Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

A lot of Irish in Saint Thomas in Derrynane Township March 20, 2018


I APPROACHED THE BEAUTIFUL brick church with the full expectation that the doors would be locked. They were. There would be no getting inside St. Thomas Catholic Church on this St. Patrick’s Day. I felt disappointment, but not surprise.




A hot pink sign tacked onto the church sign notes an Easter vigil here on March 31.


Even though shut out, Randy and I still explored, circling this immense church with stained glass windows and with tower steepling to a cross.



We crunched across crusty snow to look at gravestones that bear the Irish history of this place in names like O’Malley, Shea, O’Connell and noted ancestral roots in Cork County, Ireland and elsewhere.


Driving into Saint Thomas, Minnesota.


This village lies in the middle of farmland with this farm site on the edge of Saint Thomas.


This ag business sits right next to the cemetery.


Then comes the town hall.


And, finally, Callahan’s, which appeared no longer in business.


Saint Thomas is through-and-through Irish, based on our observations of this unincorporated village along Le Sueur County Road 28 just north of Le Center in Derrynane Township. We found this settlement via an atlas that is our guidebook to mostly unknown places in Minnesota. With a name like St. Thomas, we expected a Catholic church and not much more.



The church, built in 1883, closed in January 2011, just another among many rural Catholic churches shuttered and merged. Mass is still held occasionally at St. Thomas.



I often wonder how long such mostly vacated churches will stand. St. Thomas appeared well-cared for still. At least on this St. Patrick’s Day in 2018. But when those who once worshiped weekly here are gone, will their descendants care? Will they still tend the cemetery, swing open the doors for an Easter vigil? I hope so.


© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


16 Responses to “A lot of Irish in Saint Thomas in Derrynane Township”

  1. Almost Iowa Says:

    It is a similar history to our church, Saint Mary’s (Newry) near Geneva.

  2. Jackie Says:

    What a beautiful church, looks like it would have been a gem to explore on the inside as well. My heart always skips a beat when we find an unlocked church building.

  3. Phil Holum Says:

    Despite the closing of the church, I AM impressed with the tidiness of this little town, something not always common in rural Minnesota. I hope they can make use of the church in other ways, such as weddings, family reunions, summer gatherings, etc.

  4. Sue Ready Says:

    comment for two blog postings
    gosh been in Minnesota my whole life and have never heard of Evan or St. Thomas. I wondered if you have read the book The Lost Towns of Minnesota by Rhonda Fochs. She is able to fill in a lot of spaces on dying towns. One of her books covers your area.

    • I expect many towns exist in other regions of Minnesota of which I am also unaware. I had not heard of St. Thomas until last weekend.

      Rhonda contacted me when she was working on that book. Thanks for the reminder that I need to find a copy and read it.

  5. Missy's Crafty Mess Says:

    Wow the brick work on the church and other buildings is beautiful and built to last several generations

  6. Sue Retka Schill Says:

    My home parish. I grew up a half mile away and would walk across the lake, now all cattails, to go to catechism on Saturday mornings in the winter. There is still a vibrant community around St. Thomas. On the west edge, beyond Callahan’s is the sportsman park where they have picnics and softball tournaments. And, they schedule Masses now and then at the church.

  7. Douglas Rutt Says:

    I have Czech ancestors who also live in Derrynane township.

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