History of the catholic parishes of virginia and mountain iron
Holy Spirit has its roots in the latter decades of the 1800’s when Catholic missionaries were serving this area, and paralleling the growth of the city of Virginia and lumbering and ore industries of the Iron Range. During the early 1890’s, Catholic services were held in the homes of members with Fr. Joseph Buh and Fr. John Mevel caring for Virginia as a mission from their home parishes in Tower and Cloquet. Fr. Lovelle of Cloquet is reported to be the first priest known to have offered Mass in Virginia at the P.A. Coffey home.
In 1892 the Duluth, Mesaba and Northern Railway built a line to Virginia from Wolf Junction, and in the same year the work of platting the township of Virginia began. When the population of the community reached 2295 men and 760 women, Virginia incorporated in 1895 as the first city on the Mesaba Range. Despite fires which leveled the city in 1893 and again in 1900, lumbering and mining activities continued to pace the growth of the community.
Fr. Mathias Bilban, who was named assistant to Fr. Buh in Tower in 1894, provided services for Virginia area Catholics twice a month. In 1895, the year Virginia incorporated as a city, he was responsible for construction of a frame church to serve the Catholic community. This building was later sold to the Polish Catholics. Our Lady of Lourdes was legally incorporated September 29, 1903, by the Most Rev. James McGolrick, Bishop of Duluth; Rt. Rev. Joseph F. Buh; Rev. Mathias Bilban, pastor; and E. J. Rourke and C. C. Butler, lay members. A brick veneer church was constructed in 1904 under the supervision of Fr. James Hogan who remained as pastor until 1909. Prior to that time, various nationalities were included in the membership.
In 1903, while Our Lady of Lourdes was being incorporated, the Polish citizens of the town, desiring to preserve their national traditions, moved to found their own church in which they could hear services in their native tongue. A small group of men, headed by John Meehan, Anton Szymoniak and Frank Trampush bought four lots on 3rd - St. So. The frame church which had formerly served the entire Catholic community was purchased and moved onto the lots. St. John the Baptist Polish Catholic Church was incorporated on January 9, 1905, by the Most Rev. James McGolrick, Bishop; and Monsignor Joseph Buh, Vicar General, Duluth Diocese. First regular pastor was Fr. Michel Sengir who guided the new church from 1905 until 1918. His first official act as pastor was to bless the little wooden frame church June 24, 1905.
During the early 1900’s, new iron ore mines were steadily opening, the Virginia & Rainy Lake co. was just starting to grow, job opportunities were plentiful and people were flocking to Virginia by the hundreds from Europe, Canada and the eastern United States. By 1912 the population of Virginia has risen to nearly 15,000. The big rush added many new parishioners to both St. John’s and Our Lady of Lourdes and the two edifices could not accommodate all for worship. In 1910, St John’s was enlarged and later dedicated by the Rt. Rev. Paul Rohde, D.D. of Duluth. Two years later in 1912, Our Lady of Lourdes under the leadership of Fr. William Powers, who served the parish from 1909 until 1919, followed suit and increased the seating capacity of the church. Fr. John Limmer and Fr. Daniel Patt guided Our Lady of Lourdes until 1923 when Fr. Edmond Walsh, who came to the Duluth Diocese from County Kerry, Ireland, was appointed to the parish. During his stay of nearly 40 years from 1923 until 1961, a new pipe organ was purchased for $5,700 in 1950 and installed in Our Lady of Lourdes. Pastors who served the parish in its last decade were Fr. James Chisholm from 1961 until 1968 and Fr. Richard Partika, who was an assistant from 1961 until 1969 and pastor from 1968 until 1969.
In St. John’s parish, Fr. Sengir was succeeded by Fr. Stanislaus Meger in 1919 and then Army chaplain Fr. S.A. Icjek, also in 1919. Fr. Stanley Majer arrived in 1920 and worked for a much needed new church which was completed in the fall of 1921. Fr. Majer was followed by Fr. Werbila in 1923 and Fr. C.A. Cieslewicz in 1924. Under the guidance of the latter, the new church was dedicated in 1924 with Rt. Rev. John T. McNicolas D.D. of Duluth officiating. During the administration of Fr. Cieslewicz the church mortgage was paid. In 1955, when the membership reached 754 adults and 267 children, the church was renovated. A pipe organ costing $2000 was also installed, and in 1957 the adjoining property of the Former First Lutheran Church was purchased. Fr. Cieslewicz served St. John’s with dedication for 42 years until his retirement in 1966 when he was succeeded by Fr. Stephen Toporowicz.
In July, 1967, three territorial parishes were established in Virginia by order of Bishop Francis Scheck. At that time, the name of St. John the Baptist Church was simplified to St. John’s. This meant that St. John’s was no longer a National Church serving only Polish Catholics. Fr. Thomas McEnery, Fr. Stephen Toporowicz and Fr. James Chisholm continued as pastors of the three parishes.
