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St. John the Baptist Church celebrates 100 years in its building

The artwork near the altar at St. John the Baptist Catholic church in Vermillion has been maintained and restored through the years. The church will be celebrating 100 years in its building on Sunday, Oct. 26. Star Gazette photo by Jane Lightbourn

When the Rev. Antony Kaesen was sent to St. John the Baptist parish in Vermillion in July 1911, his mission was clear – build a new church.

And he did.

Now, the 100th anniversary of the building of St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Vermillion will be celebrated by the parish and the community Sunday, Oct. 26.

Mass, with the children participating, will be celebrated with Bishop Andrew Cozzens at 10 a.m., followed by the annual sausage supper. Church tours will be held immediately following Mass, and at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. A historical display can be viewed throughout the day in the church, and St. Anne’s Council of Catholic Women (CCW) will be selling “Jubilee Jars.”

The Jubilee Jars will contain candy, homemade items and other fun, creative items for children and adults. The jars will be sold for $3 each or two for $5. Proceeds will be used service projects to benefit the parish and community.

Recognition of the longest baptized church member and the longest married (in the church) couple will be recognized before the Mass.

When Kaesen arrived in the small community, his impact, in his Warren-Detroit car, would soon be felt. It would continue for years.

The parishioners built a garage for the car, demonstrating a cooperative spirit that would always be present between the church, pastor and parishioners.

The parish was in sound financial condition at the time, with almost $8,000 in reserve. Some was used to repair the rectory, but none was designated for the church building.

Kaesen had been sent to build a church, but nothing was said or done for 18 months. Then on Christmas Day, 1913, after Mass, the parish held its first meeting to discuss construction of a new church. As he began the discussion, all Kaesen said was, “House of God, Gate to Heaven.”

After considerable discussion, the parishioners approved construction of a building that would seat 500 and cost $30,000. It would be built on the north side of Main Street on property donated by Aloys and Christina Girgen. Initially there was some opposition to the location, but Archbishop Ireland made the decision of construction on the Girgen property.

Valentine Cordella of Minneapolis was hired as the architect and the contractor was Edward Hirt of St. Cloud. Excavation began April 27, 1913. During construction, 1,000 loads of gravel and 700 loads of sand and brick were delivered to the site.

The cornerstone was laid Sept. 14, 1913. More than 2,000 attended. Dinner was served to more than 1,000.

On Aug. 13, 1914, the new $975 bell (purchased by the Christian Mothers) was blessed. It weighed more than 2,600 pounds.

The St. John’s Men Society bought a statue of St. John the Baptist and placed it in the niche in front of the church tower. Kaesen’s love of angels is shown throughout the church’s décor.

The new church was blessed and dedicated Aug. 30, 1914. During the ceremony, Kaesen carried the Blessed Sacrament from the old church to the new one. The Hastings Brass Band provided the music and about 3,000 were in attendance.

Despite some financial concerns expressed at the start of construction, the church debt was paid off in the next six years.