The Catholic Church in Duluth (Early History)

In the beginning of Duluth the number of Roman Catholics was comparatively few. In 1870, according to the early records, there were only about two dozen Catholic families in the city, although its population in that year was over 3, 000. Owing to the great zeal and energy of the early missionaries, however, Catholicity kept pace with the growth of the city. In primeval days French missionaries, whose field of work was among the Indians, held services in Duluth for the catholic settlers. In the columns of the “Minnesotian” it is noted that in 1866 the Catholics of the settlement attended services held under the direction of a visiting priest who stopped there on his journey, and in the issue of the same paper on May 14, 1870, it is chronicled that “regular visits are made to Duluth by Father Chebul, of Superior, and a movement has been set on foot to erect a chapel during the coming season.” At this time a frame structure, the first Catholic church in Duluth, was erected on the site of the present Cathedral. Father John Chebul, a missionary priest of Austrian birth, was then ministering to the spiritual wants of the Catholics at the head of the lakes, visiting Duluth, Superior, Bayfield, La Pointe and all the Indian settlements along the shores of Lake Superior. He was obliged to traverse these great distances on foot, and frequently endured dreadful hardships, for the winters at that time were more severe than they have been in recent years. He often started on his long, cold journey, carrying his pack with vestments, food, etc., and the snow shoes upon which he always traveled in winter.

In January, 1871, Father Chebul was succeeded by Father G. Keller, a German priest, who remained in Duluth nearly three years. He built a house containing three rooms. Rev. J. B. M. Genin, O. M. I., arrived in January, 1873, and began at once to make improvements in the church. He placed a bell in the church, had new altars built, etc. Instead of the small residence of three rooms he built a larger one. Father Genin visited France during the summer of 1877. During his absence Rev. Joseph Buh, Charles Verwyst and Joseph Staub took his place. Father Genin was succeeded by Father Christopher Murphy in October, 1882. He remained in charge of the Catholic population of Duluth until 1885, when he was succeeded by Rev. G. J. Hoebel, who continued the work until 1898, when Duluth was created an Episcopal see. On the evening of January 9, 1890, Bishop McGolrick arrived on a special train with a delegation from Minneapolis, headed by Mayor Sutphin and other important personages from Duluth. The priests from Minneapolis who accompanied the bishop were Fathers William McGolrick and Henry MeGolrick, brothers of the bishop; H. J. McDevitt, T. Vaeth, 0. S. B., and C. Giraux, M. A. A procession consisting of Polish, German, French and English speaking societies was formed at the old wooden union depot and escorted the bishop along Superior street and up Second avenue to the old church. After arriving at the church, Rev. W. T. Roy read an address in behalf of the priests and Mr. T. Helinski in behalf of the people, to both of which addresses the bishop responded from his throne. The priests of the diocese present were Rev. Joseph Buh, now Rt. Rev. Monsignor Buh, vicar-general of the diocese; Rev. C. V. Gamache, Rev. E. J. Lawlor, Rev. W. T. Roy, Rev. J. Sroka, Rev. S. Koefler, O. S. B., Rev. C. Giraux, Rev. E. Fayolle, Rev. T. Corbett, now bishop of Crookston; Rev. E. Theillon, Rev. D. Lynch, Rev. J. C. Balluff and Rev. F. Feige. After the ceremonies at the church a banquet was given by the people of Duluth to the bishop at the Spalding hotel, at which speeches were made by Colonel Graves, Mayor Sutphin, James Corrigan, of Minneapolis, and others, to which the bishop made a hearty response.

The following Sunday the bishop was installed by Archbishop Ireland.

