Houston County, Minnesota—Catholic parishes in Caledonia

First publication 2013.11.14. © Thomas G. Kohn, 2013.

In 1867 to 1871, the Reinert family likely were members of St. John the Baptist church in Caledonia. Other Catholic churches in the county were more distant, in Hokah, Brownsville, and La Crescent. The St. John church was built in 1857 on the site now occupied by Merchant's Bank at Washington and Kingston streets. The church was rebuilt in stone in 1862. The church served the Irish, German, and Luxemburg Catholics who settled in the Caledonia area until 1870 when a second, German-speaking parish formed. Both parishes used the same cemetery, which is named Calvary Cemetery and located on Route 249, about 3/4 mi southeast of the Catholic church.

Figure 5. St. Peter Catholic church,
Caledonia, about 1900.
The German parish constructed St. Peter’s Church from Brownsville limestone, hauled by wagon 14 miles uphill over rough roads. Primary construction was completed in 1872, a bell tower was completed in 1873, and three bells were installed. In 1925, the bell tower was replaced with the current structure. In the early 20th Century, St. Peter’s church was renowned in the region for its large and densely planted gardens.[5]

After a fire destroyed part of the St. John church in the 1950s, the two congregations merged instead of rebuilding the Irish church. The St. Peter’s church was renamed St. Mary’s in 1976. The history of these parishes are documented in the painted glass windows: John the Baptist is on the north side, St. Peter on the south side, and St. Mary is between them in the apse.

Figure 6. St. Mary Catholic church, Caledonia.
In 2002 St. Mary’s received a major refurbishment. Two transepts were added and the altar was moved forward. A foyer was added to the front of the church, as well as a corridor to Holy Family Hall. In 2004 the parish of St. Patrick’s in Brownsville joined St. Mary’s in a diocesan clustering plan. The churches have separate pastoral offices, but they share a pastor, who currently is Matthew Fasnacht.[6] The St. Mary’s Bazaar usually falls on the last Sunday of October.

The parish records from 1866 (marriages), 1868 (baptisms), and 1874 (burials) through the present are handwritten. They are neither microfilmed nor duplicated in the diocesan archives in Winona, Minnesota. I have seen the parish records and photocopied several pages. Two loose, unnumbered sheets are inserted before the bound pages.

Figure 7. First unnumbered page,
St. Mary parish register.
These sheets document baptisms from mid-1868 on one sheet (Figure 7) and from late 1868 through February 1869 on the other. The handwriting differs from handwriting on the numbered, bound pages, and the entries are not signed. I infer that the two loose sheets indicate another parish register existed, perhaps to document the acts performed in St. John parish. More research is needed to find the missing parish register, which might document the burial of John Reinert. Neill’s statement that the sacraments were performed as early as “1855, when itinerant missionaries from Wisconsin, and perhaps Winona, visited the settlement, and held mass at private houses” and identifies the priest Michael Pendergast.[7]

Figure 8. Marriages, pages 2 and 3,
St. Mary parish register.
The bound and numbered pages begin with marriages of 1866, 1867, 1868, and 1869 on pages 2 and 3 (Figure 8).

Figure 9, Baptisms, page 35,
St. Mary parish register.
Page 35 is the next I have photocopied. The handwriting is the same as on pages 2 and 3, and its baptismal entries of 1868 have the pastor’s signature, Mathias Hurenberg. Page 51 is the fourth page I have, and its baptismal entries of 1870 are signed by pastor K. Körbel. The remaining photocopied pages 56-59, 61, 62, 68, 70, 71, 75, 76, 78, and 70 also contain baptisms 1870 to 1873 entered by Körbel.

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Neill, Rev. Edward D., History of Houston County including Explorers and Pioneers of Minnesota and Outline History of the State of Minnesota. Minnesota Historical Society, 1882. pp. 360-361: “The present pastor [of St. John the Baptist] is Rev. Father Shanahan, who has a residence near the county buildings on Marshall Street. The building ... was erected during the earlier years of the [Civil War]. the Rev. Charles Koeberl being the resident priest at the time. The earliest meetings in town must have been held in 1855, when itinerant missionaries from Wisconsin, and perhaps Winona, visited the settlement, and held mass at private houses; the first of these remembered was Michael Pendergast. ... Rev. Father F. Essing was the first regular priest here, and he was followed by Rev. Mathew Sturenberg, who was familiarly called Father Mathew; Rev. Father Muchelberger, and then Rev. Charles Koeberl. The language using in this church, aside from the Latin ritual, is the English, as most of the congregation have this as their mother tongue.
“St. Peter’s Church.—This congregation and church is made up of those Catholics in Caledonia and vicinity, who use and understand the German language. A separation was made in the year 1873, when the present church was completed. ... In connection with the church is a parochial school under the charge of the Sisters of Notre Dame. There are about 100 pupils. The Rev. Charles Koeberl was in charge when the church was built. Rev. John Zuzek has been the pastor since June, 1878, and the congregation now numbers 165 families.”


The church is located at 513 S. Pine St. The parish office is immediately north of the church. Enter from the parking lot at the corner of South and Pine Streets. Addresses: P.O. Box 406, 453 S. Pine St., Caledonia MN 55921-0406. Bookkeeper and secretary: stmaryschurch@acegroup.cc. Phone 507-725-3804. Hours: Monday through Thursday: 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Friday: 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m Current information at their website.


Neill, p. 361.

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