A total of eight priests and 22 assistant pastors served Our Lady of Lourdes parish from 1895-1969. The last priests to serve this church were Fr. Pat McDowell, Fr. James Scheuer, and Fr. Fredrick Method. St. John the Baptist was served by seven priests from 1905 – 1969.
Three years after the establishment of the three territorial parishes, St. John’s and Our Lady of Lourdes were united in a merger Mass held May 7, 1970, at Miners Memorial Building as Holy Spirit parish. Bishop Paul Anderson was the principal celebrant with the team ministry of Fr. Patrick McDowell, F. James Scheur and Fr. Frederick Method assisting with the concelebrated Mass. St. John’s was designated as Holy Spirit West and Our Lady of Lourdes, Holy Spirit East until such time as a new worship center for the 1200 families and 5000 individuals in the combined parish would replace the older buildings.
In the spring of 1976, Holy Spirit East was demolished and construction of the new parish center began. During the building period, Holy Spirit West served the entire parish.
Fr. Method and Fr. Scheur transferred to other posts in 1970 and 1974 respectively, and Fr. Dennis Puhl arrived in 1974.
The Mass of Dedication was held April 17, 1977, with Bishop Paul Anderson as celebrant and Fr. Patrick McDowell and Fr. Dennis Puhl as concelebrants. Deacon was Paul Larson. The cornerstone located at the main entrance is dated 1976, the year in which the construction took place. The project is listed as costing $880,000.00. Among special features of this complex is a large two and one half ton taconite baptismal font at the entrance of the Church in the 1600 square foot lobby. Vital dimensions of physical and spiritual life are central to the structure and placement of this baptismal font. In the sacrament of Baptism we first met Christ and became members of God’s people, the Church. The placement of the font at the Church’s entrance serves a reminder of that first commitment and beginning of spiritual life. Recognizing the mining industry and taconite as the main source of physical life in our community, this material, in its unfinished state, was chosen for the font. Rough and unfinished, we note the rugged individualism that characterizes each of us and our need for Christ to help us reach the finish line.
The area of worship is graced by the binding of the old and familiar within the new structure. The original stain glass windows have been reset in a new pattern to mark the altar area or sanctuary and also the entrance to the Blessed Sacrament Chapel. Within this Blessed Sacrament Chapel are the original main altar and sanctuary lamp from the former Our Lady of Lourdes Church. In the primary interest of musical acoustics the ceiling in the Church was kept with an interesting network of a steel grid and truss system. Painted white to compliment the wall color, the ceiling’s lattice work effect gives a feeling of openness and freedom. The atmosphere provided by the ceiling in the 600 seat capacity Church is carried over into the 450 capacity social hall. In December 1976 a contract for a tracker action pipe organ was made with Peter Hendrickson of St. Peter, and upon completion, the organ was installed.
Priests who served Holy Spirit as pastors since Fr. McDowell are: Fr. Roland Antus, Fr. Lloyd Mudrak, and Fr. John O’Donnell.
In 2000, when Fr. O’Donnell arrived, the Tabernacle was moved to the sanctuary of the church from the chapel in the back, a cross with the crucified Christ was put on the wall behind the Tabernacle in place of the big medallion and the altar from the Chapel replaced the table like altar in the sanctuary. A new ceiling, air conditioning, and new flooring were installed in a major renovation in the mid 2000’s; and a mural was painted on the front walls of the church in 2008. The kitchen of the social was enlarged, windows were installed in the hallway and the living quarters in the complex were made into offices in late 2008 and early 2009.
Sacred Heart Parish, Mt. Iron Sacred Heart parish was born in the 1888. Msgr. Joseph Buh, a devoted missionary priest, was the first to minister to the Catholics of Mt. Iron. He traveled by foot or by horse from Tower as often as possible to officiate at Masses, marriages, baptisms and to bury the dead. Not having a permanent church to say Mass, he often held services in a public building or private home. In 1894, Fr. Matt Bilban replaced Msgr. Buh.
On July 29, 1908, guided by Bishop James McGolrick, Msgr. Buh, and Fr. James Hogan along with parish trustees John Kochevar and George Orcutt, the Sacred Heart Parish was incorporated. The first church was constructed on Lot 7, of Mineral Ave. next to the village water tank. The building was a small wood frame structure. Our parish was served by the Buh Mission House, Rev. P.J. Maloney from 1915 to 1919 and replaced by Rev. B. Zuchii in 1922. The Rev. Fr. David Gleason served from 1925 -1928 during which time successful negotiations with the Oliver Iron Mining Company were completed on exchange of land of the old church site to the present one. The basement structure was built in the fall of 1925 and served as the church until 1938. The Rev. M. O’Connor served as pastor from August 1919 to August 1929.
Father John O’Connell arrived at Sacred Heart on September 29, 1929. He had served at the ceremonies during the cornerstone dedication of the church basement in 1925. Father O’Connell became well known in the community for his hard work and aggressive leadership, which brought about the construction of the present church structure and the first rectory. (It has been said that when the basement for the rectory was about to be dug, Father O’Connell approached the high school football team coach for help from the team to dig the basement. The basement was dug in one day.)
