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.
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.
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
It is a similar history to our church, Saint Mary’s (Newry) near Geneva.
I thought of you and St. Mary’s when I wrote this post.
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.
Rare are those unlocked churches, as you know.
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.
When I searched online, I noted that St. Thomas can be used for weddings and such. And, yes, you’re right about the town being tidy compared to some other small towns I’ve visited in Minnesota.
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.
Wow the brick work on the church and other buildings is beautiful and built to last several generations
Buildings were built to last years ago and I am always thankful when they remain and have not been torn down.
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.
Sue, thanks for sharing your personal connection to St. Thomas. Stories matter and I’m happy to have yours documented here.
I have Czech ancestors who also live in Derrynane township.
Douglas, thank you for adding Czech into the Irish mix. It’s always good to hear of various ethnicities living in an area.
I should have said “lived.” I’m not sure of any today that live there.
Thanks for the clarification, Douglas.