St. Mary’s Catholic undergoes maintenance to keep building sound for many years to come

Repairs are being made on St. Mary's Catholic Church in Chatfield. GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/CHATFIELD NEWS
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St. Mary’s Catholic Church: Using trucks for its good housekeeping.

“It’s regular maintenance that’s done annually,” said the Rev. Edward McGrath, referring to the boom truck parked on the church’s front lawn last week. “The contractor inspects the church for gaps in the roof, for cracked tiles that need to be replaced, inspects the brickwork to keep the tuck-pointing up to date and does removal of bricks that have been weakened so that they can be replaced as closely as possible.”

McGrath continued, “This year, the work was a little bit more extensive because the roof valley had gapped from the cold and there was water seeping in. A building like this is quite beautiful — they don’t build them like this anymore — and some maintenance is necessary.”

This isn’t the first St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Chatfield, however. More than a century ago, Father John Ireland of the St. Paul Diocese advised the purchase of land for the construction of a Catholic church to accommodate the influx of immigrants coming to Chatfield.

According to an article published by St. Mary’s member Nona Laivell nearly 80 years ago about the occasion of the church’s inception, “On Oct. 27, 1856, a purchase was negotiated by Father Ravoux where by Bishop Cretin obtained from Wm. Gere of Chatfield, Lot No. 4 on Fillmore Street for the sum of $350. Later on this site, the first St. Mary’s Catholic Church was erected.”

Growth meant that the congregation needed a bigger house and therefore chose to build the current church building, a grand brick structure with a red tile roof and a steeple that reaches the sky — far higher than the reach of the boom truck that is put to use in maintaining the rooftop.

Laivell wrote, “It was found necessary to find larger quarters for the ever-increasing congregation, which numbered 150 families. The parish home was also found inadequate, and a very fine residence at a desirable location was found at the corner of Twiford and Fourth streets. This became the rectory, and four lots across the street were purchased on July 22, 1927. A plan to raise funds by voluntary subscription was generously responded to, and the beautiful temple of worship, St. Mary’s New Memorial Church was erected in 1930 and 1931.”

Empire Wrecking Company of Cleveland, Ohio, demolished the old church in 1934, making way for the new building — including what is known as one of the most ornate sanctuaries in Fillmore County — keeping eyes upon God’s word with the stories of Jesus and the holy family shown on the ceiling.

McGrath pointed out that the building is a home for its congregation. “The building serves the people of the church. The church is the people, and the building is just the house for the people. Ours just happens to be quite ornate. This building, or others…if you look at the brick buildings downtown, these things take maintenance.”

Once the boom truck has backed off St. Mary’s lawn, the attention turns to the church — the people — and what they’ve got planned for late fall.

McGrath invited the community to join the congregation for turkey bingo and for Advent and Christmas celebrations. “We do have turkey bingo coming up, and there’s the children’s Christmas pageant. We did a whole thing last year, a magnificent program retelling the Nativity story. This is a great time of year.”

For more information on upcoming events at St. Mary’s, which is part of a five-point parish in Fillmore County, log onto the church’s website at, call 507-867-3922, or stop in at the church office at 323 Twiford St. SW, or the church, at 405 Bench St. SW, Chatfield.