Your Great Catholic Minnesota Road Trip Print E-mail
By Maria Wiering   
Monday, 02 August 2010
With the onset of August, ‘tis the season to stuff the cooler, pack the car and head off on the open road. Whether you’re heading north, east, west or south, it’s worth straying from the beaten path to check out these Minnesota sites with Catholic connections. Be it beautiful, historic or downright quirky, each one will get you and your road mates talking about the centuries-old relationship between the church and our state.


The Cathedral of St. Paul

239 Selby Ave., St. Paul

With its prominent place in the capital city — both on the skyline and in the guidebooks — you might think one could have enough of the Cathedral of St. Paul. Au contraire! This landmark is worth checking out, even if you’ve been here more times than you can count. Recently given the additional designation as the National Shrine of the Apostle Paul, the Cathedral has free 1 p.m. tours on Monday-Friday. Or, if you explore it on your own, keep an eye out for the Founder’s Chapel and baptistry’s stained glass windows with figures from Minnesota’s Catholic history, and don’t miss the stone in the St. Therese chapel from the tower at Rouen where St. Joan of Arc was held during her 1431 trial.


Father Hennepin Memorial

88 17th St. N., Minneapolis

Stop near the front steps of the Basilica of St. Mary for a good look at a copper statue of Father Louis Hennepin, a Belgian missionary priest and explorer credited with naming St. Anthony Falls. He found himself in Minnesota after Sioux American Indians captured him and and took him up the Mississippi River. The Knights of Columbus dedicated this statue in 1930, honoring the 250th anniversary of the Franciscan priest christening the falls, which can be viewed from downtown Minneapolis.

Did you know? Father Hennepin’s fame spreads across the northern U.S-Canada border, and he is credited with “discovering” Niagara Falls. The Belgian-style Ommegang Brewery in upstate New York even named a saison ale after him.


Old Crookston Cathedral

N. Ash St. at 2nd Ave., Crookston

It may be remembered by locals as the former Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, but its intrigue also lies in a unique architectural component: It has three spires atop its neo-gothic facade. In a world where most churches of this style only have two towers, architect Bert Keck gave several northern Minnesota churches three. The 1912 church is one of only three still standing in Minnesota — the others are in Duluth and Terrebonne. (Unfortunately, none are used as Catholic churches today.) It’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Did you know? Father Hennepin’s fame spreads across the northern U.S-Canada border, and he is credited with “discovering” Niagara Falls. The Belgian-style Ommegang Brewery in upstate New York even named a saison ale after him.


Fort St. Charles

Magnuson’s Island, Lake of the Woods

Located in Minnesota’s Northwest Angle — that piece of land in that funny geographic knob at the top of the state — Fort St. Charles has been called the resting place of “Minnesota’s forgotten martyr.” In 1736, Sioux American Indians beheaded missionary Jesuit priest Jean Pierre Aulneau and the 19 men he accompanied. They are buried at the fort. In 1949-51, the Knights of Columbus built a shrine for the priest.

Did you know? Built in 1732 (the same year George Washington was born), the site’s importance as a fur trading post extends beyond Father Aulneau. Fort St. Charles is also only one of three French forts found in Minnesota established before 1763, when Spain received the Louisiana Territory from the French after the French and Indian War. (France got the territory back in 1800.)


Father Baraga’s Cross

Off Highway 61, near Tofte

The concrete cross that overlooks Lake Superior today is not the same cross that missionary priest Father Frederic Baraga nailed to a tree stump in August 1843, but it gives the same praise to God as did the original. The priest had set sail from Madeline Island (part of the Apostle Islands) in Wisconsin when a storm hit and nearly capsized his small craft.

When he and his crew made it to shore unscathed, he marked the spot with a wooden cross, which he inscribed: “In commemoration of the goodness of Almighty God in granting to the Reverend F. R. Baraga, missionary, a safe traverse from La Pointe to this place, August, 1843.” Father Baraga was ordained a bishop in 1853.


Grasshopper Chapel

Off Highway 23 and Chapel Hill Road, Cold Spring

It’s technically Assumption Chapel, but that’s not how locals know it. When swarms of Rocky Mountain grasshoppers suddenly plagued the area in April 1877 by eating the crops and laying eggs to ensure future pestilence, the people of the Cold Spring area promised the Virgin Mary that they would honor her with a chapel and 15 years of devotion if she interceded for the infestation to end.

