Having withstood wind and fire, Shakopee church marks 150 years

| November 30, 2018 | 0 Comments

St. Mark church in Shakopee underwent renovations in the 2000s — twice. In 2005, a fire broke out in the church during a renovation project, decimating the inside of the sanctuary. The damage was repaired, and the church continues to serve Catholics in the Shakopee area as it marks its 150th anniversary.

“The people rallied to campaign to fund the renovations that were happening, and then, the fire took place four weeks before we were going to be back into the church,” said Diane Marek, who served as the church’s business administrator at the time. “But the people rallied around and supported the church and couldn’t wait to get back in.”

St. Mark in Shakopee pictured in 1956. The German Gothic church celebrates its 150th anniversary Dec. 8 with Archbishop Bernard Hebda celebrating Mass. St. Mark is now part of Sts. Joachim and Anne parish in Shakopee. Courtesy Sts. Joachim and Anne

St. Mark’s anniversary will be celebrated Dec. 8 with Archbishop Bernard Hebda celebrating the 9:30 a.m. Mass. The German Gothic-style church is one of three church sites comprising the parish Sts. Joachim and Anne in Shakopee.

“The [church’s] history is very rich,” said Father Erik Lundgren, parochial administrator of Sts. Joachim and Anne. Founded by German settlers and long known serving that community, St. Mark in the early 2000s also became home to a vibrant Latino community.

Parishioners continue to celebrate the church’s heritage with JuliFest in the summer and Winter Fest in the winter, both with German music and food. The church also hosts an annual passion play, “The Passion of Jesus in Music, Word and Light,” which is based on the “The Passion Play” in Oberammergau, Germany.

German settlers came to the Shakopee area in the mid-1800s. The first known Mass in Shakopee was celebrated at Anton Entrup’s home in 1856 by a Father George Keller, pastor of Assumption in St. Paul. The priest encouraged the people to work with the then-Diocese of St. Paul to establish a parish.

Construction for the first St. Mark church began in 1856. Father John Mehlmann became the first pastor of St. Mark that year, but Benedictine priests arrived the following year to run the parish.

That Benedictine connection led to Shakopee becoming a temporary site of St. John’s University, now in Collegeville, due to a legal dispute over a land grant in Collegeville, and the Benedictines began construction on an abbey church nearby. When the order won the Collegeville land in court, the abbot abandoned the abbey church project.

“After the church was built up that high [six feet], the walls and foundations remained physically in a stagnant place,” said Father Bill Stolzman, who served as pastor of St. Mark from 1994 to 2008 and who has studied the parish’s history.

That foundation became a refuge for settlers to hide during the Sioux Outbreak of the Dakota War in 1862. They placed a cannon, their only artillery, where the high altar would have been, Father Stolzman said. They never needed the weapon, however, as the conflict never progressed closer to Shakopee than Belle Plaine.

When the parish needed a bigger church than the original built in 1856, the parish used that abbey foundation to build the present church in 1868. In 1901, it became the first place in Shakopee with electricity.

“That really became a spearhead in terms of introducing electricity into the community,” Father Stolzman said.

Father Mathias Savs, who served as pastor from 1917 to 1944, brought St. Mark’s large stained-glass windows from Austria in 1922. A native Austrian, he had connections with Emperor Franz-Josef and learned of the windows from plans the emperor had in mind for a family chapel. Father Savs negotiated with Josef to obtain the windows, which are still in the church.

Three years later, a tornado struck St. Mark, dislodging its cross and parts of the roof. Insurance covered the damages.

St. Mark parishioners added a German-speaking school in the 1930s. It later became an English-speaking school. In 1971, it merged with the other Shakopee-area Catholic schools.

St. Mark later began moving toward becoming one parish with St. Mary in Shakopee and St. Mary of the Purification in nearby Marystown. Father Stolzman said it took a lot of communication to bring three different parishes together before merging to become Sts. Joachim and Anne in 2013.

It also took community cooperation to repair damage at St. Mark after the 2005 fire. Firefighters from 13 different stations put out the blaze, which was caused by chemical combustion.

And parishioners helped with repairs, including local carpenter Mike Menke, who rebuilt a side altar. Menke’s work was an “incredible labor of love,” Father Lundgren said.

The post-fire renovations also revealed some of the church’s rich history, Father Stolzman said.

“The fire actually became the opportunity for peeling back all of these layers of paint that were in the church to go back to its original mosaics and statues,” he said.

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