“The Church of St. John the Baptist, established in 1902 to serve the Catholic faithful in the area of Hugo, has not seen the growth in Catholic population that demographic projections originally indicated,” stated a letter from Archbishop Nienstedt, distributed to parishioners at Masses Oct. 16-17. Fr. Jon Shelley told his flock, “We’re going to go through all this together.” During “Celebration of Community” meal held in Fortin Hall after Mass, families carved pumpkins, enjoyed pulled pork sandwiches, and visited across the bright orange tablecloths, talking of the future and the past.
“When I was a child, we belonged to (St. Genevieve’s) parish,” recalled Joe Marier, 90. It wasn’t until his father, Joseph T. Marier, bought the Hugo Feed Mill in 1927 and moved his family east to Hugo that Marier began attending St. John the Baptist and attending classes at St. Mary’s Parish School in White Bear Lake.
Centerville native Leon Nadeau told a similar story. “I was baptized and celebrated my first communion in Centerville,” he said. The Nadeau family eventually bought a grocery store in Hugo in 1963, establishing the original Nadeau’s Market downtown. They pulled up roots and moved a whole four miles east—and the family began attending St. John the Baptist. “So we’re going home!” Nadeau said, with a laugh.
The Archbishop’s announcement wasn’t unexpected, some said, nor was it the first time a merger of sorts between the parishes had been contemplated. In 2003, a proposed collaboration between the two parishes engendered a lot of discussion, 78-year-old Dick Kohler, who has attended St. John’s for over 40 years, said. “They did a lot of talking about it, but nothing ever came of it.” By the time discussions had come to an end, Kohler said, church planners had lost interest in a 15-acre parcel near I-35E that had been offered by a parishioner for a new church building — a parcel that now houses Festival Foods in Hugo.
Under the terms of the merger, the Church of St. Genevieve, the “receiving” parish, will continue to use both churches for worship until the merged church community determines that one of the church buildings should be “relegated to secular use” and sold. All assets and liabilities of the Church of St. John the Baptist and proceeds from the sale of any church property will become the property of the parish of St. Genevieve.
St. Genevieve’s parish was established in 1854, three years before Centerville Township was organized. According to the Anoka County Historical Society, the first Mass in Centerville was celebrated in 1854 at the home of Francois and Leocadie (Houle) LaMotte, among Centerville’s first settlers. In 1855, the first church building was constructed.
As the area grew in population, Catholics in the Hugo area, known then simply as Oneka Township, also attended Mass in Centerville. In fact, people traveled from as far away as Withrow to attend church, quite a distance in the winter when travel was by horse or sleigh and there was little to protect travelers from the bitter cold.
It wasn’t until September 1901 that work began on St. John the Baptist Catholic Church, located on its present site in downtown Hugo, to accommodate the spiritual needs of residents who lived near the railroad, which connected the cities of St. Paul and Duluth. St. John the Baptist celebrated its first Mass in 1902. The Village of Hugo was incorporated in 1906. On Feb. 12, 1947, St. John the Baptist Catholic Church burned to the ground. The community was devastated; however, work began on a new building, which was dedicated on April 25, 1948.
White Bear Press