In the beginning there were few parishes and priests for the new bishop to look after. Outside Duluth the principal parishes were those of Brainerd, Hinckley, Barnesville, Moorehead, Detroit, Red Lake Falls, Gentilly, Crookston, Argyle, Tower, Cloquet and Terrebonne. The diocese was formerly a part of the vicariate of St. Cloud, under the jurisdiction of the Rt. Rev. R. Seidenbusch, D. D. At the time of its erection it had a Catholic population of about 22, 000. There were twenty priests in all, fifteen diocesan and five regulars. They were: Rev. T. Corbett, pro-Cathedral; Rev. S. Koefler, O. S. B., St. Clement; Rev. W. T. Roy, St. John Baptist; Rev. J. Sroka, St. Mary’s; Rev. J. F. Buh, Tower, with the entire range; Rev. S. Schells, Barnesville; Rev. T. Gleason, Brainerd; Rev. C. Giraux, Cloquet; Rev. E. Fayolle, Crookston; Rev. E. J. Lawlor, Crookston; Rev. C. V. Gamache, Detroit City; Rev. E. Theillon, Gentilly; Rev. D. Lynch, Hinckley; Rev. Augustine Brockmeyer, O. S. B., Moorhead; Rev. L. Arpin, Red Lake Falls; Rev. L. Feige, Terrebonne; Rev. T. Borgerding, 0. S. B., Red Lake Indian reservation; Rev. S. Lampe, O. S. B., Red Lake Indian reservation; Rev. Aloysius Hermanutz, O. S. B., White Earth reservation; a Franciscan father, of Superior, attended the Indian reservation at Cloquet and Fond du Lac, and a Jesuit, from Canada, attended Grand Portage, Grand Marais and Beaver Bay. There was one hospital in the diocese, located at Duluth; there were thirty-two churches, ten stations, five parochial schools, three at Duluth, one in Barnesville and one in Moorhead; 2, 000 Catholic Indians; about 20, 000 white population; 800 chhildren in the schools; one order of Sisters, Benedictines, from the mother house, St. Joseph, St. Cloud diocese.

Duluth, as a city, at the bishop’s arrival was not what it is now; no paved streets; only two street cars on Superior street, drawn by mules; no electric light plant; the population was small. There were four Catholic churches-the pro-Cathedral, St. Mary’s, St. John’s and St. Clement’s churches. The pro- Cathedral was a plain wooden structure with little furnishings.

The one thing beautiful in the church was the alter; there was a rather poor organ and a small sacristy. The church was heated by stoves. Considering the circumstances and the hardships of the pioneers, the building was quite creditable. The following spring the bishop built an addition to the old house, as apartments for himself, in which he resided until the fire, which building after the fire was moved across the street and used as a club room.

The pro-Cathedral, together with the Episcopal residence, was destroyed by fire July 2, 1892, and with the exception of some books and furniture the entire property was consumed.

The association hall, previously built, served advantageously as 591  a temporary church and was fitted up promptly for service for the Sunday following the fire. The appeal made to the general public was answered by generous contributions from many parts of the country, which together with the money accruing from the insurance, enabled Bishop McGolrick to lay the foundation for both the church and residence. Owing to the depression general in the country and some discontent as to the nature of the collection, the building of the superstructure had to be postponed.

All during the year 1893 and the spring of 1894 the foundations remained covered. May 9, 1894, a few of the parishioners determined to make another effort to proceed with the work. In pursuance of that design, Messrs. Burrows, Monalan, Miller, Maginnis, Norris, Sullivan, Flood, Sheridan and Flynn met at the bishop’s residence in Munger block, considered the plans drawn by Architect G. A. Tenbush and, after much careful consideration, determined to proceed. Mr. Burrows was appointed treasurer and Mr. Monahan secretary, and with great good will on the part of all concerned the work went on with the approbation of the whole people. Mr. F. W. Sullivan acted as attorney for the committee and cheerfully gave his time and attention to the necessary contracts and bonds for the work.

On July 15, 1894, the corner stone for the new Cathedral was laid, the societies, sodalities and the children of the schools attending the ceremonies. Bishop McGolrick preached on the occasion and afterward held services in the adjoining church.

The priests present were Rev. T. Corbett, Rev. J. Hardy, Rev.

T. J. Mackey, Rev. H. MeGolrick, Rev. L. Cosgrove, Rev. G.

Scheffold, O. S. B., Rev. S. Koefler, O. S. B., Rev. J. Sroka, Rev.