Father O’Connell pursued the task of constructing our present church after a fire had partially damaged the basement structure. The Nelson Construction Company hired parishioners and their earnings were returned to the parish to offset the cost of construction. The men of the parish donated all other labor costs. Stephen Bianchi, donated and personally installed all the wiring and electrical equipment for the first rectory. George Guilluame donated with regard to the Sanctuary - kneelers, the altar railing, the confessional, the statue pedestals and most of the original pews. Dedication ceremonies took place on October 23, 1938 with the Most Rev. Bishop Thomas A. Welch officiating and assisted by several Diocesan priests with Father O’Connell as host priest.
The statue of the Sacred Heart was donated by Andrew Babbini. The statue, which is situated between the church and the rectory, is made of genuine Italian marble. It was sculptured in the town of Carera, Italy. Shipping arrangements by boat to New York and then by rail to Mt. Iron were made by Mr. Dave Soderstrom of the Mt. Iron Granite Company. The beautiful sculpture was dedicated on November 14, 1939.
When Father O’Connell was appointed to the Mt. Iron Parish, the Kinney Mission was also assigned to him. Kinney was in desperate need of a church. Construction began in early sprint 1931 and completed in September 1931. Father O’Connell answered the call to serve the Proctor Parish on March 9, 1943, but before he left the church was presented with stained glass windows by a group of parishioners. The windows are a high-grade glass, comparable to quality you would find in leading Cathedrals.
Father Pat McEnery was assigned to the parish on April 7, 1943, followed by Fr. Joseph C. Ryan, Fr. Henry Aschoff, CSSR and Fr. Robert A. Carroll. Fr. Carroll passed away on March 6, 1948 and the Crosier Fathers filled in for a three-month period. Fr. Harry Larkin arrived on June 24, 1948 and left on October 30, 1951 Fr. John T. Mangan then arrived on December 5, 1951. While here, he conducted an “Every Member Parish Fund Appeal” in the spring of 1958 to raise monies for repairs in both the church and the rectory. Along with repairs to the roof, plumbing, and painting of both buildings, the church basement was completely remodeled and kitchen up-dated to provide adequate facilities for church functions. Fr. Mangan left on September 8, and was replaced by Fr. Edward J. Oettiker, who immediately instilled aggressive and energetic leadership into the parish. The first Fall Bazaar was held and has been held every year since. Vatican II was taking place during that year and n numerous changes in the liturgy of the Mass were being introduced. New hymns were introduced and lectors added to the liturgy.
A former parishioner left the church two lots in Costin. Fr. Oettiker was able to exchange the two lots for the much needed land immediately behind the church. With the acquisition of this additional property, plans for a new parsonage were made. During the fall of 1965, several parish meetings were held to discuss a Building Fund Drive. Herbert Pfremmer of Virginia came to a few meetings and lent great assistance in getting the drive started. Mr. Louis Meglen and Mr. Ben Vidmar headed the drive. For three years, this drive, along with other fund raising activities, enabled the church to call for bids for the purpose of construction a new Rectory and Catechetical Center at a price of $55,000. A Finance committee was formed. On March 22, 1968, permission was granted by Most Rev. Bishop Schenk to construct the Rectory and Catechetical Center. The structure is 33 feet by 96 feet with the basement level consisting of 33 feet y 76 feet devoted to the School of Religion. Sunday school classes are still being held in this area, but the high school children go to Holy Spirit for their religious education classes. So successful were the various fund raising functions that this major project was virtually paid upon completion. In 1969, a new Conn Organ, banquet tables and folding chairs. A progressive rehabilitation program on the church was started with paneling of the Sanctuary and behind the statues, painting of the interior and exterior of the building and a new roof on the church. The church also took on a new face-lift in 1975 with the hiring of Jack Henderson Construction and the help of parishioners. The addition of the enclosed entryway was added at a cost of $35,000.
Another remodeling was done in the mid 2000’s when the paneling was removed from the and the sanctuary was painted, the paneling was removed from behind the statues, the opening made larger and they were put on pedestals. New carpeting was also installed.
Fr. Oettiker left the parish on November 11, 1981. Rev. Fr. Rudolph Faith then became the administrator from November 30, 1981 until June 1, 1982. The parish was then cared for by priests from Sacred Heart, Virginia and since July 9, 1997 the church has become a mission parish combining with Sacred Heart, Virginia, and Holy Spirit to become the Catholic Parishes of Virginia and Mt. Iron. Priests who have served the church were Fr. Pat McDowell, Fr. Roland Antus, Fr. David Arnoldt, Fr. Brian Schultz, Fr. John Dolsina, Fr. William Fieder, Fr. Jon Wild, Fr. Lloyd Mudrak, Fr. John O’Donnell, and Senior Associate Fr. John Doyle.