St. Clement’s Catholic (1911)

St. Clement’s German Catholic Church ca. 1911, photographer unknown. [Image: Duluth Public Library]

2032 West 3rd Street | Architect: Erhard Brielmaier | Built: 1911 | Lost: 1992

Guided by Bishop Rupert Seidenbusch, the first Roman Catholic bishop of the Vicariate Apostolic of Northern Minnesota, Catholic German immigrants organized the congregation of St. Clement’s in 1887. That same year, with help from Benedictine monks from St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota, they built a wooden church, a school, and a pastoral residence along West Third Street. All were designed by Father Gregory Steil, who also drew plans for a nearby seminary for the monks. The Duluth Daily News called the grouping of structures the “finest buildings in the West End.” The church’s belfry held a four-foot-tall, 1,562-pound bell made in the McShane Bell Foundry in Baltimore, Maryland. It was donated by Michael and Margaret Heisler in memory of their daughter, Mary Barbara, who died in 1885 when she was twenty-seven years old. The bell was also used as a fire alarm for the neighborhood. Reverend Timothy Vaeth served as the church’s first minister.

The wooden church served until January 1910 when it fell victim to fire. St. Clement’s congregation then hired German-born Milwaukee architect Erhard Brielmaier, who had designed Milwaukee’s Basilica of St. Josephat, modeled after St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. His new two-story church’s Romanesque Revival features included Roman-arch windows, turrets, and two towers capped with hexagonal steeples, one a twenty-eight-foot square bell tower with an open belfry which held the bell from the first St. Clement’s. A triple-arched stone entrance was surmounted by a large rose window in the front gable, above which sat a niche holding a statue of Christ as the Good Shepherd. The building sat on a granite foundation and was faced with light-gray pressed brick trimmed with Lake Superior brownstone; pillars at the entrance were made of St. Cloud marble. Newspapers called the building, whose sanctuary sat 1,000 worshippers, “one of the handsomest houses of worship in the city.”

Catholic officials lead by Bishop McGolrick dedicated the church and its matching rectory on July 16, 1911. Over 4,000 Catholics from across the city attended the event, which included a parade with over 1,000 participants. Nearly 1,500 crammed themselves into the new edifice for Mass.

As Duluth’s neighborhoods became less ethnically divided, so did their churches, and by the 1960s the West End had more Catholic churches than it needed. St. Clement’s closed in 1974, its congregation absorbed by St. Jean-Baptiste’s. In 1975 the church was purchased by the Twin Ports Ministry to Seafarers, an ecumenical organization that ministers to “those who visit our ports by ship.” The Seafarers converted the rectory for their use and demolished the church in 1992. The former site of St. Clement’s church now serves as a parking lot.