St. Mathias Parish turns 125 years old

It is one of the oldest parishes in the Duluth Diocese

By Tina Snell, Staff Writer

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St. Mathias Catholic Church and parish will be celebrating its 125th anniversary June 24, in conjunction with  the church’s annual bazaar. Bishop Paul Sirba will say Mass at 10 a.m. and following will be a chicken and ham dinner, games, country store, raffle and more. For the anniversary, a new booth will be present showing the history of the parish with many pictures and a possible video.

The St. Mathias Church at the current location, built in 1905.

“The church is very active with 235 families,” said church historian Mary Sather. “We are growing, welcoming many new families with lots of kids. About 100 children attend religion education each week.”

St. Mathias parish was started in the Crow Wing settlement in about 1868, when the French began settling the area. It was the site of the first Catholic church in Crow Wing County and is one of the oldest parishes in the Duluth Diocese. . The area was growing in anticipation of the railroad coming through. When officials decided Brainerd was a better idea for the railroad, the settlement of Crow Wing  died and the church closed in about 1879.

After the French, the Germans began settling the area. It is said each kept to themselves and were even buried in different sections of the parish cemetery, sat on different sides of the church and lived in different areas of the parish.

St. Mathias Parish will be celebrating its 125th anniversary June 24, with a Mass said by Bishop Paul Sirba in conjunction with the church’s annual bazaar. Pictured are (from left): Gloria Koering, whose father-in-law John Koering helped build the current church in the 1920s, church historian Mary Sather, Leonard Koering whose father Herman helped build the church, and Carleen Koering. Also pictured are two of the 14 hand-painted Stations of the Cross donated from the Netherlands. The restoration group from the Art Institute in Minneapolis said the paintings were done by two or three artists from 1870 - 1910.

It wasn’t until 1887 that Monsignor Joseph Buh came to the area east of the Mississippi River and began saying Mass in the homes of the French settlers.

The land for the first church in St. Mathias Township was donated by Gideon Matte and the parcel included space for the cemetery. A frame church was constructed under the guidance of Father Ganeau and the labor and materials came from the parishioners.

The first recorded baptism was Matte’s daughter Eva in 1890. The first marriage was also in 1890, between William Pfeiffer and Susanna Miller. In 1896, First Communion was offered for the first time and the first confirmation class was taken.

Father E. Bossus, the first resident pastor in 1905, built the first rectory. Next came Father Lamy who erected a steeple, a sacristy and added two galleries to accommodate the increasing number of people coming to church.

In 1918, there were 57 families attending St. Mathias Catholic Church.

Father John Tertooden became the pastor in 1920, when there were 75 families. He was instrumental in building the new church. The decision came about when 62 people were confirmed in 1923 and the church was just too small to handle all the people.

The basement was started in December 1923, when the earth was hard. Dynamite was used to blow a hole in the ground to facilitate the removal of the dirt. Horses were then used to drag slush buckets through the dirt, then dump them outside the basement area.

“It was going to be 80 feet long, but when that was dug, the workers didn’t think it was big enough, so they added another 20 feet to the length of the church,” said Leonard Koering, whose father Herman helped build the church.

The first Mass was held in the new church in 1928.

In 1943, the wooden bridge that spanned the Mississippi River near the Nokasippi River, was washed away due to ice jams. For many years a ferry took people back and forth across the river to the St. Mathias Church. The bridge was never rebuilt due to Camp Ripley expansion.

Today, the parishioners of St. Mathias Catholic Church are very proud of their parish. There are about 235 families who are members now, and the membership continues to grow.

Everyone is invited to celebrate the 125th anniversary of St. Mathias Catholic Church, located at 4529 County Road 121, Fort Ripley, in southwestern Crow Wing County.

For more information, to donate pictures or stories about the parish or to help during the bazaar, call Sather at (218) 828-1989.