History of St. John Cantius Parish
Along with St. Mary's Cathedral, the Church of St. John Cantius is one of two older parishes left in
down town St. Cloud. The parish of St. John Cantius of St. Cloud, Minnesota, was organized originally
as a National Parish to aid Polish-speaking Catholics. For political and economic reasons, great
numbers of Poles had emigrated to the United States from four Polish provinces of Prussia. Some
of them had settled around the St. Cloud area, and were anxious to have Catholic services in their
native tongue. Bishop Rupert Seidenbusch, upon appointing Father John Sroka to the parish at
Gilman, in 1886, asked him to take care of the Polish people in St. Cloud as well. Prior to this time
they had received some attention from other Polish priests within the area.
In 1893 Father John Kitowski, then pastor at Opole, was asked by Bishop Otto Zardetti to begin
organizing a Polish parish in St. Cloud, but the number of families was found to be few. Nevertheless,
on August 15, 1893, Thomas Kitowski, John Kotowski, and Frank Porwoll bought lots 9 and 10 in block
26 of Edelbrock's Addition from Loren Collins and Joseph G. Smith for $1,700 with the intention of
some day building a church.
Instead, a Polish Hall for political and social purposes was built on the premise. In the meantime the
Polish people were attended by neighboring Polish priests.
On October 11, 1895, with about 20 families now anxious to form a parish, Father Sigismund
Suszczynski completed the first step by having the congregation incorporated under the title: "St. John Cantius Roman Catholic Church of St. Cloud, Minnesota." The first officers were: Bishop Martin Marty, President; Monsignor Joseph P. Bauer, Vicar General; Father Sigismund Suszczynski, Pastor; Joseph Marsolek, Secretary; Anton Kotowski, Treasurer. On August 24, 1896, this Corporation of St. John Cantius bought the lots mentioned before, of Edelbrock's Addition (corner of 16th Avenue and 3rd Street North), from Thomas Kitowski, John Kotowski and Frank Porwoll for $50.
With these important steps accomplished, Bishop James Trobec on October 14, 1900, appointed Father August Gospodar of North Prairie to take charge of this Polish parish, and to have Services twice a month. After obtaining enough pledges to make a start, plans were made to build a church. The building committee consisted of Joseph Marsolek, Frank Porwoll and the Pastor. The church structure was to be 44 feet by 104 feet, with a granite foundation and a 20 foot red brick story and a 90 foot tower. The Hall was moved and construction began. The granite and brick work was under the supervision of Joseph Marsolek. The carpenter work and finishing were contracted by Joseph Shellinger. The brick was bought from Menominee, Wisconsin, and the granite was donated by Robert Graham.
The Polish people of St. Cloud erected a beautiful and durable church at a cost of about $9,000. The cornerstone was solemnly blessed and laid on July 7, 1901, by Bishop Trobec. The new church was dedicated December 27, 1901, with a Pontifical High Mass. The first Services in the new church were held by Father Gospodar on New Year's Day, 1902, at 11:00 a.m., and after that, on alternate Sundays. The first Baptism was administered January 1, 1902, to Frank Porwoll, son of Paul and Frances (Nee Ohotta) Porwoll. The first Marriage was that of John Kloskowski and Marcella Bieliczki on May 26, 1902. The first burial from the new church was that of Frances Porwoll, wife of Paul Porwoll, on March 10, 1902.
The first list of parishioners contained names like: Salaski, Kitowski, Kloskowski, Materna, Weihs, Kotowski, Krefta, Wallek, Schaefer, Umerski, Sivinski, Marsolek, Jagielski, Strzelcryk, Ohotta, Sakry, Hess, Glyszczynski, Gajkowski, Maslonkowski, Wolo, Czayka, Gulatus, Porwoll, Perlowski, Tysbiorek.
