The Fleur de Lis Organization is known for its annual Charity Ball, where young ladies dressed in white gowns are presented to the archbishop of the Archdiocese of St. Louis. But for those involved, much of the event’s significance lies in the tradition behind it.
“It’s definitely generational,” says organization spokeswoman Judy Miller. “In some cases, it’s the third generation.” For example, Elizabeth Mudd, one of the founding members of the organization, has seen both daughters and granddaughters participate in the ball, Miller says.
The Fleur de Lis Organization was founded in 1958, when Msgr. James Hartnett of Annunziata Parish in Ladue gathered 12 Catholic women to lead the group. The first president was Mrs. William F. Blanke, who served until 1961, and the first ball chair was Mrs. F. Joseph Pfeffer. The name and symbol of the organization—Fleur de Lis—were inspired by King Louis IX of France, the patron saint of St. Louis, and his coat of arms.
The founding board had several goals for the organization, but chief among them was to bring together Catholic boys and girls in a social setting, providing them with educational and social experiences and teaching the traditional rules of etiquette, along with respectful communication and techniques of ballroom dancing. The organization also has maintained strong ties with SSM Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center, donating more than $2.64 million in proceeds throughout the years.
For the girls who are presented at the ball, it is the culmination of years of affiliation with the Fleur de Lis Organization, which begins with dancing lessons and structured parties for boys and girls in the ninth grade, and continues with formal supper dances throughout high school. “The thought is for kids to meet each other,” says president Maggie Vatterott. “It’s a way for Catholic kids to meet other Catholic kids. As far as the etiquette, they learn how to go through a receiving line, how to sit at a table, and we also talk about modern things like cell phone etiquette.”
The ball itself was held at Khorassan Ballroom at The Chase Park Plaza until the late-’80s, when it was moved to the Hyatt Regency St. Louis at The Arch (formerly the Adams Mark Hotel). The young ladies are invited to be presented by their fathers, before the reigning prelate of the Archdiocese of St. Louis. “The girls are presented as an honor to him and as a sign of respect,” Miller says. Currently, that duty falls to Archbishop Robert Carlson. To date, more than 1,600 girls have been presented at the balls, which were first presided over by His Eminence Joseph Cardinal Ritter.
“Many of my dear friends I have now, I met at Fleur de Lis, so there’s a big connection,” Vatterott says. “That’s in the history of it, that’s why they started it, to help Catholic girls and boys meet.”