Archbishop John Ireland had advocated for Catholic settlements beginning in 1879. He was a land agent for the St. Paul and Pacific Railroad as well as a Catholic bishop. The Catholic colony of Minneota was opened to settlers in the spring of 1880. The Catholic settlers of Minneota were from Ireland and England. Minneota and Ghent were Bishop Ireland’s last and most successful ventures due to recruiting capable farmers.
The first Catholic settlers chose to have St. Edward, King of England and Confessor of the Faith. He was chosen as the patron saint because most of the first parishioners were English. St. Edward reigned in England for 24 peaceful years. England grew prosperous under his reign and ruined churches were rebuilt. King Edward urged the English to build St. Peter’s Abbey at Westminster and this was his noblest work.
The first pastor of St. Edward Catholic Church of Minneota was Father Michael J. Hanley, a native of Ireland. The first church was a rough log cabin one-half mile west of Minneota on the north side of Hwy 68. Father Hanley lived there with three other families. Today it is the Jim VanHecke farm. St. Edward’s parish was referred to as “the mother church of the prairie” because in the 1880s it was the only Catholic parish from Sleepy Eye to Watertown, South Dakota.
In the spring of 1881, another group of Irish and English immigrants arrived in Minneota. Among these were: Culshaw’s, Boulton’s, Kiley’s McGinn’s, Lynch’s, Rogan’s, Walsh’s, Bowden’s, O’Connor’s, Creedon’s, Kelly’s, O’Brien’s, Remore’s, and Salmon’s. Eventually some of the wealthier Irish gave up their lands to the more agriculturally inclined Belgians which came from neighboring Ghent.
In 1881 Father Louis Cornelius became pastor of St. Edward’s. He had been born in Flanders, Belgium. While he was priest the frame church on south Jefferson was built. This served as the house of worship for 30 years. This is presently the Richard (Fuzzy) and Joyce Downing home. The church cost $900 and was built with borrowed money. Before it was paid for another $900 had been paid for interest on the debt. The financial conditions of these first parishioners was strained.
In the beginning two bottles were the candle holders and a salmon can with shoe strings was the thurible (a container for burning incense). One set of vestments met all needs – one side was black and the other was white. Soon, Mrs. Robert Culshaw’s brother (a priest in England) supplied five sets of vestments, cope and veil, a more usable chalice and other necessities for the altar. The monstrance donated by another family from England was still being used in 1955.
When the settlers first arrived in Minneota (and Ghent), they often asked, “Where is Minneota (Ghent)?” The communities were just getting their start and they didn’t look like much of a town. Some of these first families from Holland and Belgium were the DeSutter’s, Tilleman’s, Wambeke’s, Jennen’s, Stassen’s, Buysse’s, Traen’s, Banker’s, and Moorse’s.
The next priest was Fr. Thomas Lee who spent seven years at St. Edward’s beginning in 1883. He ministered to needs of many area Catholics as well, including Marshall, Tracy, Currie, St. Leo, Clara City, and Wilno.
The church building received its first coat of paint in 1884. In 1885 the first reed organ was installed at St. Edward’s. Robert Culshaw served as organist for 32 years.
The Church of St. Edward’s was legally established as a parish on October 29, of 1892. Philip Ahern was appointed trustee/secretary and John Breen was appointed treasurer. The Articles of Incorporation were filed at the Lyon County Courthouse. Minneota was a mission parish from 1890 to August 1903. Their records were kept in nearby Ghent. When there was a fire at St. Eloi’s the St. Edward records which had been stored there were lost.
In 1906 the parish of St. Edward began its building fund. Adult members were assessed 25 cents a month ($3 a year). By 1910 $1,873.60 had been collected. At that time the parish priest, Father William Stewart, along with William and Harry Tillemans visited the local parishioners. They were generous with their gifts and succeeded in collecting $9,150 – a huge amount at that time. October 28, 1912, ground was broken for the new church. The excavation for the basement was completed by November 5. On January 19, 1913, bids for the church were opened. The contract was let to S.W. Jonason & Company of Aberdeen, South Dakota – their bid was $23,533.75. (Jonason had lived in Minneota as a youth.)
The Church of St. Edward the Confessor was designed by E. L. Masqueray, the architect of the cathedral in St. Paul, the Basilica in Minneapolis as well as the cathedral in Sioux Falls. The blessing and laying of the cornerstone of the new church was performed on July 9, 1913. On September 12, 1913, the blessing of the new church bell took place. This beautiful 2,300-pound bell cost $860. The first Mass was said on February 8, 1914. At that Mass, Ed Finnegan, Sr. was baptized.
The Stations of the Cross were solemnly blessed and erected in the church on March 7, 1915. On July 4, 1915, a large group of boys and girls made their First Solemn Communion in the church. On October 5, 1917, members of St. Edward’s congregation raised $6,000 in 20 minutes to pay off the church debt. In today’s dollars that would be $130,000!
The pipe organ was ordered from Tellers-Dent Organ Company, Erie, Pennsylvania on July 29, 1918. The organ cost $2,000 and was presented to the parish in November 1919.
St. Edward Catholic Church has grown over the years, both in people and property. The school was added in 1938 with a total cost of $75,916.32. Total indebtedness for that project was only $16,500. The rectory was added in 1950 at a cost of $10,200. In 1945, a drive for funds to redecorate the church was formed. The church roof was replaced in 1945. In 1947 the redecoration was complete with new lights, flooring, and padded kneelers.
The Sanctuary was completed in 1952 with the laying of a terrazzo floor, installation of the main altar, a communion railing, two new side altars and new statues of the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Joseph. There was another renovation of the interior of the sanctuary in 1966. Three of the stained-glass windows were removed from the sanctuary and sold.
A more recent remodeling project was held in the early 1980s. The roof was shingled at a cost of $14,050. The building was completely tuck-pointed in 1983. The kneelers and pews were removed and refinished. On March 25, 1984, redecorating the interior of the church was finished. The windows were repaired at a cost of $18,000.
In April of 1996, the Elevator Search Committee sponsored a pancake and sausage fundraiser to begin looking into the possibility of adding an elevator to St. Ed’s. Phase I of the project was to remodel the bathrooms in the church basement making them handicapped accessible. Cost of Phase I was $10,436. In May 1997, the bids were opened for Phase II of the project. Stage I was the lobby addition to the church, Stage II was the installation of the elevator. The total cost of Phase II was $105,438. The elevator installation began on November 2, 1998.
The interior of the sanctuary was painted in 2000. The Stations of the Cross and the statues were also cleaned up and had gold gilt-work accent work done on them.
In 2016 after having the three stained glass windows removed from the sacristy in 1966, the parish decided it was time to bring those windows back to their original home. After a bit of hunting all three windows were located and returned to St. Ed’s. A total of $110,000 was raised to return the windows to the sacristy and for a new heating system for the church and school.
In conclusion, much has been done to keep our beautiful building in good operating condition. This is something that is ongoing and never-ending. Continue to help care for St. Edward Catholic Church.