Church of St. John of St. Paul
Rev. Leo Dolan
Seventh Pastor 1986 - 1993
Rev. Leo Dolan

Father Leo Dolan

December 1987

Whether exploring ideas for new parish projects or sharing his feelings about the East Side Community he’s become a vital part of, Father Leo Dolan, Pastor of St. John’s Catholic Church, Fifth and Forest Streets, is a man with a mission.

Dolan’s mission for the past year-and-a-half has been to revitalize a parish some thought had seen its best days. Some perhaps - but not Leo Dolan. When once asked when St. John’s would be merging with Sacred Heart, a larger parish two blocks away, Dolan immediately responded, "As soon as Sacred Heart comes down to join us."

Born in the Cathedral Hill area of St. Paul 61 years ago, Leo Austin Dolan was ordained to the priesthood in 1952. He earned a Masters Degree in Guidance and Counseling in 1964, serving there as director of chemical health education for eight years. Father Dolan, a former Chairman of the Governor’s Inter-Faith Task Force on Chemical Health, now serves as Chairman of the Archdiocesan Commission on Chemical Health. He has also served as a consultant on chemical dependency to the Holy See in Rome.

Leo Dolan has not wanted for variety in his work. "I’ve performed many different tasks in the 35 years I’ve been a priest," he said. "I’ve done parish work, school work all the way from grade school through the college level. I spent eight years at St. Thomas College, been pastor at three parishes, served in rural areas, the inner city and suburbs.

"When I think of all my contemporaries in the Archdiocese, I’ve probably had the most varied and richest set of priestly activities," he said.

A virtual stranger to the East Side when the pastorate a St. John’s was offered him, Dolan quickly formed a positive impression of the area. "In addition to its physical beauty, the East Side has a very warm, a very human history. It’s really not ethnic anymore and yet there’s the residue of the contribution the immigrants made in the last century.

"I think the East Side is ripe for some kind urban renewal as has happened in other sections of the city,” Dolan said. "People can't forever flee to the suburbs. Time when they seek a center."

A veteran traveler, Dolan believes "getting away from the familiar" is a human need. He sees travel as a way to gain a broader perspective on life.

"Rome is always the object of my hopes to visit. Dolan said. "I love the city. It's a great city to walk in, to relish its treasures. Dublin is not the attraction that many other cities of Europe are, but my Irish ancestry puts me in touch with a part of my being, my soul, every time I visit there."

Dolan believes spiritual principles are an effective antidote to many of life's difficulties. "Human life has, a lot of sadness, a lot of defeat in it, a lot of loss, and a spirituality that would allow people to experience a certain lightness, a certain hope and joy, joy especially, is very important."

Dolan encourages people who have left the Catholic Church to re-examine the Catholic faith. "I see the Church as very compassionate. A Church that while it sets high standards, understands the human condition. People fight a ‘sawdust church’, one they say is excessively rigid, excessively moralistic, and that simply is not the church I’ve preached.

"The Church is the friend of mankind, the great defender of individual dignity, representing the Lord of Life. It is always open to forgiveness and restoration,’ Dolan said.

Dolan sees St. John as a beacon of Catholic orthodoxy. "I hope that it would continue to be perceived as mainline Roman Catholic parish, and each one of those words is important. We are part of a worldwide religion with its center in Rome. It is from the Bishop of Rome, that the Faith is authenticated and kept on track. St John's is but a part of that. It is enriched by it; it shares the universal life of the Church."

Update:  Father Dolan died on March 22, 2012 at the age of 85.

Father Dolan at St. John's

Father Dolan at a 1989 Potluck Supper

Father Dolan at a 1989 St. Patrick's Day Senior Lunch

An Evening with Father Dolan in 1987

Father Dolan at 1989 Seniors Christmas Party


St. John the Evangelist Preserves Tradition

By Bob Zykowski Catholic Bulletin Staff   3 Aug 1986

St. John the Evangelist Church, St. Paul, is retaining tradition as it renovates its sanctuary.

The project includes getting a new oak pulpit to replace a temporary lectern, and moving part of the old altar to replace the temporary altar facing the people, said Father Leo Dolan, pastor of the parish since last summer.

"I guess 20 years is pretty long for ‘temporary" Father Dolan said. That’s roughly how long it’s been since Vatican II’s reforms resulted in old altars being relegated to mothballs, unused except to hold the tabernacle, and often even torn out as new altars were installed closer to the people, with the priest facing the congregation.

Mike McGough, a contractor who also joined the parish during the project, said, "I’d never done anything like that, and I don’t think it’s been done in St. Paul."

McGough said the "temporary" altar appeared to be more of a table, and didn’t quite fit the traditional overall decor at St. John.


The altar, which is plaster and weighs about 800 pounds, was moved about 6 feet toward the congregation. After the altar was moved, McGough constructed plaster moldings to make the front of the backdrop appear original.

Father Dolan said the parish also has started a memorial fund to simplify the sanctuary with other furniture.

Also helping with sprucing up the church is parishioner Elnora Bohr, who is painting the Stations of the Cross, Father Dolan said.

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