Sts. Peter & Paul Catholic

Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic Church ca. 1960, photographer unknown. [Image: Diocese of Duluth]

2401 West 5th Street | Architect Unknown | Built: 1902 | Closed: 1985

Polish immigrants incorporated the Sts. Peter & Paul Polish Roman Catholic Society in 1898 with the goal of establishing a Polish Catholic school in Duluth’s West End. Meanwhile, West End Polish Catholics attended services at St. Mary Star of the Sea above downtown, several miles east of their neighborhood. By 1901 they had hired architect I. Vernon Hill to draw up plans for the only church he was known to have designed, a massive Gothic Revival edifice faced with red pressed brick and trimmed with matching sandstone. The building’s most distinctive feature is its octagonal central tower rising above the Fifth Street façade, originally capped with a tall pyramidal steeple crowned with cross. Other Gothic elements include Gothic-arch entryways and lancet windows, tower buttresses, and castellations that give the two-and-a-half-story building a fortresslike appearance.

Its cornerstone was laid July 1901, and masses began in 1902, led by Reverend John W. Rakowski until October 1903, when Reverend Leo Laskowski took over. In 1909 Laskowski found his church embroiled in controversy. The previous year Bishop McGolrick took ownership of the building according to American Roman Catholic Church policy. The Sts. Peter & Paul Society objected and took the matter to court—and won. Despite their objection to McGolrick’s move, the parishioners remained loyal to the Roman Catholic Church. Most of them, anyway.

Later that year twenty-five families representing about 20 percent of the congregation decided they wanted the church to join the Polish National Catholic Church. By then Laskowski had left Duluth (though he would return years later and retire in the Zenith City). When the Nationalist group invited Father Andrew Ryczek of Duluth’s St. Josephat’s Independent Polish Catholic Church to speak at Sts. Peter and Paul, things got ugly. Parishioners loyal to the Roman Catholic Church—all of them women and children—pelted the priest and his associates with eggs, rocks, and gravel. One egg struck Ryczek square in the face. The matter again ended up in the local courts, this time ruling in favor of the Roman Catholic authorities. Reverend Joseph Ciemenski was brought in in 1911, according to Duluth Diocese historian P. J. Lydon, “to reorganize the distracted parish.”

Apparently he did a good job, as Sts. Peter & Paul remained part of the Duluth Diocese until the 1970s. In 1975 Sts. Peter & Paul’s congregation joined with that of St. Jean-Baptiste and St. Clement to create the Holy Family Catholic Church. Sts. Peter & Paul closed when a new church building opened in 1996. The building sat vacant for some time after it was closed. Since 2010 the building has been home to the Rock Hill Community Church. It still looks much as it did in 1902, but the original steeple was removed and replaced by a much shorter, dome-like roof sometime after 1960.

For a better understanding of the history of Polish Catholics in Duluth, see also St. Mary Star of the Sea and St. Josephats.

Sts. Peter & Paul Polish Catholic Church. (Image: Zenith City Press)