Soon bells were installed and side altars added. Statues, an organ and vestments were acquired. A monstrance once used by Bishop Rupert Seidenbusch was donated to the church. A choir was organized in 1902 with four male and eight female voices, with Sister Stanislaus as organist. In the same year the Hall on 15th Avenue was turned into a parochial school with an enrollment of 53 children who were taught by two Benedictine nuns.
With the church and school paid for by July 10, 1904, a new contract was given to Joseph Marsolek by the building committee to erect a two-story parish house of solid red brick, the same as the church. This was completed the following winter at the cost of about $3,200.
On January 26, 1905, Bishop Trobec appointed Father Leo Stein as the first resident pastor of St. John Cantius Church. Now the parishioners were able to have regular Services. The continued growth of the parish made the building of a new and larger school necessary. The new school opened in January, 1916, with an enrollment of 115 children, in comparison to the 53 in 1902.
On August 28, 1917, Bishop Joseph F. Busch appointed Father Peter J. Kroll from Sacred
Heart Parish at Flensburg to St. John Cantius Church of St. Cloud. In 1918 Father Kroll
enlisted in the United States Army to serve as Chaplain of the Army of Occupation in
Luxemburg. During his absence the parish was administered by Father W. Sobolewski,
Father Wilfred OSB and Father Francis Bialka. Father Kroll returned to St. John Cantius in
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The church was dedicated in 1920, a unit heating plant for the rectory and church was installed in 1924, a new Kilgen pipe organ was obtained in the summer of 1926 and the church and parish house were re-roofed. The beautiful copper steeple was built in 1927.
By the outbreak of World War II, in 1939, the parish had grown to 210 families, with 214 children in the parochial school and five Benedictine Sisters teaching. St. Cloud was, likewise, rapidly becoming a large city. Since there were many people in the area now who were not of Polish descent, Bishop Busch requested permission of the Holy See in 1945 to have St. John Cantius be made a territorial parish, thereby permitting all people in that territory to become members of the parish. But it was not until 1957, by decree of Bishop Bartholome and with the authorization of a rescript from Rome, that the boundaries were set. Also affected by those boundary changes were the parishes of St. Mary's Cathedral, Holy Angels and St. Anthony's.
Repairs, improvements and new parishioners demanded more care and concern from the newly invested Monsignor. The increase in families meant an increase in school enrollment, as well as teachers. In 1957 property was purchased and a new red brick Sisters Convent was built.
Due to an ever growing shortage of teaching Sisters and other factors, St. John Cantius School was forced to close in 1973. However St. John Cantius became a participating school with St. Cloud parishes of St. Anthony's and Holy Spirit. The combined school is St. Elizabeth Ann Seton. This school has two sites: the Primary building which houses grades K-3 on the Holy Spirit site, and the Intermediate building which houses grades 4-6 on the St. Anthony's site.
The rapid growth of the city of St. Cloud resulted in the depopulation of the inner city. What once was a thriving down town area became a relatively deserted place with empty store fronts. People shopped in the new malls and dined in the numerous new restaurants exploding west of the city. New parishes were organized to accommodate the ever growing population.
St. John Cantius Parish which once had in excess of 650 households and was served by two priests now only has around 450 registered members. Yet the parish remains vibrant, now a part of a three-parish cluster in the South Central area along with Holy Spirit and St. Anthony’s, served by two priests. People from the greater St. Cloud area with roots in the parish still attend Mass at St. John Cantius on many occasions. The parish also welcomes many visitors who come to St. Cloud on the weekends.
The support from parishioners is tremendous. The parish hall is used almost every day by all kinds of organizations not only from the parish, but from other groups in St. Cloud as well. We even are an elections precinct. All this gives hope for the future.
Though on a smaller scale than years past, the parish is still thriving. St. John Cantius has been a landmark in St. Cloud for over 100 years. It is part of the early history of the Catholic Church in this city. We are proud to add that fourteen boys from the parish have been ordained for the priesthood and ten girls have become Sisters in the various Orders. We pray that God will continue to shower His blessings so that this parish of St. John Cantius may flourish and continue to guide souls to Heaven.
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