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On July 8, 1917, a small group of people under the patronage of Our Lady of Lourdes, met around a humble altar in a remodeled hotel previously known as the Antler’s Hotel. The first pastor, Father John Musial, had been appointed to assume the shepherd’s staff at St. Adelbert’s Church the previous July. A sister parish, Sacred Heart, was located nearby. Both parishes were located on the east side of the river in Little Falls.
The catholic population on the west side of the Mississippi River was growing. Catholics on that side of the river had a difficult time traversing over the river in order to go to church. And so one hundred and twenty families became charter members of Our Lady of Lourdes. The first trustees of the newly organized parish were Jacob Posch, Treasurer and Frank Wachlarowicz, Secretary. The old Antler’s Hotel was purchased for $4,400.00. Father Musial was appointed pastor. His love for Mary was the primary reason for naming the church in her honor.
The hotel, transformed to serve as church. school, convent, and rectory, was remodeled for about $17,000.00. Within a few years, the community managed to pay for these expenses and began to raise money to build their church. Money was raised by selling cemetery lots for $25.00 per lot and sponsoring numerous bazaars, picnics and card parties.
Excavation of the basement of the new church begin in June, 1921. The Most Reverend Joseph F. Busch, Bishop of St. Cloud, laid the cornerstone in late April 1922. About one year later, June 3, 1923, Bishop Busch returned to Little Falls for the solemn dedication and first mass in the new church. The current parishioners of OLOL are extremely proud of the church that is Roman in architectural design with Renaissance influence. The pillars, partly Ionic and Corinthian, along with the tinting of the walls and ceiling, form a harmony that is impressive. The brick exterior is marked by the imposing twin towers. The cost of the structure was about $93,500.00, a tremendous amount of money in those days.
The years that followed were spent by the pastor and congregation in raising funds to pay for the church. Both the ladies societies and the men’s organization were active. Choir members and young people of the parish organized a very successful Dramatic Club. They performed in the parish hall and neighboring towns. The plays were so entertaining that many enthusiastic parishioners followed the troupe from town to town.
The first pastor, Father John Musial, died suddenly at age 54, on January 22, 1936. Less than three weeks after his death, the parish had a mortgage burning celebration which marked the parish’s freedom from all debt. Father Stanley Goryzcka, was transferred from Elmdale and named the new pastor. He began to make plans to purchase a new pipe organ and redecorate the church. Though Fr. Goryzcka was in poor health, he managed to carry out his pastoral work but on April 18, 1941, he died late in the evening. The pastor of Sacred Heart Church, Flensburg, Fr. Francis J. Zilkowski, was appointed pastor about two weeks later.
In November of 1951, parishioners began dismantling brick by brick, nail by nail, the old Antler’s Hotel, that had served as school, convent and rectory. They managed to salvage much of the material which was used to build the current convent and rectory. The new school was completed in the fall of 1952, about the same time that the convent was built. One year later, the rectory was built on the site of the old hotel. Additional class- rooms were added to the school in 1963-64.
The parish continued to grow in size. The Fransican Sisters of Immaculate Conception assumed the teaching duties in the school. In August, 1962, the parishioners welcomed their first Associate Pastor, Fr. Anthony Kroll. When the parish celebrated its Golden Jubilee on August 27, 1967, a crowd of 750 people met in the school gym for a smorgasboard potluck lunch. The day’s activities ended with musical entertainment.
The parish received two new pastors in July, 1968. Father Zilkowski moved to Opole and was replaced by Fr. Alfred Podrosky. Fr. Kroll was assigned to Sobieski. He was replaced by Fr. Thomas Kosel. Within a year they formed the first Parish Council of the community in following the spirit of the Second Vatican Council.
During these years, several women of the parish entered religious communities. Joining the Franciscan Order were Sr. Bernadine Prozinski, Sr. Carol Virnig, Sr. Sharon Hourscht and Sr. Teresita Sobiech. The following joined the Benedictine community: Sr. Cecelia Yanta, Sr. Delores Super, Sr. Margaret Mary Lipinski and Sr. Vincent de Paul Merchlewicz. Fr. Peter Juba, Fr. Thomas McGraw and Fr. AllanWielinski all celebrated their first masses at OLOL.
Fr. Kenneth Thielman replaced Fr. Podrosky in 1980. The Renew Program had a special impact on the parish during the 80’s. The school was a very important part of the parish during these years. The enrollment numbered well over 200 students. But on occasion there was discussion about the possibility of consolidating with the school program of our sister parish, St. Mary’s. Such discussions did not venture too closely to reality until 1993 when OLOL and St. Mary’s served as the sponsoring parishes for a “new” school named Mary of Lourdes School. The two parishes were joined by neighboring parishes who sent children to the School, namely, Holy Family, Belle Prairie, St. James, Randall, St. Stanislaus, Sobieski, Sacred Heart, Flensburg, and St. Stanislaus, Bowlus.
The parish has continued to grow over the decades. Today it numbers around 2600 members with over a 1000 households. The nature of church has changed as well especially since the mid-60’s and the Second Vatican Council. After reading this history of the parish, one can see that there was considerable emphasis on the building. The founding fathers and mothers of this parish were deservedly proud of building the structure in which we worship to this very day. To duplicate their efforts would mean raising nearly two million dollars in this day and age. They were dedicated most certainly because they loved their new parish. Of course in that time the church served as the social, cultural and religious center of most people’s lives.
The history above also marked changes in the parish by naming pastors that have come and gone over the past eighty some years. The church in the pre-Second Vatican Council era was a church that was highly hierarchical and clerical. Times have changed. Lay people have assumed more responsibility and ownership of their faith community. This change has not occurred without some pain and discomfort but in the long run it could be argued that such a church is a more wholesome expression of discipleship.
As we approach the millennium, life is more complicated. People have more options. The church competes with a variety of activities for attention. Media has made our world larger and exposed us to a much broader range of opportunities than our fore- fathers and mothers of faith knew. One could argue about which era is better, holier or healthier but the real world in which we live is the one we of the late 1990’s must face, embrace, challenge.
As a pastor in a line of some fascinating churchmen, I am honored and flattered to be in their lineage. But I am especially inspired to work alongside the faithful men and women of this parish who love their faith community and serve it so effectively and humbly. I thank God for the many ministers of music, reading, ushering, serving, greeting, distributing of communion. I thank God for Pastoral Council members, the Finance Committee, Trustees, Liturgy Commission, Social Action Committee, School Board, Community Life Commission, Health Council and Parish Nurses, Stewardship and Maintenance people, Christian Mothers, Quilters, 12 Apostles, Youth Group, etc…. I thank God for our Staff, dedicated lay people plus a permanent deacon, who support the wide variety of programs and services within this parish.
Yes, parish life is different today than it was when those 120 households gathered on July 8, 1917, to celebrate the Eucharist as a parish family for the first time. But in so many ways, much is the same. We celebrate today as people of faith, sometimes a faith sprinkled with doubt, the same God who remains faithful through bricks and motar, pastors and lay leaders, all vessels in need of God’s grace. As people came together over eighty years ago to praise this same God, we have the same need–to meet at this place called Our Lady of Lourdes regardless of our vocation or station in life. It is a place where the Gospel continues to challenge us but it is also a safe place for us to face our pain, our hurts and worries, together!
Leroy Kremer, pastor 1990-2001