Century-old parishioner reflects on St. Boniface before its 160th anniversary

| May 24, 2018 | 0 Comments

From left, Bernie Mulvihill, Evelyn Zukowski and Margaret Erickson have nearly 300 combined years of history at St. Boniface in Minneapolis. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

At age 99, Margaret Erickson, aka Margie, remembers well the church basement at St. Boniface in Minneapolis, where she went to Mass as a child with her family. The church had yet to be constructed, but its basement had been dug and finished as a temporary place to receive the sacraments.

St. Boniface in northeast Minneapolis is celebrating its 160th anniversary June 3. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

“It was spooky. A lot of the kids called it ‘the dungeon,’” Erickson said. “It wasn’t a church. It was a roof over the basement.”

When Erickson was born in 1918, St. Boniface had been in what historians have described as a 29-year building process, drawn out due to concurrent projects such as a convent and rectory. The previous church, built in 1874, had been demolished in 1899, and the new church was planned on a new site, its present location at 629 Second St. NE. The 1,000-seat, Byzantine-style church was finally completed in 1928 when Erickson was 11. According to the parish website, construction debts were paid shortly thereafter, despite the economic depression.

St. Boniface will celebrate its 160th anniversary June 3, just one day after Erickson, a lifelong parishioner, turns 100. The parish will honor her and several nonagenarians at the event, which will include 10:30 a.m. Mass celebrated by Archbishop Bernard Hebda.

It will make for a busy weekend for Erickson, who has four children, 10 grandchildren, 10 great-grandchildren and three great-great-grandchildren. She will have a 100th birthday party with family and cap the weekend with her two living siblings — fellow St. Boniface parishioners Bernie Mulvihill, 98, and Evelyn Zukowski, 97 — at Sunday night dinner, a family tradition spanning 30 years. All three siblings received the sacraments of baptism, first reconciliation, first Communion and confirmation at St. Boniface.

Living at an independent living senior home in Minneapolis, Erickson, whose maiden name was Mulvihill, still attends Mass at St. Boniface each Sunday. She has been with the parish for almost two thirds of its existence, and she has seen it respond to the changes of society and Minneapolis’ northeast side.

St. Boniface was founded in 1858, the year Minnesota became a state, to serve German-speaking immigrant Catholics who settled in northeast Minneapolis. With the exception of the decade immediately following the Civil War, the parish was served by Benedictine priests from St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville from its founding until 1998, when priests of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis assumed leadership. Its parochial administrator is Father Biju Mathew.

Erickson’s mother was born and raised in the parish, and Erickson’s father grew up attending the nearby German parish St. Anthony of Padua, now merged with Holy Cross. They married and raised their children just blocks from St. Boniface, with the family attending the parish and sending their children to the parish school.

The family walked to Mass no matter the weather, Erickson recalled. She had one dress designated for Mass that she would always wear.

The basement at St. Boniface had small windows, but, she said, it still felt like a church with a Communion rail, which is still there. She remembers her childhood pastor as a warm and caring priest and the great care given to the Eucharist at Mass.

”The biggest change that I can remember is how Communion was distributed,” Erickson said, speaking of changes in approved methods of Communion reception after the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s. “We were taught that nobody touches the host.”

She also recalled that lay women couldn’t go in the sanctuary of the church, but Erickson was an exception, as she helped the Sisters of Christian Charity, who served the parish and its school, change the altar cloths on Saturdays.

First Communion, which Erickson made at age 6, was a private affair instead of a large celebration. At the parish school, she enjoyed learning math and English; her favorite art project was making embroidered pillowcases. The school day included Mass each morning, which meant waiting until after Mass for breakfast. “At that time, you couldn’t eat or drink anything after midnight,” Erickson said.

She was confirmed in sixth grade, and a bishop celebrated the sacrament at St. Boniface. Instead of having an individual sponsor, one sponsor represented the confirmands’ whole class.

After completing eighth grade at St. Boniface, Erickson went to Thomas Edison High School in Minneapolis, which had opened in 1922. Erickson continued to attend Mass with her family throughout high school, but at the time, she didn’t see a place for her to be involved in parish life outside of Mass. She said that people of the parish were connected with each other, but the parish didn’t organize events for young people as many do today.

After high school, Erickson worked as a waitress and met a man she would marry civilly in 1940. They had four children, whom she raised in the parish, walking with them to Mass each Sunday just as she did as a child. In 1962, her husband left the family and never returned. After his departure, she consulted Benedictine Father Omar Maus, who served the parish, and she received the sacrament of reconciliation for the first time in years, a turning point in her involvement at St. Boniface, she said. Over the years, Erickson was part of different parish activities such as the Christian Mothers’ Club, Christmas fair and funeral ministry.

Erickson’s children didn’t attend St. Boniface’s school — which, in 1969, consolidated with other parish schools to form Northeast Regional Catholic School (which became St. John Paul II Catholic Preparatory School in 2003) — but Sunday Mass and religious education at nearby Sts. Cyril and Methodius were spiritual staples in their upbringing. A few of her children have remained in the area, and four of her grandchildren have been baptized at St. Boniface.

While other parishes in northeast Minneapolis have clustered or merged, St. Boniface has remained independent, and it is currently home to Minneapolis’ French-speaking Catholic community. According to the parish, its membership is 175 households.

With the rest of the parish, she is looking forward to celebrating the parish milestone, as well as her own.

“I never dreamed it,” Erickson said of her life. “I saw a lot of changes. I don’t know where the time went.”

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