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St. Mary’s Church in New Trier has been reaching out to Catholics for more than 150 year

Editor’s note: Information for this story is from church records and from Edward Neill’s book “History of Dakota County” and is part of an occasional series on the history of churches in the area.

Begun in a family’s home, then holding Mass in a small log building,  St. Mary’s Catholic Church in New Trier has reached out to Catholics for more than 150 years.  

When the area west of the Mississippi River opened for white settlement as a result of the 1851 treaties, the first Catholic pioneer families in the area began to arrive in the middle of 1850’s, followed by expanding numbers in the next years

Due to the initiative of the settlers, they obtained a priest on a part-time basis after they sent John J. Fuchs to visit Bishop Cretin in St. Paul with their request. Father George Keller from the Order of Saint Benedict offered Mass in the Fox home in May 1856 and also baptized several children.  

The first religious services held in the village of New Trier were at the house of Eugene Thein in the fall of 1855. Father George Keller the following summer organized a parish and built the first Church in Hampton Township. This was a small log building, which was afterward used as a parsonage, until it was destroyed by fire.

A frame chapel/church seating approximately 200 people was later constructed near where the present church stands.

Rev. John Bayer placed the cornerstone for a new limestone church on Ascension Thursday, May 5, 1864. This cornerstone can be seen above the present vestibule entrance doors and reads “Maria Schutz Kirche,” translated to mean “Mary Protector Church.”

Through the years as the stone church became too small, the wood frame chapel, which was still nearby, was moved next to the stone church to accommodate the growing parish. This continued until 1909 when Father Peter Stubinitsky made plans for the present brick church. While this new church was being built, the people attended Mass upstairs in the school for several years.

The church is considered commanding due to the Beaux Art Classic Style as designed by Architect Paul Ries of Saint Paul; its design, which suggest architectural ties to churches in Germany; and its association with the heritage of much of Dakota County. The cornerstone of the 1864 stone church was incorporated into the new building, and the statue of the Virgin Mary and Child enshrined over the main door, having been donated in the last century (cast in 1862). The church was entered on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980 by the United States Department of the Interior.

In preparation for the parish centennial in 1956, Father Nicholas Gillen supervised an extensive renovation, which included the following: the Communion rail was moved below the steps so it was easier for everyone to receive Holy Communion; the floors were refinished and the tiling was added in the sanctuary and the aisles; the walls and statues were repainted; from February to June 1956 the church hall was extensively renovated with new concrete floor, restrooms installed and a modern new kitchen was built.

As the men from the parish worked on the hall project, the statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary was uncovered under the old stage area. This statue was donated by the John J. Fuchs family for the stone Church and had been put there for safekeeping and forgotten. After this statue was repainted, it received a prominent place in the hall until renovations in 1977 when it was put in the arch-window above the main entrance.

Supervised by Father Marvin Klaers and the parish council another renovation began in 1976 and lasted for more than a year. At this time the church received a whole new look. The outside was tuck-pointed, cleaned and glazed to bring back the original color of the outer walls. The white brick encasement of the original concrete supports were replaced to accent the beauty of the red brick. The entrance of the church was changed so that worshipers could enter the hall without going outside.

In 1980 the ceiling plaster was removed and replastered. The entire church and all the statues were repainted. In 1989 a former parishioner donated the money to clean and gold leaf the altars to their original beauty.

On June 25, 2006, St. Mary’s Church celebrated its 150th Anniversary (1856 - 2006) with a Mass of Thanksgiving celebrated by Archbishop Harry Flynn, followed by a German dinner and a day of events.

Other projects that have been completed in recent years are: the window frames around the stained glass windows were stripped, stained and varnished; handicap lift installed and completed; confessional renovated and made sound proof; and an addition of handicap parking area.