St. Dominic’s sesquicentennial: ‘Dedication to God and the Church’

| January 10, 2019 | 0 Comments

St. Dominic’s church in Northfield built in 1913, pictured at left, served the parish until the mid-1980s when it was torn down to make way for the new church, built in 1986. The original church, dedicated in 1869, was moved from the original site and still exists as a house in the community. The parish celebrates its 150th anniversary this year. COURTESY ST. DOMINIC

As early as 1858, Father Anatole Oster — one of the Diocese of St. Paul’s first priests — traveled more than 30 miles south from St. Peter, Mendota, to celebrate Mass in the homes of Northfield-area Catholics.

Within the next few years, the need for a parish in Northfield became apparent when Immaculate Conception in nearby Faribault couldn’t accommodate the influx of Catholics from the Northfield area.

Father George Keller, the pastor in Faribault, asked three men — Dominic Moes, Patrick Murphy and Robert Halford — to garner support for a new church in Northfield. They led efforts to purchase land at St. Dominic’s present-day site, and construction began in 1867. Bishop Thomas Grace dedicated the church in 1869.

In order to help his parish prepare to celebrate its 150th anniversary in 2019, St. Dominic’s pastor Father Dennis Dempsey mined “A History of Northfield and Dundas Churches,” published in 1952 by parishioner and former Northfield News Editor William F. Schilling. The priest Developed the information into a series of bulletin articles he began running last year.

“As with any parish, our history is one of people whose dedication to God and the Church resulted in significant commitments, in many cases quite extraordinary, of time and energy and finances to erect buildings, provide services, build community and pass on the faith,” Father Dempsey wrote in a June 2018 bulletin article.

Over its history, St. Dominic in Northfield has served a community that includes farmers, college students and Latino immigrants, residents of a growing community first settled by Irish and German immigrants. A parish of 1,270 households with four weekend Masses, including one in Spanish, St. Dominic plans to celebrate its sesquicentennial in August around the time of its patron’s Aug. 8 feast day.

During the parish’s early years, two colleges opened in Northfield — Carleton College in 1866 and St. Olaf College in 1889. St. Dominic has served students, faculty and staff from both institutions since their founding. In the 1890s, Carleton honored St. Dominic’s pastor at the time, Father Tom Gleason, as its commencement speaker.

Father John Pavlin became St. Dominic’s pastor in 1875, and his tenure overlapped with the infamous 1876 Jesse James bank raid in Northfield. The raid didn’t affect the church because of its location in the hills north of downtown. But the parish has a visible presence with food trucks and a float at the community’s annual September celebration of the event, the Defeat of Jesse James Days.

Father Peter Meade, St. Dominic’s longest-serving pastor of 30 years, oversaw the building of a new church in 1913. It was a large Romanesque structure with two large bell towers. In 1927, he opened a school run by the School Sisters of Notre Dame. It was named Rosary School because of St. Dominic’s devotion to the rosary; according to a Dominican tradition, St. Dominic received the rosary from Mary in an apparition in 1214.

Rosary School had almost 200 students in its first year, which included elementary students through high school freshmen. Enrollment hit nearly 300 students in 1959, the year the school’s name changed to St. Dominic School to clarify its relationship to the parish. The school now has 160 students in preschool through eighth grade.

In 1977, St. Dominic became one of few parishes to include a bishop among the vocations fostered by its parish. Bishop Paul Dudley, who grew up attending St. Dominic, was ordained an auxiliary bishop for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis in 1977 and then served the Diocese of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, from 1978 to 1995. He died in 2006.

Continued parish growth led to building a modern-style church in 1986. The change coincided with the increasing diversity of the parish as a Latino community began to form. That community has grown to provide various ministries and cultural celebrations.

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