C. Giraux, M. A., and Rev. L. J. Grandschamp.

Catholic Association hall was built by Bishop McGolrick in 1890, and was used as such until the destruction of the pro- Cathedral by fire. It was then immediately refitted for church purposes by the building of a choir-loft with a small gallery, and refitting the upper end with sanctuary and sacristy. During the summer of 1903 it was removed, and the hall of the new Cathedral school took its place. The club room building in rear of association hall had been built as an addition to the old presbytery at the bishop’s arrival. When the pro-Cathedral and Episcopal residence were destroyed by fire, July 2, 1892, this was the only part saved. It was then moved across the street and fitted out for club rooms. In 1904 it was sold and removed to make room 592 DULIJTII’S RELIGIOUS HISTORY for the new Cathedral school. After the destruction of the Episcopal residence, the bishop rented an apartment in the Munger Terrace, where he lived until the present Episcopal residence was finished, November, 1894. The building next to the club rooms is the former residence of the Sisters of St.

Benedict, having been moved across the street and remodeled at the bishop’s arrival. After the fire it was converted into a presbytery, the Sisters having taken their abode in the Munger Terrace.

With impressive ceremonies the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart w as formally dedicated Sunday morning, July 26, 1896. The presence of Archbishop Ireland, Bishop Shanley, Bishop Cotter and other distinguished dignitaries from outside cities lent additional luster to the occasion. As early as 9 o’clock the various Catholic societies of the city began to form at the appointed places and thence proceeded to the Cathedral, around which they formed a line. At 10:30 the procession for the blessing moved on in the following order: The cross bearer with the acolytes, the children of the Cathedral parish, dressed in white; the masters of ceremonies, Rev. T. Corbett and Rev. J. Ryan; the deacon and sub-deacon of the mass, Rev. H. McDevitt and Rev.

J. Cestelli; the deacons of honer, Rev. C. Giroux and Rev. J.

Sroka; the assistant priest, Very Rev. J. Buh, V. G.; Rt. Rev.

J. Shanley and chaplains, Rev. F. Gerhard and Rev. M. Corbett; Archbishop Ireland and chaplains, Rev. P. Boucher and Rev. L.

Grandchamp; Rt. Rev. J. Cotter, the celebrant of the mass.

Bishop McGolrick performed the ceremony of blessing the Cathedral, assisted by Rev. C. V. Gamache and Rev. T. J.

Mackey. Following the blessing, Rt. Rev. J. B. Cotter, D. D., celebrated pontifical mass, assisted by the above-named fathers.

Rt. Rev. John Shanley, D. D., delivered the sermon. In the evening Bishop Shanley celebrated pontifical vespers and Archbishop Ireland delivered a sermon.

The Sacred Heart Cathedral is one of the fine religious structures of which the city of Duluth is proud. The structure is of pressed brick, with a foundation of solid stone. It is pleasantly located on Second avenue west and Fourth street.

The commodious Episcopal residence adjoining is built of similar material. The grounds are ornamented with well selected trees, hedges and shrubbery.

Rt. Rev. Alexius Edelbrook, O. S. B., of St. John’s Abbey, 593  having advanced the sum of $5, 000, the erection of a parochial school was rendered possible. A lot near Superior street that had previously been secured for school purposes was now sold for $7, 000, and the site for the new school selected on Second avenue west and Fourth street. In the fall of 1885 St. Thomas school was opened. For nineteen years the youth of the parish were here instructed in religious as well as secular knowledge. In the summer of 1903 it was removed near to St. Mary’s hospital, where during the construction of the new school building studies were resumed for the scholastic year 1903-04. At the present time the old St. Thomas school serves for hospital purposes, having been donated to the Benedictine Sisters by the bishop.

The Cathedral school, completed in August, 1904, is an edifice of which the Catholic parishioners are justly proud. The valuation of the building, including furnishings, amounts to $60, 000.

It compares with the finest school buildings in the state. The ground on which it stands was formerly occupied by St. Thomas school, the association hall and club rooms. In July, 1903, the clearing of the ground was begun and on November 1 the corner stone was laid. The building measures 150 feet by 75 feet. The exterior architecture is according to the Spanish school and forms an attractive feature of the building. There are three floors; the main or entrance floor is devoted exclusively to school use and its eight large school rooms are well patronized.

