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St. George Church Celebrates 150 years

July 13, 2008
The Journal

ST. GEORGE - This year, the Church of St. George celebrates the 150th anniversary of the building of their first church. The celebration will take place beginning at 10:30 a.m. Sunday, August 3.

The church has several events planned for the day, beginning with a polka mass. Other events planned are a collector car show, children's games, a quilt show, and hands-on quilting.

In addition, there will be a threshing bee, corn shredding, antique tractors on display, a history display, a cemetery tour at 12:30 p.m. and 3 p.m. and entertainment from noon until 7 p.m.

Article Photos

A submitted photo of the congregation of St. George pictured in the church.

The church first opened in 1858. The following is a brief history of the church.

The first settlers in the St. George area came from Erbach, [Schwabenland] near Ulm, Wuerttemberg, Germany.

The group emigrated in 1852, landing in New York. Later, they headed for Chicago where they worked and studied the English language.

The group headed to Minnesota and came upon Joseph LaFramboise who showed them the area where the Minnesota and Cottonwood rivers flowed together and suggested they start a city there. Two Catholics in the group, Meinrad Wall and Martin Walser, preferred farming to city life and chose to settle on some land across the Minnesota River separate from the rest of the group.

In 1855 and 1857, several more Catholic farmers joined Wall and Walser. This was the beginning of St. George.

On September 26, 1856, Father Valentine Sommereisen said the first Mass in the area that became St. George in the log cabin house on the George Green farm. In 1857, Father Sommereisen was given permission by Bishop Grace in St. Paul to start a new parish in the area.

The name "St. George" was chosen because so many males were named George at their baptism. When the first church was completed, services were held about four times a year but people met at the church on Sundays to recite the Rosary.

Forty-two people, consisting of couples and single persons, were the charter members of the St. George Parish. Many of those charter members have descendants still attending the parish.

A very important part of the church's history is the Red Vestment. The Countess Mittel Biberach of Ulm, Germany made a silk, hand-embroidered vestment with strict instructions that the vestment be given to the first church established by the settlers in America.

The Countess gave the vestment to Elizabeth Fink who was part of the first group of settlers to the area.

According to the "Centennial History Edition" of the parish history, the vestment itself consists of a chasuble with a panel down the center of the front and the back, embroidered in white with many colors and shades of worsted yarn in solid cross-stitch.

This vestment has never left the parish and is on permanent view in a handmade display case in the back of the church. The case also holds other articles of the church's history.

By 1871 the congregation had outgrown their log cabin church so a new church was erected under the direction of Father Berghold. The church was a 75-foot long by 45-foot wide frame building at a cost of $1,500.

In 1904, the church purchased a Vogelphol-Spaeth pipe organ from the renowned organ builder in New Ulm. That organ is one of only a handful of the instruments still in use today.

The parish has survived many hardships. According to our centennial history book, blackbirds demolished crops from 1857 to 1859. Grasshoppers invaded the area in 1875. They ate everything in sight, including clothes hung out to dry.

In 1881, diphtheria claimed many lives. No family in the area was hit as hard as the Jacob Koschnick family. From April 28th-June 11th, all seven of their children died from the disease. That same year, a cyclone destroyed the area. Farms were ruined and several parishioners perished.

Even with all the hardships, the parish continued to grow. On May 25, 1892, the cornerstone for the present church was laid with formal dedication taking place a little over a year later on July 22, 1893.

Members of the church hauled rocks for the foundation, bricks for the structure then later donated the furniture, altars, communion railing, statues, and stained glass windows. Over the years, this building has been remodeled and updated several times. The last major renovation took place in 1998.

The interior of the church was completely stripped; the result was refurbished pews, new carpeting, new painting and stenciling. The cost of the extensive renovation was only $49,071.

The majority of the work was done by parishioners with the exception of professional painters. The people of St. George have always come together for large projects for the parish's benefit. The church was rededicated by Bishop Raymond Lucker on a hot August night in 1998.

New steps, a handicap entrance, and patio area was recently added to the front of the church. The parish did not want to deter from the original architecture of the church.

Heymann Construction and, again, many parish volunteers helped to complete this extensive project.

In 1912, the Lourdes Grotto in St. George was built. The shrine was patterned after the original Lourdes Grotto in France. The statues in the grotto, Our Lady of Lourdes and St. Bernadette, were made in France where they touched the statues in the original shrine in Lourdes, France.

The blessing of the grotto took place on September 8, 1912. The grotto has always been very special to the parish and the parish feels proud that the 150th anniversary of the parish coincides with the 150th anniversary of the apparition of Mary at Lourdes.

The first parochial school in St. George was established in 1916. The Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ were the first teachers in that school. The current Parish Center, completed in 1952, was the second school for the parish.

In 1969, the school became part of the Central Catholic School system in New Ulm. In 1975, when the CCS system wanted to close the school, the parish revolted and voted to go it alone.

The parish operated the parochial school until the spring of 1991 when declining enrollment and the impending loss of accreditation forced the parish to close the school and join NUACS. The parish had always been, and still is, proud of the Catholic education it provided for its children.

This past year, Memorial Lane was installed in the cemetery. This path of paver-like stone and memorial blocks now adorns the carefully-tended final resting place of many former parishioners.

In 1997 a memorial patio with two stone markers, one commemorating the unborn and the other for our charter members, was installed between the church and the cemetery.

Two annual events in the parish are the fall Harvest Festival which takes place on the second Sunday in September and the Holy Land Dinner Theater which takes place every spring. The Harvest Festival is known for its family-style meal.

The Holy Land Dinner Theater has been in existence since 1997. The fundraiser has evolved over the years to become a show using the local talent of the parish to perform various plays. More changes are in store for the 2009 version of the Holy Land Dinner Theater.

In 1958, the parish celebrated their Centennial with a Mass by Bishop Alphonse Schladweiler in April. Later that summer, a large open-air pageant told the story of the parish. Ninety members of the parish took part in the ten-act play. More than 1,500 people attended this play on the parish grounds.

An anniversary quilt was made by parish members. An update to the history book was researched and written by Cheryl Beranek for college credits.

This year the parish celebrates its 150th anniversary with many special events. A committee was formed over 18 months ago to plan the year of celebrations. A committee was also formed to create an updated history book. The main writers of this update were Alma Forst and Ann Iverson. The new hardcover book will include the original "Centennial History Edition" in its entirety plus the history of our parish since the centennial in 1958. Books can be ordered from Dodie Wendinger.

The next part of our celebrations will take place in August and September.



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