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Former parishioners are trying to save the St. Stanislaus Catholic Church in Perham. They are hoping to turn it into a civic center. Photo by Sam Benshoof.

Perham's St. Stan's church could become new event center

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It's looking like the vacant St. Stanislaus Catholic Church in Perham will be converted into an event center.

St. Stan's, which began as a Polish church in 1922, closed its doors in October 2009. An estimated 300 to 350 filled the church for the final Mass.

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Since then, former parishioners and community members have been trying to find a way to open it to the public.

"We have quite an enthusiastic group of ex- St. Stan's parishioners who want to save the building and find a good use for it," according to Bob Kinlund, who is working on the project.

Right now, the group, led by Fran Johnson, is taking the first steps to making it happen.

"It's an evolving process," Kinlund said. "We're working on getting bids to do this and that; working with the city to see what codes have to be met."

Zoning was OK'd and liquor was approved to be served, Johnson said. The group of about 20 has been meeting with various people about the idea including Father Joe Herzing, and Dave Neison and Chuck Johnson with the city.

The group is now looking for funding. Johnson estimated that about $200,000 would take care of immediate needs including handicap accessibility, roof repair and a sprinkler system installed.

"The outside would be left aesthetically the same," Kinlund said.

Johnson said the group is excited about the project and the chance to see St. Stan's open to the public.

"We really feel it's a very beautiful building," she said. "I would like to see the building be open to the public where they would be able to come in at different times for different events and still feel that the building is a part of them."

The church was essentially a "mission" church because the Polish-speaking people were unable to understand the language of the predominately German-speaking St. Henry's Church.

St. Stan's was later the "north side church" then "the north Catholic church." For many years, the congregation was separated much like a school district or city jurisdiction. Those who lived north of the railroad tracks were required to attend St. Stan's. Those south were required to attend St. Henry's.

Eventually, it became evident that two Catholic churches could not be sustained in a community the size of Perham. The shortage of priests was a factor in the decision to close St. Stan's. The church also had numerous costly building maintenance needs, including the roof.

Johnson said she hopes to keep the building open and alive in memory of those who built it.

"They don't make or build churches like this anymore," Johnson said. "And I feel the people who built the church back in 1922 sacrificed a lot to make the church happen and I think it's only fitting that we try to keep that as a living legacy for those people."

The group is in the process of trying to get the church listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Kinlund explained, which will also play a factor in what can be done.

Funding was awarded last year to the Friends of the History Museum of East Otter Tail County to conduct an evaluation of the building.

The organization was awarded $3,800 in Minnesota Historical and Cultural Program grant funding.

A listing on the national register increases recognition and protection of historic resources. Kinlund said that if the church becomes listed in the registry, it means there are limited things that can be done to the building while it is renovated.

St. Stan's isn't the first church in Minnesota to look at converting to an event center.

"There's a church in Battle Lake this has been done to," Kinlund said. "We've been working closely with them to see what they've done."

A church in Duluth also converted into a music center, Kinlund said.

"There are all kinds of ideas," he said. "But right now Perham doesn't have an event center so it would probably be a good use for the building."

Johnson said she hopes the event center will be up and running by next spring. It will be available for wedding receptions, business meetings and more. It will also be open to all people and faiths.

"It's going to be a community affair," Johnson said. "I was told that it takes a community to save an old building and that is very true."

If anyone is interested in volunteering with the project, contact Johnson at 218-346-4466.

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