Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Hail St. Mary’s of Melrose June 26, 2011

The steeples of St. Mary's Catholic Church of Melrose.

I STOOD THERE. Just stood there. For minutes, taking in the glorious splendor before me.

The cornflower blue of the arched ceiling. The pillars. Pews—endless carved pews stretching from the fonts of holy water to the steps leading to the altar.

A view from the back of St. Mary's Catholic Church looking toward the main altar.

I didn't even try to count the hand-carved pews that grace this church. But they are many.

A stone font holding holy water at the back of the church.

Such beauty. Such holiness. Such wonderment.

Opulent, stained glass windows bedecking the sanctuary like jewels on a crown.

One of too many stained glass windows to count.

Statues fit for the finest of museums.

This statue of Jesus and Mary sits at the back of the church.

And then I moved, not sure which direction to go, wondering how I could possibly see every detail. Prayerful hands. Flickering candles. The frayed ends of the bell pull. Gold-leaf stenciled crosses. Worn wood. Angels in flight above the altar.

Clustered candles of prayer at St. Mary's.

Bell ropes dangle by the balcony stairway. Two stairways lead to the balcony.

A gold-leafed stenciled cross borders a side wall of the sanctuary.

My eyes swept across the Church of St. Mary’s, or St. Mary’s Catholic Church of Melrose. Choose the moniker you prefer.

The name and the denomination of this 1898 church mattered not to me. I cared only for the heavenly feel of this holy place.

How could I not be impressed by this multi-steepled house of worship next to the turkey plant and soaring above the landscape 100 miles northwest of the Twin Cities?

How many times, if you travel Interstate 94 in central Minnesota, have you noticed those steeples while zipping by Melrose, but never taken the time to drive into town? Placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1993, this Catholic church is worth a stop if you appreciate craftsmanship, art, history and reverent beauty beyond belief.

The church rises above the land, defining Melrose.

The 113-year-old building was constructed by the parishioners of St. Boniface and renamed St. Mary’s when St. Boniface and St. Patrick’s parishes merged in 1958.

History runs deep here. You will see it in the hitching post out front, smell it in the incense, hear it in the creak of steps leading to the locked balcony.

And if you listen closely, you can almost hear the whispered prayers of those who have come here on bended knees to lift up their sorrows to the Lord.


I COULD NOT POSSIBLY share my many photos of St. Mary’s with you in one blog post. Please check back for more images in a future post.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


15 Responses to “Hail St. Mary’s of Melrose”

  1. Bernie Says:

    Beautiful Sunday post!
    I will always be amazed at how they built churches like these back in the day…

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      I am amazed too. But imagine how much it would cost to build a church like this today. I expect back in the day, craftsman either donated their skills or were paid a trivial amount.

  2. Bernie Says:

    That is an amazing church. I have to admit, the “all seeing eye” kind of creeped me out. Makes me think of the Masons or something similar. *lol*
    Wow, that church must have had quite a congregation at one time to have that many pews.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Yeah, I can see where you would think the “all-seeing eye” is rather unsettling. But I thought it different than the typical stained glass windows you see in a church, which is why I chose to showcase it.

    • Courtney Says:

      They still do its full every mass honestly if they could expand they probably would

  3. djhcakes Says:

    Thank you so much for sharing these magnificent pictures! Words cannot describe the beauty of this place, such wonder and splendor to behold; so breathtakingly beautiful! Please post more when you can.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      You are most welcome. The beauty of this church ranks as incredible. I have another post full of photos ready to go. So watch for it sometime soon.

  4. tanya32988 Says:

    This church is still packed come Sunday morning! I love this church My youngest daughter and I ( my brother, and most of my dads side of the family too) were all baptized in this church! Most of the Catholic churches in and around central Minnesota are similar in style and size. It is turely beautiful to sit and listen to worship in these churches!!!

  5. Our beautiful St. Mary’s suffered a terrible fire last evening. She still stands but we are unsure of the extent of internal damage. We are so grateful for the efforts of our extended community firefighters for saving this wonderful and most loved church! Thank you for capturing these images!

  6. Georgeasasas Says:

    I saw the fire with my own eyes

  7. mark mayers Says:

    I am from st mary,s of melrose we the parishioner could use your help to save our church after the fire. Outside structure is not harmed we want to restore but the st cloud diocese want to demolish it and build new. We are all just ill. Would appreciate any help or ideas that you mighty have tks mark

    • Mark, I understand your desire to save St. Mary’s of Melrose. It’s a beautiful church and I’m sure one to which many are deeply connected emotionally and historically. Churches like this simply cannot be replaced. Given its status on the National Register of Historic Places, I would think that would be of primary consideration in saving the structure.

      I don’t have any specific ideas, but I have emailed you with questions.

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