Though the present St. Nicholas church building was built in 1914, that is only one chapter in the history of the Parish of St. Nicholas.
Originally founded in 1857, the Parish started about three miles north of the present site. Many are familiar with Old St. Nicholas and its rich history. The first masses were celebrated in homes by the Benedictine Fathers. This gave way to the decision to build the first church building in 1866. It was a wood frame building built on land donated by Nicholas Schmitt. This area of Stearns County was settled by people from the country of Luxembourg.
As the population grew, other buildings were added to the town site of St. Nicholas; which we now call “Old St. Nicholas.” Soon the wood church became too small for the number of people belonging to the parish. It was decided to build a new, larger church. This decision led to a colorful chapter in the history of the parish.
After much discussion, two warring factions developed. One side wanted a building at the present site, one side wanted the new building more centrally located within the parish boundaries. On September 10, 1890 at 2 pm, seven acres were transferred to Bishop Zardetti and the site of the new church was official.
Needless to say, this did not end the dispute which lasted another 50 plus years. Many longtime parishioners have stories of events that have been passed from generation to generation regarding this chapter in local history.
The new building was completed in 1891 and dedicated by Bishop Otto Zardetti. This building sat facing north and south in the present church parking lot. As the church was completed, other buildings and homes were also completed and the new town of St. Nicholas was born. Unfortunately, this led to the demise of the previous town site we now call “Old St. Nicholas.” Many individuals never forgave Bishop Zardetti, nor forgot events surrounding this process.
Unfortunately, the new church building lasted only 25 years. It burned to the ground on Sunday, May 17, 1914. This event was heartbreaking for many but celebrated by some.
The present, or new, church was dedicated by Bishop Busch on November 4, 1915.
The wooden church at the old site fell into disrepair over the years. This property now was in private hands. It was decided in October, 1935 to build a chapel at this site to honor the memory of those first parishioners. This event was said to help heal many of those old wounds. Visitors now stop at the old site and can get a glimpse into the past as the site has been designated a historical significance by the Stearns County Historical Society.
Interestingly, the bell from the first St. Nicholas church now resides atop the former St. Anthony’s Church in St. Cloud.
The present church suffered a fire in 1965, which destroyed a much acclaimed beautiful interior altar. The church you see today is only a small piece of the history of St. Nicholas. For those individuals interested in learning more, the parish of St. Nicholas published a short book with photos of the three Churches, as well as a more in-depth history when it celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2007. Monsignor Daniel Taufen was in residence. The books may be obtained through the parish secretary.
Submitted by Shirley Lutgen
A history note: Reverend Monsignor Daniel J. Taufen passed on September 8, 2013. A Mass of Christian Burial was celebrated at the Cathedral of St. Mary, St. Cloud on September 13, 2013 with The Most Reverend John F. Kinney presiding. Burial was in Immaculate Conception Cemetery, Rockville, MN.