St. Jean-Baptiste Catholic (1885 & 1904)

The 1904 St. Jean-Baptiste Catholic Church. (Image: Duluth Public Library)

First: 1100 East Superior Street | Architect: Unknown | Built: 1885 | Lost: ca. 1925

Second: 2432 West 3rd Street | Architect: German & Lignell | Built: 1904 | Lost: 1996

Duluth’s history is intrinsically tied to the French. The city itself is named for French soldier Daniel Greysolon Sieur du Lhut, who portaged across Minnesota Point in 1679. The first French community in what is now Duluth was established in Fond du Lac in 1818 with the construction of the American Fur Post. Most of its employees were French and worked closely with the Ojibwe.

French-Canadians began moving to Duluth in the early 1870s, during the city’s initial boom period. Most settled in the West End and on Rice’s Point but attended Mass at Sacred Heart. By 1884 the French-Canadians, who then made up the largest Catholic population in Duluth, organized their own parish, St. Jean-Baptiste. A year later they built a modest wooden structure in the heart of The Glenn beneath Point of Rocks at Eleventh Avenue West and Superior Street, complete with a bell donated by the church’s first pastor, Father Pierre Champagne.

The French-Canadian population, employed for the most part as laborers, building tradesmen, and lumberjacks, continued to grow. In 1888 two hundred French Canadians called Duluth home; by 1902, that number had grown to five hundred. In 1904—a year after fire severely damaged the 1885 church—the parish decided it was time for a bigger church in a better location. After the old church was repaired, they sold it to Duluth’s Italian Catholics who renamed it St. Peter’s.

The French congregation hired A. Werner Lignell and Frederick German to design a new building that would serve as both a church and a school at the southeast corner of Third Street and Twenty-Fifth Avenue West in the heart of the West End. The two-story red brick church employed an unusual design, with its school on the first floor and church sanctuary on the second. The building was of modest design, with Romanesque Revival features such as Roman-arch windows and doorways, but no tower. The front gable’s tall Palladian window stood over the central entrance, its gables adorned with decorative brickwork.

The church was dedicated in February 1905 by Reverend Louis Langevin, Archbishop of Manitoba. As the decades passed and more and more parishioners moved out of the West End, the need for multiple Catholic churches and schools disappeared, and attendance naturally declined. St. Jean-Baptiste absorbed St. Clement’s congregation in 1975 and joined with Sts. Peter and Paul to form a new congregation called Holy Family Catholic. In 1996 St. Jean-Baptiste was razed. The final Mass had been performed earlier that year, and few parishioners seemed to mind demolishing the old church—a poll showed that 88 percent of them thought it was a good idea. Seventy-eight-year-old parishioner Bea Walczynski told the Duluth News Tribune, “People are tied to the past. They hate to let go. But I was baptized at St. Jean’s, and I don’t feel bad that it’ll go. I’m looking forward to the future.” A new Holy Family church now stands in its place, where both former parishioners of and artifacts from all three churches found a new home.

The 1885 St. Jean-Baptiste Catholic Church, which also served as St. Peter’s Catholic Church from 1904 to 1926. (Image: Duluth Public Library)