Catholic Faith Community in the Diocese of St. Cloud
Saint Mary's Parish was founded in 1855 by Fr. Francis Xavier Pierz with German settlers who had moved to this area. He bought an entire block of land for $500. On May 21, 1855, he said Mass in the log home of John and Catherina (Rengel) Schwarz. Here, plans were made for the organization of the parish, including the building of a church and school.
Our history is closely connected to the history of the Benedictines at Saint John's Abbey in Collegeville and Saint Benedict Monastery in Saint Joseph. Monks from Pennsylvania were given land by King Ludwig of Bavaria. One year after the establishment of the parish in 1856, a Benedictine priest from Saint John's became the first pastor of the small, wood-frame, "L-shaped" style Saint Mary's church/school located across the street from the present parish office on Eighth Avenue.
In 1857, Benedictine nuns from Pennsylvania arrived unannounced in Saint Cloud to start a school. They lived in the spare attic space of a parishioner until John Tenvoorde rented his "entertainment center" to them to use as a convent temporarily. However, after six years of hardship, having no place of their own, the fear of grasshopper invasions, and Indian uprisings, they moved to the Benedictine mother house that had been established in Saint Joseph. After two years they returned and with organizational problems solved, set about to continue with the Saint Mary's parish school, the first school in Stearns County.
The congregation grew so rapidly that in 1864 a new gothic-style church was built on Saint Germain Street and Ninth Avenue. A large rectory was built in 1868 for priests who served the parish. It was located in the area of the Cathedral Garden on the north side of the church. Education was always part of the history of Saint Mary's. In 1896 the third school was dedicated. It stands today; the tallest part of the Saint Mary's School building is the original.
The parish continued to grow at a rapid pace with the city. In 1916 a huge, four-floor parish center was built, called Saint Mary's Institute, complete with bowling lanes and swimming pool. It stood on Eighth Avenue across from the church, behind the Netgain Building. On a beautiful summer day in 1920, the gothic-style church caught fire and burned to the ground in a fire so hot the tower bells melted and dripped down the steeple. A few items were saved, but the building was completely lost.
In 1922 Fr. Luke Fink OSB traveled to Italy to attend the Eucharistic Congress. He returned with plans to model the new Saint Mary's Church after a fifth-century basilica in Ravenna, Italy. The construction of the new church began in 1922. When the basement was finished, it provided a space for worship. The upper church was completed in 1931 during the depression. Great love and sacrifice was shown by the members of the parish to build such a beautiful church at a time when so many had so little.
At about this time, in 1933, Holy Angels Church, the Cathedral of the Diocese, burned to the ground. It was rebuilt, but not to its former beauty. In 1937, by decree of the Holy Father, Saint Mary's Church became Saint Mary's Cathedral. The Bishop's chair, or cathedra, became a part of Saint Mary's Church, making it the Cathedral. The operation of the parish was assumed by the Diocese. The Benedictine priests moved to the east side of Saint Cloud to staff Saint Augustine Church. Eight diocesan priests came to staff the Cathedral.
The residence for the priests located behind the convent was in poor condition. In 1947 it was demolished. The sisters moved into the two upper floors of the Saint Mary's Institute building across Eighth Avenue from the Cathedral. And the priests moved into the old convent building. It is now the parish office/rectory complex.
The first floor of the social center became Saint Gertrude's School for the mentally handicapped. In 1971 the Institute Building was sold and demolished to make room for the new "Ring Road."
In 1980 the sanctuary in the upper church was renovated and the church was consecrated. In 1984 the pipe organ was installed and dedicated. All the bishops of the United States, who met at Saint John's Abbey and University for their annual meeting, were present for this event, worshipping with the people of Saint Mary's Cathedral. At this time Bishop Bartholome, bishop emeritus of the diocese died suddenly. He was the first bishop to be buried out of the renovated Cathedral church and the first bishop to have all the bishops of the U.S. at his funeral. These were quite the events.
In 1988 the beautiful Mother of Perpetual Help Shrine in the lower church caught fire, turning it to ash and causing great damage to the lower church and smoke damage to the upper church. Using this as an opportunity, a plan was made to transform the lower church into a smaller space for worship during the week, with a Eucharistic chapel and a gathering area.
In 2006, five 'swaztika' symbols were removed from the sides of the Cathedral church, originally inserted as simply decorative crosses before the Nazi's came to power. The parish council felt that the symbol as a cross could never be reclaimed because of the pain and suffering the Nazi regime brought to the world. The disks were replaced by five new disks depicting the "mysteries of Light" composed by John Paul II. Full details available via the luminous disks history.
In 2013, the Upper Church was refurbished by replacing the floor, painting the ceiling and walls, and refurbishing the pews and kneelers. The refurbishing was made possible through a bequest from Mary Kay Herzing in the amount of $390,000, and funds donated by the members and friends of St. Mary's Cathedral.
In 2009, the City of Saint Cloud published the following two videos: the Cathedral of Saint Mary and the Saint Mary's Building. Additional videos of a downtown tour are available.