At 100, Holy Family’s Lebanese roots still strong

| September 20, 2018 | 0 Comments

Archbishop John Murray blessed the corner stone of Holy Family Maronite Catholic Church in St. Paul in 1951. The church served the 100-year-old parish until 2009 when the parish moved to its present location in Mendota Heights. Courtesy Holy Family Maronite

Before the turn of the 20th century, Catholic immigrants fleeing persecution in Lebanon were settling in St. Paul, but they had no church of their own.

They were members of the Maronite Church, an eastern rite of the Catholic Church.

They initially worshipped with Roman Catholics at St. Michael on the city’s West Side, but, when Maronite Catholics at St. Maron in Minneapolis offered to share their pastor, they made their own worship space in St. Michael’s basement. For 15 years, that was where St. Paul’s Maronite Catholics celebrated Divine Liturgy.

The old Holy Family Maronite church on Robie Street in St. Paul is now used by an Orthodox community. Courtesy Holy Family Maronite

That changed in 1918, when the Lebanese settlers purchased a former Lutheran church for $2,250 and established Holy Family Maronite Catholic Church in St. Paul. The parish is celebrating its 100th anniversary Oct. 13 at a sold-out event at the InterContinental Hotel in St. Paul. 

The parish of 200 families seems small and tight-knit, which lifelong parishioner Stephen Abbott appreciates. “You go on Sunday and you pretty much know everybody there,” he said. “Whether you’re 90 or 9, you know everyone. That’s pretty cool because you can’t find that everywhere.”

Abbott, 34, hopes to see the parish thrive well into its second century. He worked on a video for the centennial, interviewing parishioners of all ages. He felt inspired by older members’ approach to parish life.

“That was their spiritual, their family [and] their social life,” Abbott said. “They had a simpler life and even tighter community than what we have. I’d like to see us get back to that.”

Holy Family’s pastor, Father — or “Abouna” — Emmanuel Nakhle, said parishioners’ connection to their Lebanese heritage remains strong. Parish office manager Carolyn Marker, whose family goes back to the early years of the parish, agrees, adding that the community’s emphasis on collaboration reflects the spirit of their immigrant ancestors.

After the Lebanese Catholics established their parish, the church building’s maintenance problems soon wore on the community, so they built a second church at the same location in 1950 on East Robie Street in St. Paul. In 2009, Holy Family parishioners moved the parish to its present location, another former Lutheran church, in Mendota Heights to be closer to many parishioners’ homes.

Holy Family has become well known for its fall Lebanese dinner, as well as its Lenten fish fries with Lebanese side dishes. Many other meals, including regular breakfasts after Sunday Masses, mark the calendar.

“Other than the church, this is the busiest room,” Marker said of the social hall. “It’s a great opportunity for people to spend time with each other [and] get to know each other.

Bishop Elisa Zaidan, the eparch of the Maronite Catholic Eparchy of Our Lady of Lebanon of Los Angeles, is expected to attend the parish’s centennial celebration. Holy Family is part of the eparchy, which functions like a diocese in the Maronite Catholic Church.

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