Church of Saint
Cecilia - A
of St. Paul, known as St. Anthony Park, home now to Saint Cecilia's
Parish, was planned as a suburb between St. Paul and Minneapolis
in 1873. The first homes in the area were built during the
1880's; most of the private residences in the park were constructed
living in the area had three choices for attending Mass in these
early days: they could hop on the Short Line train to either
St. Paul or Minneapolis, or they could hike three miles to the chapel
of St. Thomas Seminary, which opened in 1885.
Saint Mark's Parish was formed and St. Anthony Park (as well as
most of this west end of St. Paul) was included within its boundaries.
Today there are at least five parishes where Catholics can worship
in the same area, but back in 1890 the Catholic population of St.
Anthony Park pretty much had to "hoof it" to church -
a long, cold walk during the winter. But it gave neighbors
a nice chance to chat with each other as they walked in a group
to Mass on Sunday mornings. The pastor of Saint Mark's, Father
Casey, was very interested in his parishioners from St. Anthony
Park and usually held up the start of Mass until they arrived; he
had his altar boys keep an eye out for the delegation coming down
Casey urged some of his St. Anthony Park flock to organize a Sunday
school for their children over here in the winter of 1886-87.
These classes were taught in area homes more or less continuously
until the mid-1920's when St. Cecilia's School was built.
A Chuch of
It was not until the winter of 1908
that the Eucharist was offered in the Park for the first time -
Father William Hart organized "The Catholic Mission of St.
Anthony Park" in rented quarters in the Odd Fellows Hall, which
still stands at 977 Raymond Avenue. Masses were at 8:00 and
10:00 A.M. Seminarians from Saint Thomas conducted Sunday
school at 2:00 P.M.
Around 1910 actions
were taken to organize a parish: a census, fund raising, organization
of Church societies. The members of the mission were now ready
to become a "real" parish with a church and a pastor of
1912, the Catholic Mission of St. Anthony Park received its first
pastor, the Reverend Francis X. McDermott. He immediately
set about collecting funds to erect a church. Although members
of the newly formed parish were generous, it was still necessary
to obtain a loan. Many banks in both cities were approched
before one was found willing to grant a loan for $7,500.
major decision was where to build the new church; the north section
of St. Anthony Park wanted it built there, while residents of the
South Side favored their area. On October 19, 1912 the men
of the parish decided to purchase three lots on the corner of Bayless
and Cromwell for the sum of $2,850. The final cost for the
finished construction added up to $23,000. It was a huge job
building the church, and the many worries about costs and whether
he had built too big a church weighed heavily on poor Father McDermott.
His health gave out just days prior to the first Mass in the Church
ofSt. Cecilia, celebrated on Sunday, May 18, 1913 with new pastor
the Reverend Martin I. J. Griffin.
In 1914 Father P. R.
Cunningham became the first resident pastor. Father Cunningham
installed nearly all the ornamentation in the church, including
the stained glass "rose" window above the altar - "Ecce
Homo" of Guido Reni - and the round window depicting Saint
Cecilia above the entrance to the church in the choir loft.
early days of the mission, deacons from the newly named Saint Paul
Seminary had come each week to teach Sunday school. They continued
to do so until the fall of 1918 when the Sisters of Saint Joseph
of Carondelet took responsibility for the religious education of
the First World War, many young men from Saint Cecilia's served
in the armed forces. The war was always present to the little,
but active parish. The Aviation Corps quartered 3500 men in
the neighborhood; over 500 of them were Catholics who attended a
special Mass on Sunday Mornings. When the infuenza epidemic
struck the area, over 100 of these young men became ill and the
new pastor, Father Doyle, went daily to visit the sick and dying.
war and throughout the 1920's Saint Cecilia's became an especially
thriving parish with a membership at one time of 1000. The
parish was a focal point for social gatherings as well as religious
activity. The church was doing well financially and in 1923
a school was built on the property adjoining the rectory at 923
Bayless Avenue. First classes were held in 1924.
brought a drastic change to St. Anthony Park and the parish community.
