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A crowd estimated at more than 300 attended the final mass at Perham's St. Stanislaus church. After the service, right, people gathered outside as a time capsule from 1922 was opened.

St. Stan's: Bishop administers final mass at Perham's 'Polish church'

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It stood as a sturdy testament to the faith of early Polish-American residents for 125 years. It took but two hours to close the doors of St. Stanislaus Catholic Church, ending an important chapter of Perham history.

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There were both tears and smiles as about 300 to 350 filled St. Stanislaus Church for the final worship service Oct. 4.

Presiding over the final mass was Bishop John Kinney of the St. Cloud Diocese. In 1922, it was St. Cloud Bishop Joseph Busch who presided over the cornerstone ceremony after the church was built.

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

"One of the interesting comments in the histories of St. Stanislaus that I've read is the statement that some time in the not too distant future, the language issue will be completely erased," said Kinney in his sermon. "The Polish and German people of Perham will eventually become one: Americans--in spirit and in language. Today, we are one not only as Americans, but we are one Catholic community."

First a Polish church, St. Stan's was later the "northside church"

While the church served a predominately Polish-American congregation through its early history, St. Stan's later became "the north Catholic church," and St. Henry's "the south church." For many years, the congregation was separated much like a school district or city jurisdiction. If you lived north of the railroad tracks, you were required to attend St. Stan's. If you were south, you were required to attend St. Henry's. This had the affect of sustaining a somewhat stable congregation at both churches.

But 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.

But the overhead costs connected to maintaining two parishes were probably the overriding factors. When St. Henry's underwent a major re-roofing and exterior maintenance project about four years ago, the handwriting appeared to be on the wall. St. Stan's has had numerous costly building maintenance needs, including the roof, but the money was never approved.

Memories shared at St. Stan's final mass and closing

A few church members stood and shared memories following the mass, though it was difficult to hear the voices in the cavernous St. Stan's sanctuary. Among those who spoke: Courtney Rooney, Lorraine Johnson, Elsie Schultz, Jean Falk, Linda Sweere and Diana Lehman.

Hands clapped vigorously when longtime church organist and pianist Nancy Krueger was acknowledged.

For 30 years, Krueger has played the keyboards as a volunteer for St. Stan's. While the closing of the church was a sad day, it had been long anticipated, she noted.

"There wasn't a lot of bitterness or rancor because we've all known for some time that the day was coming," said Krueger.

St. Henry's School students presented a skit, with the central character being Father Stan Fadrowski. As the priest with the longest tenure at St. Stan's, from 1950-1969, he is fondly remembered by two generations of parishioners. His baseball games on a nearby open lot, where he rarely allowed any ballplayer to strike out, were recalled; as well as his tradition of serving watermelon.

Rev. Fadrowski never forgot a name: If you were a boy, you were "Butch;" if you were a girl, you were "Suzie," said Dorothy Doll, a teacher at St. Henry's parochial school, who organized the skit by the youth.

Special guests and clergy included Rev. James Bernauer, who is retired in the Dent area; Rev. William Doll, a Perham area native and retired priest; and Rev. Ron Dockendorf, who served his first pastorate at St. Stan's, from 1988 to 1994.

The longest-married couple at St. Stan's was honored: Leonard and Lorene Wegscheid, 71 years. Leonard is also the oldest member of the congregation. On the other end of the timeline, the child who represents the last baptism at St. Stan's church attended the mass: Ty Rooney, age two.

Bishop Kinney: St. Stan's parish will never be forgotten

"To those who might wonder if this parish made a difference, I say a resounding 'yes,'" said Bishop Kinney. "The Perham church family and the community would not be the same without this church. There is no doubt that God used this parish community to know, love and serve God."

What will become of the St. Stan's Church building?

There have been discussions, but nothing is firm yet.

One plan is to turn the building over to the History Museum of East Otter Tail, according to Karen Byer. A $50,000 grant is being sought; and the parish pledged to match the grant, up to $50,000, said Byer.

Another possibility, which could be compatible with the museum's plan, would be to establish office space for the Someplace Safe domestic abuse organization. The parsonage, next door to the church, could then become housing for the priest, said Rev. Joe Herzing.

Whatever plans materialize, Perham's St. Stanislaus Church will exist only in memories.

"I ask that you keep the memory of this great parish," said Bishop Kinney. "I ask you to take the memories, lessons and faith with you to your next parish community...Never forget this beautiful parish."

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