St. Mathias celebrates 125 years
ST. MATHIAS — Faith and community went hand-in-hand in St. Mathias even before the effort of building a church brought residents together.
Since those early days — when farm families brought horse-drawn wagon loads of stones for the church’s foundation — St. Mathias Catholic Church served as a bedrock for the parishioners. They brought their babies for baptisms. They joined their lives in marriage before friends and family. They gathered to comfort each other when a loved one was lost.
In between, they celebrated holidays, greeted each other at Mass, mingled in fellowship at church events and donated time to care for the church and nearby cemetery. They combined their efforts to continue the traditions left by those who came before them — ever mindful of those who will follow in their footsteps.
This month, the St. Mathias Catholic Church community will celebrate 125 years of service to the faithful.
“It’s really a family,” said parishioner Mary Sather, adding in a time when people often interact through electronic devices, the church is still a place where people interact with each other not machines.
Sather gathered with other long-timer parishioners recently in the church basement — Leonard and Carleen Koering and Marvin and Gloria Koering. On Sunday mornings during the school year, they said the space is packed with activity and the voices of young children.
They described the parish as a place where everyone will lend a hand when needed. Parishioners are active in the church through volunteer work on numerous fronts. In the 1930s to help pay off the debt of constructing the church, families paid pew rent. Farm families, used to full work days, added hauling cords of wood to the church to their duties.
St. Mathias’ legacy as one of the oldest churches in the Diocese of Duluth comes from a sense of community for Catholics and non-Catholics alike, they said.
Leonard Koering, 74, was baptized at St. Mathias, and spent his life in the community. His father was one of the men digging the church’s basement in December of 1923. Koering was married in the church and continues to worship there with his grown children.
“I’ll be buried in that cemetery,” he said, noting the Catholic cemetery next to the church in St. Mathias, which he said is the only Catholic cemetery in the county.
The Koerings said their one regret now is not spending more time talking to their elders to get greater details about the history of the parish. They are pulling together details from past church bulletins and parish records, like the ones listing each farmer and the number of wagon loads of rocks provided to build the church.
Before the first frame church was constructed, early French settlers celebrated Mass in their homes as a priest traveled to them from Little Falls in 1887. “That’s how important their faith was to them,” Gloria Koering said.
Some settlers made the trip to St. Mathias from their homesteads on South Long Lake.
“It took them all day to come to Mass and get back home,” Leonard Koering said.
They traveled to church through frigid temperatures, blowing snow and the 1972 flood, which they recalled dropped 10 inches of rain making the rivers run backward. Leonard Koering remembers arriving for Mass in a snowstorm using a tractor with chains on the wheels to get through. Marvin Koering recalls trips to the church in a horse-drawn sleigh. They remember making cautious trips to the church basement where Father Henry Miller set up an archery range for the children.
For future generations, Gloria Koering said the church remains a focal point to show people faith is the most important part of their lives. When others have asked how St. Mathias succeeds in involving younger generations to take part in church events, Carleen Koering replied that is something they simply expected of their children — that they would take part, help and keep the church community going.
“Hopefully, that is what the future will continue to be,” Sather said. “We all love it out here — the beauty of spring when the crops are grown, the rivers and streams — I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else. It’s always been there and in our minds it’s always going to be there, we hope.”