Monday, August 1, 2011

Winona's St. Mary’s Catholic Church celebrating 100 years

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On August 14, 2011, St. Mary’s Catholic Church of Winona will be celebrating 100 years as a faith community. Plans for the day will include 10:30 Mass with Bishop Quinn, a catered dinner, a program and then a social gathering following the program in the church hall – a time to visit with the priests, sisters and all who have so graciously served the parish over the years.

In 1911 Patrick Heffron, the second bishop of Winona, announced he would build a chapel for the growing Catholic population in the west end of Winona. Heffron purchased a house and four lots on West Broadway from the Rochester Franciscans. Construction of the chapel began in the summer of 1911 and Bishop Heffron dedicated St. Mary’s Chapel on August 13 with the assistance of Fathers T.F. O’Connor, the new pastor, F.T. English, P.J. Gallagher and P.A. Tibesar. The ceremony attracted a standing room only crowd to the little church – the pews were not installed until October. The church was a small white frame building located about midway in the block between Gould and Vila streets on West Broadway on the block where the Roger Bacon Center now stands. Near the west end of this block was a large frame house which served as the first parsonage for St. Mary’s Church. The frame church was narrow and deep. The interior consisted of a single center aisle and about twenty pews on each side extending to the wall with no outside aisles. The altar and communion railing were simple wooden structures.

There were approximately 250 people in the parish when it was established in 1912. By 1930 the size of the congregation had doubled to over 500 members. The growing parish created pressure to build a new church. The trustees proposed to build a combination church, residence, and parish hall of the same building materials as the College of St. Teresa building. The trustees hoped to avoid locating a new church out on the “new Broadway extension”, a plan proposed by the college officials who wanted to expand on the block where the church and rectory were located. The parish trustees thought that the proposed site two blocks west was a remote location for a new church because it was at “the extreme end of the parish”.

In 1929 Mother Leo, President of the College of Saint Teresa, offered to exchange a square block of St. Michael’s field for the four lots owned by the parish with an additional cash payment of $9,000. Parish opposition to this offer was so severe that it brought the negotiations to a close for a while.

Even though the question of location was not resolved, and the country was suffering from the Great Depression, a building fund was started and although modest in size, grew steadily. The appointment of Father John Sherman as pastor in 1934 crystalized the decision to build a new church. The location was still not decided until 1939. Father Sherman wanted to build on the present site but that was not to be. Work began on the new church on June 30, 1939, at the St. Michaels site on West Broadway. The cornerstone was laid September 17. The church was completed early the next year. On February 3, 1940 the first mass offered in the new church was a nuptial mass celebrated by Father Sherman. The total cost of the church was approximately $82,000. The parish rectory was constructed in 1951. The new rectory cost $40,000 and was built to replace the house on West Broadway, which had served as the rectory for fifty years. St. Mary’s School was built in 1953. Soon after, the convent, which is now the Parish Center, was built. A few years later the gymnasium and additional classrooms were added to the school to accommodate the “baby boom”.

Memories play a large part in any event and so to keep those memories a part of St. Mary’s Parish, parishioners were asked to share some of their special memories. A special Centennial booklet is being prepared.

St. Mary’s Parish has played a big role over the years in serving the Winona community. It takes great pride in helping others so in commemorating 100 years, those planning this event have come up with the following projects in order to celebrate our 100 years and at the same time, give back to our community. Those plans include:

• 100 hours of Eucharistic Adoration
• 100 “shares” in the international Catholic Relief Services “Give the Gift of Hope” program
• 100 hours of service refurbishing the Winona Catholic Worker houses
• 100 boxes of cold cereal for Winona Volunteer Services
• 100 bingo prizes for Saint Anne Extended Healthcare
•100 boxes of Kleenex for St. Mary’s School

In looking back, St. Mary’s was a small, wood-framed chapel just down the street from its present location in 1911. It survived the great depression of the 1930s. One can only imagine the sacrifice made by these parishioners to complete the worship space that all enjoy today.

If you would like more information about any of the Centennial events, please contact the Parish Office at 507-452-5656. Winona Post

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