Church of St. John of St. Paul

A Brief History of St. John’s Church
Last Update: March 4, 2011

The first Church of Saint John of Saint Paul was built in 1886.  It was called St. John's Irish Church and had 1,400 members. The first pastor was Rev. Louis Cornelis.  Father Cornelis was forced to resign for health reasons shortly after the church was opened and was succeeded by Rev. James Fleming of Albert Lea in June 1887.  In October 1887, $1,600 was borrowed for the purpose of erecting a pastoral residence, a modest frame structure flanking the church. The school, a two-story 60 x 70 foot structure, was started in 1889.  The first classes were held in February 1890.  The Sisters of Immaculate Heart ran it until 1892 when the Sisters of St. Joseph took over.

The second and current Church was started in 1922 under the leadership of St. John’s third pastor, Rev. Thomas F. Gleeson.  The first Mass was celebrated in it on Easter Sunday, March 25, 1923.  A twenty-one room brick parish house was completed in September of 1927.  Father Gleeson lived for only two years in his new home, and died after a short illness on March 3, 1929. 

The fourth pastor of St. John’s, Rev. James E. Doyle, came to the church from St. Cecilia’s in Midway. During his twelve years as pastor, three additional lots were acquired and a new school built.  The new school was opened on January 31, 1932, but the formal dedication of the building did not take place until April 17, 1932.

Rev. Edward S. deCourcy became the fifth pastor of St. John’s in 1945. He celebrated his golden jubilee in the priesthood on June 10, 1963 and retired shortly afterward. 

Rev. Charles M. Eggert became the sixth pastor in 1963.  The school, still being run by the Sisters of St. Joseph, was closed in the 1970s when it was consolidated with Sacred Heart, only two blocks away. 

Father Eggert retired in 1986 and was replaced by Rev. Leo Dolan who served as our seventh pastor until his retirement in 1993.  Rev. Joseph Fink then became the eighth pastor in 1993 until being reassigned to St. Mary’s in Shakopee in June 2000. 

Rev. Thomas Pingatore, at the age of 80, became St. John’s ninth pastor on August 15, 2000, the Feast of the Assumption.  This wasn't his first assignment at St. John's. After he was ordained as a priest on October 7, 1944, his first assignment in 1945 was at St. John’s as assistant to the pastor, Father Doyle.  Father Pingatore retired in October 2003.

Rev. Robert Grabner was appointed parochial administrator of St. John’s on April 19, 2004.  He served until January 2005.  Rev. Thomas Wilson then became St. John's next parochial administrator while also serving as director of the archdiocesan Vocation Office.

The Church of St. John celebrated it's 120th anniversary in 2006, having been founded in 1886.  A triple celebration was held on October 28, 2006 to mark this major anniversary, to bid farewell to Father Wilson, and to install Father George Welzbacher as St. John's tenth pastor.

Father Welzbacher was very familiar with St. John's, having helped out at our parish during the time his friend Father Dolan was pastor.  Father Welzbacher remains pastor at St. John's as the parish enters its 125th year in 2011.

Thanks to diligent upkeep and careful restoration, the church, school and rectory look much as they did when first constructed in the late 1920s and early 1930s. 

The church still possesses its classic main and side altars, Communion rail, statues, confessionals, Stations of the Cross, stained glass windows and choir loft. Although the pipes are still there, the old pipe organ gave way to a new electronic organ and speakers in 2000.  Other improvements include a handicap entrance, improved lighting and a refurbished parish hall in the basement featuring a large gathering space, library, several side rooms and a kitchen.

The rectory, connected to the church by what may be one of the first, and possibly shortest, skyways in Saint Paul, is home to the pastor and is the center of business operations for the parish.

The school building has been home to a number of nonprofit agencies and schools since it closed in the 1970s.  It currently houses St. Michael’s Academy - a small Catholic elementary school.