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Looking back on the history of St. Joseph’s

by Jane Lightbourn • Staff writer

More than 150 years ago, it began – the desire to have a Catholic church serve Miesville and the area. Today, St. Joseph Catholic Church continues to be right at the center of the community reaching out with God’s word to parishioners and the area.

In 1856, Joseph Fox walked to St. Paul to ask Bishop Cretin for a Catholic priest to baptize area children, hear confessions and distribute Holy Communion. At that time people had to walk or ride horses to New Trier for Mass.

St. Joseph’s Church of Douglas was founded in the spring of 1873 as a mission of St. Boniface Parish in Hastings by Bishop Grace. The Rev. George Scherer, Order of St. Benedict, was the first pastor. He came to Miesville every second Sunday to say Mass. In 1882 the parish was incorporated, and pastors continued to come from Hastings; then the presiding pastors came from New Trier. The original church, built in 1873, was torn down in 1908.

The present church was erected in 1907, but struck by lightning on August 27, 1913. All that remained from the resulting fire were the brick walls. The church was rebuilt, and dedicated Oct. 25, 1914.

The church had the benefit of having many priests who were not pastors helping in the parish over the years. When Father Duhr was dying of cancer in 1946, a recently-ordained priest, the Rev. James Shannon, was sent to St. Joseph’s. He would later become an auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese. In his autobiography he mentioned how happy he was here. Unfortunately, he was not told to refrain from drinking the water from the cistern, and became ill, remaining so almost until unto death. The Rev. Chester Cappuci from the Red Wing Training School helped at the parish. Bishop Ham lived in the rectory with his housekeeper Maria Elena from 1984 until 1990. He often said Mass at the church, and both were important members of the community.

In July of 1991, the Rev. Mike O’Connor arrived with his housekeeper Marie Lorenz. “Father Mike” became the priest in residence.

The church was also fortunate to have the Siebenaler brothers – all priests, Martin, John, Leonard – who often helped at the parish.

They grew up on a farm outside New Trier. Father John lived in an apartment in the convent before moving to Hastings, and has said many Masses at St. Joseph’s. Father Martin also occasionally helps. For several years, Father Leonard alternated saying Mass every other weekend with the Rev. Jay Kythe.

New construction

One of the major highlights in the church’s history was the construction of the parish hall.

Church members did not want to change the inside of the historic church, but a major concern was the kitchen —ensuring its use for large parish activities. The issue was resolved, and on March 25, 2002, excavation finally started.

The new space was dedicated Dec. 22, 2002. The Rev. Ralph Huar had finished the decorating of the new space, and had a vision for extensive landscaping around the church, so the beautiful gardens were planted. The parish hall has been used for wedding receptions, Boy Scouts’ Court of Honor ceremonies, anniversary dinners, birthday parties, many pancake breakfasts, St. Patrick’s Day dinners, Cana dinners, vacation Bible school events, visitations and funeral dinners.

In recent years another tradition – the live nativity – has returned to the church’s Christmas season. Church members have volunteered their time to the event which to many symbolizes the start of the Christmas season.

In addition to the Miesville area, the church draws worshipers from surrounding communities, people drawn to the beautiful building and, more importantly, its religious messages.