When you attend Mass in the Parish Center, or even in the Little Church, it is hard to imagine that St. Joseph’s Parish has its roots in the year 1856. Yet, that is when this Catholic community celebrated its first Mass in a tiny log cabin just off the shores of Medicine Lake. St. Joseph’s began as a mission parish for mostly French-Canadian settlers. Mass was celebrated only once a month. The church bought its first plot of land for only $100 and was officially named St. Francis. The log chapel was a mere 24 by 32 feet, but was large enough to house the congregation for almost 20 years.
By 1877, a wooden framed church replaced the log chapel. An additional seven acres of land was donated to the parish where the Little Church and Rectory now stand. The construction of the new 36 by 80 foot structure was accomplished almost completely through the generosity of church members at a cost of $2,600, including the bell that still hangs in the steeple of the Little Church. When the bell was dedicated on November 5, 1876, the name of the parish was changed to St. Joseph, in honor of the patron saint of Joseph Noel who donated the land. The Little Church itself was dedicated in 1877 when the interior was completed. Early visitors to the church were told of the hard work and dedication that went into building the Little Church. They also heard of the tragic story of the death of one worker who fell from the steeple as he worked to install the cross. For the next 40 years the parish was served by a variety of visiting priests.
In 1917, St. Joseph’s became a mission parish of St. Anne’s in Hamel. Father Marcel Masl served as our parish priest from St. Anne’s for the next 16 years.
During the 1930’s much of the funds to meet the growing parish’s needs were raised by the ladies of the Altar and Rosary Society. These women envisioned a time when their small mission church would become an independent parish. To move in that direction, the women sponsored many chicken dinners and established a treasury of $600 earmarked for building a rectory for a new resident pastor.
Since the rectory had not yet been built, Father Finn, our new resident pastor, temporarily boarded with a local family, staying on their front porch. The parish had set aside $5,200 for the rectory; unfortunately, Father Finn chose to leave the parish before construction began taking the entire fund with him. He established St. Mary’s of the Lake, and intended to close St. Joseph’s.
The funds were never recovered and parishioners set out to obtain a loan to build the rectory anyway.
In September of 1935, Father J. Clinton Allard was assigned as the first resident pastor. Construction of a new rectory began almost immediately after his arrival and the church received much-needed interior improvements.
During the last few years of his life, Fr. Allard was unable to perform his priestly duties. Father Francis Hayes, pastor of Good Shepherd, volunteered his spare time to assist with masses and confessions. Father Wallace Hermes was appointed as weekend assistant, and became the parish administrator after Fr. Allard's death in March 1962. Fr. Hermes advised the parish against building a parish school, believing that the energy was better spent on transmitting the faith and spirit of parents to their children. Father George Eischens was appointed as the second pastor at St. Joseph's in April 1962. The Altar and Rosary Society was re-organized with the objective to be a stimulus for a new and vibrant spirituality. This group of women sponsored speakers, retreats, and fundraising projects.
In 1965, eleven acres of land was purchased from the Archdiocese on the southwest corner of Boone Ave and 36th Ave. On the property was a small house and garage where the Kirkbrides, a parish family with seven children, lived. Father Blaine Barr used the dining room of the old house as his office and Mrs. Kirkbride became his secretary. Sunday Masses were celebrated in the cafeteria at neighboring Sonnesyn Elementary School.
Father Barr brought St. Joseph’s into an awakening of social justice and service. Father Barr was one of the driving forces behind the establishment of PRISM (People Responding in Social Ministry). Father Barr had divided the parish into eight neighborhood groups, and it was his hope that these groups would help build small, friendly Christian communities and form the base to future ministries.
The parish had grown to over 1,200 families. It became very difficult to find priests to celebrate 13 masses every weekend. On November 22, 1970, frozen ground was broken to build the Parish Center. Father Barr had a distinct vision for this parish and continued to guide us until his death in 1993.
God once again blessed us by sending Father Don Piché, who immediately took over the responsibilities of pastor. Father Don brought many inclusive changes to St. Joseph’s and had a special knack of reaching the youth in our parish. By December of 1998, Father Don’s family responsibilities called him to leave us.
Father Robert Hazel joined St. Joseph's in the Spring of 1999.
From the beginning, the founding members believed they were church and ministered to each other with or without a resident pastor. From the seven pioneer families who began this parish, through the 80 years as a mission parish, the members of this parish never let themselves waiver from their true Christian spirit.
Our richly blessed parish continues to grow, change, and serve the community proudly. We can be proud of where we have come from, where we are now and where we will go in the future.
A new dedicated sanctuary is added to the Parish Center. It is the culmination of 9 years of planning and is based on the thoughts and desires of the parish since the parish center was built 34 years ago.
Father Hazel retired from St. Joseph's Parish on May 15th, 2006.
Fr. Terry Rassmussen came to St. Joseph's Parish in August of 2006, after serving for 11 years at St. Cecilia Parish in Ames, Iowa. Fr. Terry continues to serve as the pastor today.