The Depression years sucked much of the vibrant life from the parish
that was enjoyed so much only a decade earlier. By 1938, when
the church celebrated its 25th anniversary, there was no joy to
celebration. And to make matters worse, the world would soon
be at war again.
1950's and 60's the parish was to change even more. Industry
was thriving in the Midway area, surrounding our neighborhood and
separating it from the rest of St. Paul. Not only was industry
intruding on the parish, but the growth of automobile traffic necessitated
new highways, which almost caused the parish's demise.
many parishioners lived in the path of progress - Interstate 94
and Highway 280. About a third of South St. Anthony Park was
forced to look for new housing; many Catholics moved to new parishes.
To the north, a new parish, Corpus Christi, was now serving many
of our former parishioners. Few new families were moving into
the parish to replace those who were forced to leave. Saint
Cecilia's was severely affected. School enrollment dropped,
membership decreased dramatically, forcing the school to close in
1968 and parish activities were curtailed due to fewer volunteers
and an aging congegration.
some parisioners retained their loyalty even after they moved outside
of Saint Cecilia's physical boundaries. It was this phenomenon
that provided a base from which Saint Cecilia's stopped its decline
and began a spiraling upwards of parish fortunes.
late 1960's and 70's many changes in the Roman Catholic Church affected
Saint Cecilia's as much as most American churches; parochial education
was reduced due to declining enrollment, increasing financial burdens
and a reduced number of religious to staff schools.
parish, as in many parishes throughout the country, most parishioners
sent their children to nearby public schools and had them attend
religious classes at church rather than bus their kids to the nearest
parochial school. This fundamental change in Catholic educational
thinking from the 1920's through the 1960's was accelerated by the
actions of Vatican II, where the laity has taken on additional roles
in parish life. Besides the need for lay people to take responsibility
for the education of the parish's youth, others were called upon
to serve as lectors, ushers, Eucharistic ministers, parish council
members and to volunteer in various committees, prayers groups,
the nursery, and outreach groups.
This was a far cry
from the traditional lay involvement in Saint Cecilia organizations,
among them the Rosary Society, Young Ladies' Sodality, the Men's
Club, the Catholic Order of Foresters, the Holy Name Society, and
the Catholic Guild, none of which exist today in the parish.
became all the more important at Saint Cecilia's as the former role
of the full time resident pastor evolved into part-time clerical
assignments. Beginning with Father Terrance Berntson in 1971,
each succeeding pastor has served the Archdiocese in other capacities
and has been available to Saint Cecilia's on a part-time basis.
This has necessitated increased lay leadership and active involvement
for Saint Cecilia's to return to its historical vitality.
the future of Saint Cecilia's looks very promising. New housing
is returning to this area, younger residents are bringing a new
energy and interest as they purchase homes of long-time residents,
and new life is being infused into the area. The number of
families with children is increasing each year. Along with
these changes comes a growing awareness by parishioners that to
belong to a parish community today is to make a lifestyle choice
- today's Saint Cecilia's parishioner is not a "cultural Catholic"
but a Catholic Christian freely joining in a search for spiritual
roots with kindred souls, and is actively willing to work for a
better parish environment and rich, rewarding liturgical and community
experiences. Currently these souls come to Saint Cecilia's
from 44 different zip codes: we're obviously a destination of choice.
of Saint Cecilia's
Francis Xavier McDermott, 1912-1913
Martin I. J. Griffin, 1913-1914
P. R. Cunningham, 1914-1916
James E. Doyle, 1916-1929
Alphonse Carey, 1929-1944
Leon Klein, 1944-1967
John O'Neill, 1967-1971
Terrence Berntson, 1971-1973
John Kinney, Summer 1973
John R. Roach, 1973-1975
Michael O'Connell, 1973-1975 (assistant),
Michael Joncas, 1991-1993
Paul Jaroszeski, 1993-2004
J. Michael Byron, 2004-2012
Thomas F.A. O'Brien, 2012-Present