On the lower floor a spacious hall is fitted up for the meeting of societies. The gymnasium and billiard room, also on this floor, are furnished with fine equipments. There is also a library room and a kitchen. The first corner room is handsomely furnished and is used only by members of the Bishop’s Club. With the exception of two school rooms, the entire third floor forms the auditorium, including stage, dressing rooms, etc. The body of the large hall is built in a semi-circle, with a seating capacity of 1, 200.

The Catholic diocese of Duluth embraces the greater part of northeastern Minnesota and covers an area of 39, 000 square miles. Bishop McGolrick a few years ago was making a visit to Ireland and there met an Irish bishop. After they had talked awhile, the latter asked Bishop McGolrick: “How large is your diocese, bishop?” Bishop McGolrick smiled as he replied: “I’m afraid you’ll think that I’m exaggerating, but it’s about as large as Ireland 594 DULUTH’S RELIGIOUS HISTORY with half of England thrown in.” The dimensions staggered the Irish bishop, who could hardly credit the fact that one man ministered to such a vast territory.

It is interesting to note the growth of the diocese since the bishop has taken charge of it. There are now in it fifty-seven priests, forty-four churches, thirty-six missions with churches, fifty stations, fourteen chapels, one academy for young ladies, ten parishes with parochial schools, two schools for Indians, three orphan asylums and six hospitals. The Catholic population of the diocese is about 60, 000, and there are 2, 500 children in its schools. Besides the Cathedral, the other Catholic churches in Duluth and their pastors are: St. Anthony de Padua (German), Rev. Francis Hufnagel, rector; St. Clement’s, Rev. Augustine Brockmeyer, O. S. B., pastor; Rev. Raymond Basil, O. S. B., assistant pastor; St. James, Rev. D. W. Lynch, pastor; St. Jean Baptiste (French), Rev. Didace Guillet, O. M. I., rector; Rev. Joachim Allard. 0. M. I., Rev. Omer Robillard, O. M. I., Rev. Joseph Therien, 0. M. I., and Rev. Ernest D. Crozier, O. M.

I., assistants; St. Josephat (Polish), Rev. Andrew Ryczek, pastor; St. Mary’s Star of the Sea (Polish), Rev. S. A. Iclek, pastor; St. Peter’s (Italian), Rev. John Zarrilli, pastor; St. Peter’s and St. Paul’s (Polish) and St. Rose church, Rev. Ermund J. Walsh, pastor. All of these parishes maintain parochial schools with a large attendance.

Institute of the Sacred Heart-In 1880 Rev. J. B. M. Genin, 0. M. I., having requested Bishop Seidenbusch, of the vicariate of St. Cloud, to have a Catholic school, Rev. Mother Scholastica Kerst, O. S. B., prioress of St. Benedict’s convent, St. Joseph.

Minn., came to look up matters as to the feasibility of a school, and immediately steps were taken by the Catholic people to get a suitable building. The only large building, a carriage shop, was turned into five class-rooms and several dwelling-rooms for the Sisters. On January 15 five Sisters arrived and on January 17 school was opened with an attendance of over 150 children, filling the class-rooms to excess. In August of 1881 the Sisters rented a dwelling, in which they opened a select school and music class for girls, with an attendance of thirty-five pupils. From June, 1882, till 1883 the school was closed on account of the poor condition of the school building, and the Sisters returned to their mother-house. In 1883 the Sisters returned and again rented a dwelling-house for themselves, also a vacated public 595  school building, all furnished, standing on the grounds where is now the Duluth high school. Here the Sisters taught about 150 children. The same year, 1883, “St. Mary, Star of the Sea” parish (Polish), on Fouith avenue east, erected and furnished a school of two class-rooms. Two Sisters taught in this school nearly 100 children.

Thus matters continued for two years. During the vacation of 1885, St. Thomas school was built and at its opening five Sisters were employed. At the same time a school was opened at Rice’s Point, where English and French were taught one year by two Sisters, then English and Polish, and the latter was the beginning of the present St. Peter’s and St. Paul’s parish school, Twenty-fourth avenue west and Fifth street.

