St Joseph Parish (of mainly Irish and German decent) was founded in 1891, with Fr Patrick Kiernan the first pastor (1891-1923), and is believed to be the first parish established and the first church built under the episcopate of Bishop Cotter within the newly formed Diocese of Winona (1888). The original edifice soon became too small for the growing congregation; plans for a new, larger structure were greatly hastened when the white framed church, with its towering spire, was struck by lightning and burned down on December 23, 1927. The present building, located 9 blocks south of the original, was dedicated in November 1929, and was inspired by Fr Herman McKenna, pastor (’23-’48) responsible for its design and furnishings. Architecturally, the church is early Christian Romanesque of the 5th-6th centuries; it is of light buff brick with a cream ledge, Mankato stone steps, and multi-colored tile roof. The interior contains over 192 Christian symbols depicting our faith, and is best known for artwork which ranks among the most outstanding ecclesiastical art in Minnesota. A 2,000 square foot mural adorns the sanctuary dome depicting the Trinity, and includes figures and symbols that embody the foundation and belief of the Catholic Faith. The 20 lower stained glass windows (considered irreplaceable because of the quality of glass, craftsmanship, and intricacy of design) depict the progress of Christianity century by century, with each window featuring an outstanding Catholic, mostly saints, of that period.
In January 1952 the neighboring parish of St Hyacinth was closed and that congregation (of mainly Polish decent) was invited to merge with St Joseph Parish, under the pastoral leadership of Fr (Msgr) Henry Speck (‘52-‘76). Although saddened to leave their building, the two congregations made the difficult adjustment. The combined traditions of the two parishes brought about a faith community that is vital, strong, generous, and loving. Since 2012 St Joseph Parish has been clustered with the parishes of Christ the King, Medford, and Corpus Christi, Deerfield, all under the pastoral care of Fr Edward McGrath.
Music and choirs have always been a strong tradition at St Joseph Parish. From the long-familiar high and low Masses in Latin, bolstered by the glorious sounds from the Kilgen pipe organ (played by Mrs. Cornelius (Alice) Campion from 1923 to 1947) which was installed in 1929 and still in use today, music made the transition with the times. Today parishioners can sing praise in a variety of styles from traditional to modern.
Women’s organizations, past and present, have made tremendous contributions to the parish. For many years they operated a dining hall at the Steele County Fair, using the proceeds to pay the interest on the church debt. The major emphasis of their work is now directed toward charitable efforts, along with the men of the Knights of Columbus Council 945 which was chartered in 1904. St Joseph Parish has also been instrumental in its support of Hospitality House, the home for homeless men, and many other local good works.
Throughout the years change respected the integrity of the architecture. The Communion rail, an extension of the high altar for distribution of Communion, was removed and a smaller altar of sacrifice was installed so the priest could face the congregation during Mass. An area in front of the congregation was opened up so the choir could lead from either the loft or the front of church. The original sound system (installed in 1948 under Fr Frank McMahon ’48-’52) saw several updates, the latest being in 2010. Besides the removal of the Communion rail, ‘excessive’ statuary was also removed. However, in September 2007 ‘The Sorrowful Mother’ and ‘St John’ statues, scratches and dings patched, paint touchup as necessary, and new protective coating applied, were returned to their prominent positions at the foot of the Cross over the main altar, to the delight of all the parishioners who have missed them dearly since 1963. Many restoration efforts were accomplished by parishioner volunteers.
Under Msgr Emmett Tighe’s pastorate (’76-’84) the church was redecorated and rejuvenated both inside and out. Other changes to the church occurred: 1990 (under Fr James McCauley ’84-’94) saw the addition of an elevator, easing access for the handicapped and elderly from Nazareth Hall (church lower level) to the main floor; the 2004 large addition (under Fr Thomas Hargesheimer’s direction ’94-2004) of the new Joseph Hall, with new kitchen and office spaces (on the west side of the church), and the new gathering area (located between the previously exterior walls of the rectory and church); the 2010 addition of the ‘Adoration Chapel of the Most Holy Cross’ and the pastor’s garage was accomplished during the pastoral leadership of Fr Edward McGrath ’04-present.
Since its inception in 1891, St Joseph Parish has grown from 80 families to approximately 1100 families. These families vary in their heritage, traditions, cultures, and values; knitted together they form a special church that reaches beyond the confines of a mere building, reaching out to and into the community at large: the Church of God.