The History of St. Mary Church, Ellsworth, MN

The first church to organize in Ellsworth was Saint Mary in 1884, one year following the founding of the town of Ellsworth. The parish was first served by the Adrian parish and then by the Luverne parish. Masses at the beginning were celebrated monthly (except winter) in homes or in the country school. The first parishioners were Irish Catholics from the Boston area and German Catholics from Scott County, Minnesota. Many were members of the Catholic Colony promoted by Bishop John Ireland of the Diocese of Saint Paul. The bishop in partnership with the railroads sought to settle the virgin prairie lands of southwest Minnesota with Catholic settlers, offering the promise of a pastor and parish.

Forty charter members of the parish built a wooden church in 1885 and is the western half of the present building. It had no basement, with easy access at ground level. The first Mass in the church was on Christmas Day 1885; the walls were not yet plastered and the people nearly froze to death. Still, they were delighted to worship in their new church. The Catholic population surged in the following years, making it necessary in 1903 to build a large addition on the east side, creating the cross form for the present church. The steeple bell called people to worship starting in 1899. The structure was raised in 1924 to create a full basement for school and social functions. At the same time the church exterior was stuccoed, giving it the appearance it has today.

The Church was so well built it did not need much updating until 2006-2008 when a new steel shingle roof was installed and exterior stucco work and a little structural work was done.

The heart and soul of the parish for most of its history was the parochial school, founded in 1900, dedicated to Mary, Our Lady of Victory. Even as the 1903 addition to the church was happening, many parishioners were restless to put up a brand new school building. When the new three-story school building was finished in 1906, 120 pupils were enrolled. It was the first parish school in the diocese to have a full four-year high school. It contained 15 rooms, including a third floor for boarders and sleeping quarters for the teaching sisters-Franciscan Sisters from Clinton, Iowa, and later the Sisters of Saint Francis from Rochester. The school bell was installed in 1907. Over 250 students received a diploma from Saint Mary High School; over 200 others studied for one to three years at the secondary level until it closed in 1952. The grade school closed in 1966.

The Rochester Franciscan Sisters were given the rectory, newly enlarged, for their residence in 1917. At the same time, a large new rectory for the pastor was built and several lots were purchased for school playgrounds.

Saint Mary High School students were recognized widely for academic achievements, fine arts honors, and athletic endeavors. The basketball and football teams won many championships. The school and the parish combined to create an energetic and vibrant environment for spreading the faith and nurturing vocations to the priesthood and religious life. Twenty- five parish women entered consecrated religious life as sisters and five parish men were ordained priests for our diocese.

In 2018 the Church of St. Mary was closed and the building and its property was sold.  The parish of St. Catherine, Luverne was then clustered with the parish of St. Leo, Pipestone.