Holy Family Church, the oldest parish in the Diocese of St. Cloud, dates back to the days of French-Canadian fur traders. Before 1850, Father Lafleche of Three Rivers, Quebec, established a mission at Belle Prairie. It was called Lacroix, the French word for “The Cross”. Father Francis Xavier Pierz arrived in the area in 1852, thus laying the foundation of the first parish in the Diocese of St. Cloud. In 1853 he celebrated Mass in the Martin Bisson home located 1/4 of a mile south of the Belle Prairie Rapids. In 1855 a small log chapel was erected in the area that is now the parish cemetery. In the 1856 issue of the Metropolitan Catholic Almanac it mentions that Father Pierz of St. Andrew’s Church at Belle Prairie was the priest in charge of 300 French-Canadian members. In June of 1861 the Martin Bisson family gave a portion of land to the church. This is now the site of Holy Family Church and cemetery. On August 12, 1861, the Rt. Rev. Bishop Thomas L. Grace left St. Paul and traveled to Belle Prairie Church where he confirmed 30 of the 300 members.
In 1877 Father Joseph Buh and parishioners started building Holy Family Church. Farmers hauled the stone needed for the construction from the rapids of the nearby Mississippi River. The church is a good solid building with walls two feet thick. Originally, there was a chimney on each wall of the sacristies to provide outlets for smoke from the two church stoves. On October 10, 1880 the church was dedicated. The Church of the Holy Family of Belle Prairie, Morrison County, Minnesota, was registered as a corporation in 1898. In 1916 Father Henri Pellet came to Belle Prairie and began keeping records in English. Previously they were kept in French and Latin. Fr. Pellet was pastor at Holy Family for 33 years. The Most Reverend Bishop Bartholome was the celebrant when Fr. Pellet was laid to rest in the parish cemetery in August 1955.
During the early 1900’s, many improvements were completed on the church property. The current pews were added to the church about 1904. A new organ was purchased in 1917 and used for the first time at midnightMass. A covered step was added to the church in 1918. In 1924, the shingles of the church were replaced and a porch was added to the priest’s house. A new church ceiling was installed in 1943. Rubber cushions were added to the kneelers in 1947. The Pot-bellied stoves were replaced with a new oil furnace in 1954. In 1955, the stained glass windows dating back to the early 1900’s were cleaned and refinished. In 1956 A stainless steel cross was installed on the top of the bell tower. In the 1960’s the church was painted, a new church floor was installed, the basement was improved, and the Holy Name Society erected the Shrine to the Blessed Mother. The old organ was replaced and a new heating system installed. The exterior of the church was repaired and the church was re-roofed.
In 1999, while in the process of tearing down the old entry for the beginning of Project 2000, a sheaf of papers was discovered that had been written by “Pere LeMay” dated 1886. Some of the papers are displayed behind glass in the basement stairway. A summary of what the papers contain is as follows:
The first church building was built in 1854, under the direction of Missionary Fr. Pierz.
The present church was built between 1877-1880.
Leon Boisjoli was the carpenter. Over 100 parishioners are listed with monetary donations ranging from $2-$100. “Pere” Fortier was the first pastor. The cost of the building was $5,000. In 1885 a bazaar was held to raise money for the pews; total raised was $2,559.53.
On the Feast of St. Philip, May 26, 1886, a celebration was held and attended by dignitaries from surrounding territories of the Dakotas: a bishop from Canada, Abbot Alexius Edelbrock, O.S.B. from St. Johnâs Abbey, Fr. Severin Gross, OSB and Fr. Joseph Buh. Fr. LeMay was pastor at the time.
Project 2000 was the first major renovation and addition to Holy Family Church. This addition consists of a large 42×40 Gathering Room on the east end, with an elevator that provides access to the basement and main church as well as a handicapped accessible bathroom on the main floor. A 15×40 addition was also added to the west end of the church. Major repairs included in Project 2000 were restoration of the bell tower, refinishing the exterior of the entire church, new shingles on the church roof, resurfacing of the driveway and parking areas.
In 2006 the old parish garage was torn down and a new garage with storage space was built in its place. In the summer of 2006 Belle Prairie Memorial Garden was completed with many donations from the parishioners and people in the surrounding area. In 2007 a granite directory was added near the entrance of the Church.
On September 16, 2007 the parish hosted “the Gathering-Belle Prairie 2007” The parish, family and community history was commemorated. Mass was celebrated by Fr. Nick Landsberger, pastor, under a tent, followed by a dedication-blessing of the Mother Mary Ignatius of Jesus Cabin along with the blessings of the Blessed Sacrament Monument, Academy Bell, Memorial Garden and Stations of the Cross, also from the Academy. The sisters from the Missionary Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate Conception, who taught at Our Lady of the Angels Academy, were present. After Mass the parishioners prepared authentic French Pancakes and Tourtière LeBoutillier (French Canadian Meat Pies) for those in attendance.
In 2008 air conditioning was added to the church and the furnace was replaced with an energy efficient one. In December 2008 the Parish was selected as a Local Landmark Designation by the Little Falls Heritage Preservation Commission. On March 25, 2009 the plaque was presented to the Parish and is displayed outside by the entrance of the church. In January, 2009 a Religious Artifact Display Cabinet was put into the Gathering Space of the Church.