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5 Amazing Catholic sites not to miss in Minnesota

5 Catholic sites in Minnesota

TonelloPhotography | Shutterstock | Wikipedia | Collage by Aleteia

Theresa Civantos Barber - published on 01/25/24

Minnesota has quite the Catholic history! If you’re from Minnesota, or just visiting the state, don’t miss these beautiful and significant Catholic sites.

Although Minnesota’s Catholic dioceses are relative newcomers in the vast span of Church history, the Catholic faith grew quickly there, and today the state can boast of many beautiful holy sites and a robust Catholic population.

While the first priest came to Minnesota in 1680 (not willingly; more on that later), Minnesota’s Catholic history began in earnest in 1841, when 20 Catholic families came together to build a log cabin chapel where they could receive Mass and the Sacraments. 

The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis was established as a diocese in 1850, when it was called the Diocese of Minnesota and the Dakotas. By then, there were about 3,000 Catholics in the diocese. 

Fast forward 150 years, and by 2000, the Catholic Church in Minnesota numbered 1,256,268 members, about 25 percent of the state’s population. 

Catholic Minnesotans enjoy lots of wonderful opportunities to learn and grow in their faith, such as with higher education like the University of St. Thomas and the St. Paul Seminary for priestly formation. 

If you’re from Minnesota, or just visiting the state, don’t miss these beautiful and significant Catholic sites. Are there any we missed and should be included? Let us know in the comments!

Cathedral of St. Paul, St. Paul

That humble log cabin built in 1841 was the first cathedral of the diocese, and several other structures went on to replace it over the decades. The Cathedral of St. Paul as we know it today is actually the fourth building to bear that name (you can read more about its history here). 

The current magnificent building opened in 1915, and in 2009 the USCCB designated it the National Shrine of the Apostle Paul. The brainchild of Archbishop John Ireland and his close friend Emmanuel Louis Masqueray, a French architect trained at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris, the cathedral is a historical landmark and one of the most prominent buildings in Minnesota. It is the third largest Catholic cathedral and sixth largest church in the United States.

Set dramatically on Summit Hill overlooking the city of St. Paul, and with a can’t-miss-it copper-clad dome, the cathedral is a beautiful testimony to the faithful devotion of Minnesota’s Catholics. Along with Mass and sacraments, the cathedral offers an active schedule of events as well as daily tours to the public.

The Basilica of St. Mary, Minneapolis, Minnesota
The Basilica of St. Mary, Minneapolis, Minnesota

Basilica of St. Mary, Minneapolis

The basilica is the co-cathedral of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, along with the Cathedral of St. Paul. Pope Pius XI established it as a minor basilica in 1926, making it the first basilica in the United States and landing it a spot on the National Register of Historic Places. Bishop Ireland and architect Masqueray collaborated to build this basilica concurrently with the cathedral. 

The basilica is known for its annual “Basilica Block Party,” funds from which are used for the structure’s ongoing restoration. With lots of ministries and volunteer opportunities, as well as of course devotions and sacraments, there are many ways to visit and get involved at the basilica. 

Our Lady of Lourdes, Minneapolis

Completed in 1857, Our Lady of Lourdes is the oldest continually operating church in Minneapolis. It stands near the spot where, in 1680, Father Louis Hennepin first sighted and named the Falls of St. Anthony. It was designated a U.S. historic landmark in 1934 and is the first parish in the United States named in honor of Our Lady of Lourdes.

The story of how Fr. Hennepin came to enter Minnesota is an interesting one. Originally from France, he had come from Quebec to Fort Crevecoeur (near present-day Peoria, Illinois) just as it was being constructed in January 1680. He joined two others as an advance party to search for the Mississippi River, and during this journey, a Sioux war party captured him and held him for a time as a captive in what is now the state of Minnesota. In September 1680, Hennepin and his companions were given canoes and allowed to leave, eventually returning to Quebec. 

The building of Our Lady of Lourdes gives some fascinating insight into its history. The superstructure shows two different types of architecture. The original building was a church of the First Universalist Society, purchased and made into a Catholic Church in 1877. These first parishioners made additions that changed the design to that of a French Provincial church, fittingly as they were French Canadians. You can read more about the history of this beautiful and historically significant site here.

Our Lady of Guadalupe Diocesan Shrine, St. Paul, Minnesota
Our Lady of Guadalupe Diocesan Shrine, St. Paul, Minnesota

Our Lady of Guadalupe Diocesan Shrine, St. Paul

On the vigil of Our Lady of Guadalupe, December 11 in 2019, over 700 Catholics gathered at Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish clapped and cheered for a surprise announcement: Their parish would be the first and only diocesan shrine in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

It was a moving moment for the members of Minnesota’s first national Mexican parish, the first church in the state to offer Masses in Spanish and a place first-generation immigrants from Mexico gravitate toward is now a diocesan Shrine to Our Lady of Guadalupe.

While visitors are welcome year round, the shrine is especially popular to visit for the Guadalupe festivities. The parish typically hosts a mile-long procession for the feast day (impressive in the cold of a Minnesota winter!) followed by a well-earned reception with food and entertainment.

St. John’s Abbey, Collegeville

In 1856, five monks of St. Vincent Archabbey in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, arrived in St. Cloud, Minnesota. They established a priory there and began to minister to the German immigrants in central Minnesota. Their community flourished, and today St. John’s Abbey is one of the largest Benedictine abbeys in the Western Hemisphere, with 110 professed monks under the leadership of Abbot The Right Reverend Fr. Doug Mullin, OSB.

A school founded at the abbey in the 1850s grew into St. John’s University. The abbey’s campus is a treasure for history enthusiasts, with 17 buildings constructed at the abbey and university between 1868 and 1959 listed on the National Register of Historic Places as the St. John’s Abbey and University Historic District.

Those who love nature and the outdoors will find much to enjoy here, as the grounds of the abbey are designated the St. John’s Arboretum. The abbey’s 2,740 acres of woodlands and lakes were voted the Best Place to Snowshoe in Minnesota. The abbey is also a cherished setting for book lovers, as the abbey operates the Liturgical Press publishing house and is the setting for The Cloister Walk, Kathleen Norris’s celebrated collection of essays on Christian spirituality.

Visitors can enjoy tours of the campus and stay the night at the Abbey Guesthouse, where there are opportunities for retreats and spiritual direction. 

Church of St. Louis, King of France, St. Paul

The architect who designed the Cathedral of St. Paul and the Basilica of St. Mary, Emmanuel Louis Masqueray, designed this “little French church,” too. 

Masqueray was an artist of enormous international renown: He served as Chief of Design for the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904, and his designs for fair buildings were widely emulated in civic projects across the United States as part of the City Beautiful Movement. He had so great an influence on American architecture that it’s hard to say just how much. 

Yet of all the churches and buildings he ever designed, “Masqueray said the Church of St. Louis was his favorite building; he called it his ‘little gem.’” In honor of his preference, we include this beautiful church here, too. 

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