In 1887, the Benedictine Fathers erected a building on Twentieth avenue west and Third street, which they rented to the Benedictine Sisters for hospital purposes. In this St. Mary’s hospital was first opened, February 2, 1888, with Sister M.

Alexia, O. S. B., as superioress.

In September of ’87 St. Clement’s parish school, Twentieth avenue west, was opened, 150 children attending.

All the Sisters teaching Catholic schools in the city up to ’88 had their dwelling near the Sacred Heart church, in a home belonging to the parish. In 1892 there were arrangements made to establish a mother-house for the Benedictine Sisters in Duluth, for the diocese of Duluth. There were at this time about twentyone Sisters, with Rev. Mother Scholastica at their head, who volunteered for this undertaking. The Sisters, therefore, rented a large portion of what is called the Munger Terrace, and opened a boarding and day academy (Institute of the Sacred Heart), with over 100 pupils, besides conducting the following parish schools: St. Thomas’, St. Clement’s, St. Stanislaus’ and St. Anthony’s.

With money donated by Mr. and Mrs. P. J. Kerst, parents of the Rev. Mother Scholastic, prioress, and of Sister Alexia, subprioress, the Sisters purchased three lots and built a basement with the intention of putting up a building, when, in July, the financial crisis coming on, they were obliged to desist from their project.

In 1894 Mr. P. J. Kerst donated to the Sisters two lots on the corner of Third street and Third avenue east, and it was concluded to put up the beginning of a mother-house on these lots, for which purpose $10, 000 was borrowed. The building was completed in October, ’94, and the first pupils admitted on October, 15. Several additions have since been made and there are now over 200 pupils in attendance, besides a large music class. In the academy are taught all the branches, from the kindergarten and musical kindergarten up to the completing of the four regular high school courses, also a course in domestic economy. A commercial department has also been added.

St. Mary’s Hospital was established in 1888, at Twentieth avenue west, where the St. James’ orphanage now stands. February 5, 1898, the Sisters of St. Benedict moved into their newly erected hospital at Fifth avenue east and Third street, where they have been caring for the sick and wounded of Duluth and vicinity since.

It has become necessary to enlarge the hospital, as the Sisters are unable to supply the demand for rooms and are constantly forced to refuse admission to patients. The new addition will have a frontage of seventy-two feet on Third street and will extend back to the alley. It will contain about seventy-five private rooms and several children’s wards.

During the twenty-two years of the hospital’s history, 30, 803 patients have been cared for, and 3, 504 of them have been charity patients. In 1900, 192 patients were treated free of charge. The cost of the hospital was over $100, 000, and it is in every respect an up-to-date institution with all modern improvements.

It contains two fine operating rooms, laboratory, pharmacy, nine wards and a great many double and single rooms.

All the rooms are perfect in equipment and, above all, bright and sunny. The ventilation and sanitary heating systems are of the best obtainable. It has a staff of competent nurses and internes and enjoys the patronage of the best surgeons and physicians in the Northwest.

In ’98 St. Benedict’s hospital, at Grand Rapids, and St. Anthony’s hospital at Bemidji, were founded by the Sisters, both frame buildings, costing about $20, 000 each, with a capacity of about seventy-five patients each.

In May, 1900, the building formerly used as St. Mary’s hospital was bought by Mrs. P. J. Kerst and donated to the Sisters, who now opened an orphans’ home for the diocese of Duluth.

The home has a capacity of over 100 children, and is now known as St. James’ Orphans’ Home.

In the same year, 1900, two more hospitals were erected, one at Brainerd and one at Crookston, brick structures on very pretty sites and each amounting to about $35, 000. In 1904 St.

Michael’s hospital at Cass Lake, Minn., was founded, costing $10, 000, with a capacity of twenty-five patients.

Patients of all denominations are cared for in these hospitals and a great many poor people with neither means nor friends.

The community of Benedictine Sisters for the diocese of Duluth now numbers 140 Sisters, with Rev. Mother Scholastica as prioress.


  • Woodbridge, Dwight and John Pardee, eds. History of Duluth and St. Louis County Past and Present Vols. 1 – 2. C. F. Cooper & Company, Chicago: 1922.