45); his philosophical studies were undertaken at St. Gregory’s Seminary in Norwood, OH, (1946–48) and Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Cincinnati (1948–49).

Having developed an interest in rural ministry, Louis sought admission to the Diocese of St. Joseph, MO. Having been accepted by Bishop Charles H. LeBlond, he undertook theological studies at Conception Seminary in 1949 and was ordained priest by that prelate on 14 May 1953. After ordination, Fr. McCorkle was assigned for six months to a temporary pastorate at St. Patrick’s Parish, Clarence, with its mission at St. Michael’s in Hager’s Grove. He then served at Immaculate Conception Parish in Hannibal from June 1953 until April 1956. He was subsequently named resident chaplain at St. Elizabeth Hospital in Hannibal, concurrently serving as Director of Students with part-time teaching responsibilities at Hannibal’s McCooey High School. He held these positions until September 1958.

When the Diocese of Jefferson City was established in 1956, Fr. McCorkle became a member of the new diocesan presbyterate. In May 1957, Fr. McCorkle was visited at St. Elizabeth Hospital by the bishop of the new diocese, the Most Rev. Joseph Marling, C.Pp.S. Seeking to establish a minor seminary for the diocese, Bishop Marling was in the initial stage of investigating potential sites for the project. On advice from Fr. McCorkle, Bishop Marling inspected and eventually purchased a vacated orphanage in Hannibal. Fr. McCorkle was given responsibility of supervising the remodeling of the building and acquiring interior furnishings. The new St. Thomas Aquinas Minor Seminary opened in October 1957.

In the seminary’s first year, Fr. McCorkle served as procurator and teacher of both social studies and music. He remained temporarily on the staff of McCooey High School as spiritual director (September–December 1958), and also served as administrator of Holy Cross Parish in nearby Ilasco from October 1958 until January 1960, and again from September 1970 until its formal closing in 1996.

Only two years of Fr. McCorkle’s priesthood were not spent in Hannibal. He served as pastor in three small parishes of the diocese: St. Michael’s, Kahoka, (July 1968–February 1969); Sacred Heart, Vandalia, (February–October 1969); and St. Joseph’s, Fayette (October 1969–July 1970). In 1970 he returned to Hannibal as resident chaplain at St. Elizabeth Hospital, and resumed his position as teacher at St. Thomas Aquinas Seminary. He served there until the closing of the seminary in 2002.

In the year 2000, Bishop John Gaydos urged Fr. McCorkle to accept the singular accolade of being made a prelate of honor to Pope John Paul II, bearing the honorific title “monsignor.” While always reluctant to take honors to himself, Fr. McCorkle acceded to the bishop’s request, knowing that the honor reflected not merely on his own achievements in pastoral ministry and education, but on the fact that he performed these priestly responsibilities in and for the church and community that is the Diocese of Jefferson City.

In addition to his priestly ministry, Msgr. McCorkle has long exercised avid interest in two significant endeavors: art and genealogy. During his years at St. Thomas Seminary he taught art, and during his life produced an abundant crop of notable works of art, with special appreciation for floral still life paintings in oils. He also produced an impressive array of cast bronze sculptures. His interest in art was never merely aesthetic; as he wrote in his own biographical notice, “Ars Gloriae Deo!” (“Art for the glory of God!”).

His second abiding interest was family genealogy. His initial forays into this field were collected in From Tromlee Ruins: Notes on the McCorkle Family in Scotland and America, published in 1973. This was succeeded in 1982 by a comprehensive study of the McCorkle family history, daringly entitled From Viking Glory. A supplement to this monumental tome was published in 2003.

By the time of the closing of St. Thomas in 2002, Msgr. McCorkle had attained his 81st year. While contemplating retirement in earnest in 2009, he was visited by Fr. Xavier Nacke and then-Fr. Benedict Neenan of Conception Abbey. The monks’ regard for their illustrious alumnus had moved them to propose that he commence his retirement among them as a resident of St. Stephen’s Infirmary (the monastic infirmary), where he could enjoy the benefits of the monastic and seminary environments, living among fellow churchmen whose lives, like his, were directed to discipleship and service. Monsignor agreed that this would be a suitable arrangement, and took up residence at Conception shortly thereafter. For the next twelve years, he lived and prayed among the monks, kept up a voluminous correspondence, and availed himself of the many resources, both academic and spiritual, that were readily available at the Abbey.

As the years passed, Msgr. McCorkle began to slow down; his hearing had diminished considerably, and his trips to the Abbey Library became fewer. Though his condition was still relatively stable, it was decided by his primary health care physician that Monsignor should be placed on hospice care. On 28 May 2021 he reached his hundredth birthday, the first priest of Jefferson City to do so. The celebration was modest, but the congratulations were effusive, coming in from many well-wishers whose lives had been touched by his long years of priestly ministry, teaching, and artistic generativity.

On 11 June, Monsignor suffered a serious stroke, and a vigil was commenced to accompany him through his passing, which came on the following Sunday, 13 June 2021.

Vespers of the Faithful Departed will be celebrated at Conception Abbey at 7:15 p.m. on Wednesday 16 June 2021, at which Fr. Dan Merz of Jefferson City will deliver the eulogy. A Requiem Mass will be celebrated at 11:00 a.m. Thursday, at which Bishop Shawn McKnight of Jefferson City will preside and Msgr. David Cox of Jefferson City will serve as homilist. Msgr. McCorkle’s remains will be transferred for interment in the family plot at Salt Fork Cemetery in Blackwater, MO. He was preceded in death by his parents, his brothers Clifton “Murray” McCorkle and Floyd McCorkle, and his sister Dolores McCorkle Kubiak. He is survived by numerous nieces and nephews, two of whom, Nancy Pierce and Judy Eckelkamp, kept in close contact with him in his later years.

Msgr. McCorkle loved the people and Diocese of Jefferson City, and cherished fond memories of his many years of ministry among them. Yet his twilight years at Conception certainly earned for him among the monks the status of a beloved brother and priest. May this good servant of Christ and his people be welcomed into the joy of paradise!

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