A Church history of St. Joseph’s - Duluth Heights
In early 1921, the Bishop of the Diocese of Duluth, John T. McNicholas, sent two Carmalite Sisters from the Corpus Christi Centre in Duluth to visit the families in the Duluth Heights area. To their surprise, Sister Mary Joseph and Sister Mary Andrew found many Catholic families in the area. Because of distance and transportation problems, most of the families were unable to attend Mass on Sundays and their children did not go to Catholic schools depriving them of a Religious education.
Through the organizing methods of Sister Mary Joseph, a parish was formed. Catechism classes were started for the children and held in the home of Mrs. J. Praff on Saturday mornings. On Easter Sunday the first Mass was celebrated in the home of Joseph Wild at 123 West Orange Street. Father J, Poitras an assistant at St. Jean’s Parish celebrated the Mass. Eighteen families were represented.
The parish was named St. Joseph in honor of Sister Mary Joseph who was largely responsible for its organization. The parish was first placed under the care of the Monsignor Buh (Boo) Mission House at 1124 E. Superior St., in Duluth. A number of priests from the Mission House took turns serving the parish until Bishop McNicolas appointed Father Walter Remmes as its first pastor on September 18, 1921. Plans were immediately formulated to build a church. Father Remmes along with two trustees, Charles Miller and J. Sweeney, drew up plans with the assistance of a building committee composed of Fred O’Brien, Charles Miller, Joseph Stauber, Edward Thompson, and Joseph Wild. Many of the parishioners and a number of priests from the Mission House helped in the actual building of the structure which when completed had a seating capacity of 150. It was located at the corner of Arlington Avenue and Gilead St. The purchase price for the land (18 lots) was $1,450. (12 payments of $142.20 made December 1, 1921, through September 1, 1924 made the total cost 1,592.20) The origninal site first proposed was three acres at the intersection of Swan Lake Road and Maple Grove Road.
On December 18, 1921, the newly built church was blessed by Bishop McNicholas and Father Remmes celebrated the first Mass. The church saw its first class of children make their First Holy Communion, April 30, 1922. (The first parish class made their First Holy Communion, May 26, 1921, in the Chapel of Corpus Christi Centre).
Sunday collections in 1921 were grossing $10.00 weekly. Every third Sunday of the month, the collection was donated to the Sisters of the Corpus Christi House.
Father Remmes continued as pastor until August 1923. The parish was taken care of by the Mission house for a few months until Father J. McGranahan was appointed pastor. He served as pastor until Father John Bagley assumed the duties September 1926.
Until Father Bagley showed up, the previous two pastors did not actually reside in the parish because it had no rectory. Father Bagley broke from this tradition and shortly after his appointment took up residence at the E. Sellar’s home. He became the first resident pastor. Father Bagley had served the parish for almost 11 years when he was killed in a bus and car accident June 26, 1937.
Father Thom O’Donoghue immediately succeeded Father Bagley as pastor. However, because the pastor of Duluth Heights, St. Joseph’s, was also the pastor of Park Point, Our Lady of Mercy, since its establishment as a parish, Father O’Donoghue chose to live at Our Lady of Mercy. In the meantime, plans were made to build a rectory for St. Joseph’s. The site selected was 715 Arlington Avenue where the parish had ample property. A building contract was let in August 1939 and the building was ready for occupation by the spring of 1940.
In September 1945, Father O’Donoghue was transferred to Buhl and for the next year and a half the parish was served successively by Father William Hennebery (September 1945 – February 1946) and Father James Ballamans, O.S.C. (February 1946 – January 1947).
Father Joseph Hughes, then editor of the Duluth Register, was appointed pastor on January 8, 1947. By securing help from the Crosier Fathers of Onamia, Father Hughes was able to add a second Mass on Sundays at St. Joseph’s and at Our Lady of Mercy. Until this time, there was only one Mass offered at both parishes.
Father Hughes continued as pastor until March 30, 1950. Father James Chisholm was appointed to take his place. During Father Chisholm’s term as pastor, it was decided that St. Joseph’s needed a new church. Consequently, Father Chisholm, together with the trustees - Charles Miller, one of the original trustees in 1921, and John Mackey - began planning for a new church. Parishioner Chester Lachecki, a draftsman, offered his services to draw the plans. Land was donated by the Eichen family at the corner of Ebony and Linden Street, the present location.
Meanwhile, because of the increase of membership in both St. Joseph’s and Our Lady of Mercy parishes, the Diocese decided that each parish required its own individual pastor. Accordingly, on August 6, 1952, such a separation was decreed by Bishop Thomas A. Welch. Father Chisholm remained as pastor of Our Lady of Mercy and Father Rudolph N. Faith was appointed as the new pastor of St. Joseph’s.
Plans for the new church and rectory were completed in the spring of 1953 and construction was started. As with the previous church, parishioners once again helped in the actual building of the church and rectory. The building project was completed in June 1954 with the church blessed by Bishop Welch on June 13, 1954.
By March of 1960 there were 262 families in the parish in spite of the fact that 76 families were removed from the parish rolls when the formation of the St. Raphael’s parish was established in 1959. The membership increased to approximately 330 families by 1999.
Father James Crossman was pastor from 1965 to 1968. Father Chisholm returned as pastor from 1968 to 1974 followed by Father Thomas Stack from 1974 to 1983.
Father Patrick Coyle became pastor in 1983. Remodeling and liturgical updating of the church began under Father Coyle shortly after his arrival. The Parking lot was enlarged by vacating the Locust street easement for the north entrance and adding additional parking spaces to the east. Also at this time the church was reroofed and insulation was added. In the late 80s it was decided to have an organ built for the church by Jaeckel, Inc. The organ was completed and installed in 1990.
In the early 1990s, the church was resided and stained glass windows were installed followed by the redesign of the altar.
In 1994, Father Noel Stretton, took over and completed the renovation and liturgical updating of the church and a complete remodeling of the rectory.
Father Stretton was transferred to St. Elizabeth’s parish in August of 2002 and St. Joseph’s joined St. Lawrence as a sister parish under Fr. William Fournier. He was joined by Ted Windus as our first deacon.
On July 13, 2005, Father William Fider became Pastor, with Father John Beckfelt, Pastor Emeritis, Father James Scheurer, Pastor in residence, and Deacon Chico Anderson assisting.Father Fournier was transferred to St. John’s parish.
On July 12, 2017, Fr. William Fider retired and Fr. Ryan Moravitz became Pastor, with Deacon Chico Anderson assisting. Our membership is currently at 201 registered families.