Sprucing up St. Leo’s

MDN File Photo

St. Leo the Great Catholic Church is the mother church of the Catholic world in northwest North Dakota, said the Rev. Justin Waltz, the current pastor.

“It’s the first Catholic church in Minot,” said Waltz and has been an important symbol for Christianity in general in Minot.

The present building at 218 1st Street SE in Minot was constructed in 1908. The building before that was in place by the late 1800s.

A few years ago, the present building was spruced up, with a $3.7 million exterior renovation project. The building was tuckpointed, the brick was reconditioned, the interior of the church steeples was rebuilt and a new roof was added.

Now, Waltz said, it is time to do some work on the interior and basement of the historic church.

“We are in a campaign process,” said Waltz, who hoped that construction work would begin by May 29. “We are essentially rebuilding and restoring the entire interior and basement of the church, bringing it back to what the original church was, using modern technology.”

The work on the interior will include an updated HVAC system and reinforcing the structure.

“A lot of people don’t realize there’s a dirt basement,” said Waltz.

Along with the interior renovation Waltz said a concrete basement will be put in.

At the end of the restoration, the newly restored church will be in good shape for another 100 years, said Waltz.

Waltz said the “old, big, beautiful” church is not being restored only for sentimental reasons or because it is of such historic importance to the community.

“We’re at a crossroads, the same crossroads they were at in 1908,” said Waltz.

A newly restored St. Leo’s will help set the Catholic faith in Minot for another century of the salvation of souls, proclamation of the Gospel and the building will continue to serve as an important cultural touchstone for the community.

A few years ago, Grace Fisher completed the self-published “St. Leo the Great Catholic Church, Minot North Dakota, A History Book I.”

St. Leo’s Catholic Church was one of 28 churches across the Bismarck Diocese in the year 1908, according to the book, while St. Leo’ Catholic School was completed in 1925. The parish opened an elementary school in 1926 and added a high school by 1929.

The book, which drew on the archives at St. Leo’s, tells the story of the early years of the church and the priests who served there. The many achievements and legacy of the church’s early priests, Monsignors John Hogan and Joseph Raith, is covered.

Raith had a way with the children at the school, Fisher wrote. One parishioner remembers the way that Raith used to throw peanuts to children who gathered outside his home and loved teasing them by pinching their noses. Raith also liked cars and drove his Willys-Knight down the middle of the street, honking at other drivers.

Hogan was also beloved by the students, who remembered how he turned his office into a gathering place for them and excelled as a basketball and drama coach.

Fisher includes biographies of most of the early priests, from Hogan to Raith to Rev. F.J. McKanna, Rev. Marvin Klemmer and Rev. Christian Walter.

It covers the remodeling of the church in 1949 and the construction of a new rectory in 1953.

Waltz came to Minot in 2008. Another recent priest at St. Leo’s was the Rev. Austin Vetter.

The Minot area has also produced an impressive number of young men who are interested in exploring a vocation to the priesthood, so the next century of Catholic life in Minot looks well set.