As the story goes, the grasshoppers were gone the next day. The people built a wooden chapel in a hill between two parishes, but a tornado destroyed it in 1894. The present granite chapel was constructed in 1951.

Did you know? On Aug. 15, the solemnity of the Assumption, St. Gertrude in Forest City is hosting a 20-mile “Pedal Pilgrimage” to the Grasshopper Chapel. To register, visit


St. Urho statue

Along Hwy. 71, Menahga

He’s not a Catholic saint — in fact, he’s not a saint at all — but the folklorish St. Urho and his legend can credit Catholics for their founding. Inspired by the St. Patrick festivities celebrated by the area’s Catholics, those of Finnish heritage in Menahga created St. Urho’s Day — which they celebrated on March 16. Just as St. Patrick is known for driving the snakes from Ireland, St. Urho (pronounced “oorho”) drove the grasshoppers from Finland. His fabricated legend can be read on a plaque under a 12-foot-tall fiberglass statue of the “saint” pitchforking a grasshopper.


Old Jesuit Mission

43 Upper Road, Grand Portage

Built in 1865, Holy Rosary is the oldest existing log church in Minnesota. However, its history predates the current building by more than 130 years. The first Jesuit missionaries were in the area in 1731; among them was Father Aulneau, who was later killed at Fort St. Charles (see No. 4). At first, these Jesuits accompanied French fur traders as they portaged their canoes from Lake Superior to the Pigeon River; later, they would spend long periods of time in Grand Portage ministering to the Chippewa.

In 1842, a chapel was built under the direction of Father Francis Xavier Pierz, but it never was finished. More than 20 years later, Father Dominique du Ranquet built and consecrated Our Lady of the Holy Rosary Church, the mission’s first permanent church structure. The log structure stands today, but it is covered with siding. The Jesuits served the area until 1905. Today, its parishioners are served by the parish of St. John in Grand Marais.


Stella Maris Chapel

St. John’s University, Collegeville

Recently renovated, the Stella Maris Chapel has long been part of the picturesque view across Lake Sagatagan enjoyed by those at St. John’s University. The Benedictine monks built the chapel in 1872 and named it to honor Mary, “Star of the Sea.” At the time, the land was an island, although today it sits on a peninsula.

The first chapel burned in 1903, was rebuilt in 1915, and has been renovated three times, in 1943, 1989 and 2007. During its 1915 construction, dog sleds transported building materials across the frozen lake. With its share of lore surrounding its history, the chapel is a popular walking destination for students and St. John’s visitors; Mass is celebrated there twice a year.

Did you know? St. John’s Abbey Church has an impressive reliquary in its crypt, which includes the body of St. Peregrine, a Roman boy martyred in the second century.


Way of the Cross

1324 5th North St., New Ulm

In 1903-04, sisters of the Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ pushed wheelbarrows of cobblestones up Loretto Hill in New Ulm to be used in the construction of an outdoor Way of the Cross. The fruits of their work — 14 stations, a grotto and a chapel — offer respite and meditation to visitors today. At the time the Way of the Cross was constructed, the sisters owned and managed Loretto Hospital, which is now New Ulm Medical Center and adjacent to the shrine. Each station features a Bavarian statuary tableau encased in a small brick structure.

Did you know? Father Alexander Berghold was an important missionary for the New Ulm area and instrumental in the Way of the Cross’ construction. He founded several parishes, a hospital and the area’s Catholic school system. A statue in his honor stands near the entrance to the Way of the Cross.


St. Stanislaus Kostka

626 E. 4th St, Winona

With its red brick octagonal exterior supporting a tall, central white cupola, the striking design of St. Stanislaus Kostka paired with its Polish heritage make it an attractive stop for area tourists. The church was built in 1894-95, and it survived a powerful lightning strike in June 1966.

The steeple of the church is the highest point on the Winona cityscape. Because of its visibility, it’s often mistaken for the diocese’s cathedral. Parishioners at St. Stanislaus Kostka are working to have the Holy See declare it a minor basilica.

Photos courtesy of Holy Rosary Catholic Church, Grand Portage; Crookston Area Chamber of Commerce; Basilica of St. Mary, Minneapolis; Lake of the Woods Tourism; Mel Lockhart Photography, Menahga; St. John’s University, Collegeville; The Prairie Catholic, New Ulm; St. Stanislaus Kostka, Winona; Dianne Towalski, The Catholic Spirit; and Dave Hrbacek, The Catholic Spirit.