The History of the Church of St Leo

The first records of Catholic activity in the Pipestone area concerned the arrival of Father Koeberl on horseback in June of 1878. He  began work among the Catholics in a region which included all of southwestern Minnesota and the eastern part of what is now South Dakota. Between 1878 and 1881 Father Koeberl regularly visited the Catholics who were established in the Pipestone vicinity which later became Saint Leo Catholic Parish. He celebrated Mass in their homes. The oldest records indicate that the first Mass was held in a sod shanty. There were twenty-seven baptisms during the time Father Koeberl was here.

The following years(1881-1883) the people were served by Fathers William J. Kuel and John Conway (1883-1885). There were thirteen baptisms during this period. In 1885 Father P. J. Kervick arrived in Avoca, where he lived until 1889. In that year he moved to Pipestone to serve the growing Catholic community. The best example of the sacrifices which he made to begin the parish is illustrated by the fact that he was supported by donations of food from the parishioners. Often these donations did not arrive on time, and he was forced to go hungry. Yet he persisted and began negotiations for the purchase of land on which to erect a church for his parish. It was under his direction that Saint Leo Catholic Church was incorporated, with the proper papers being signed on October 27, 1887, through the St. Paul Diocese in Ramsey County.

Two years later the first church was erected on what is now the northwest corner of Fourth Avenue and Third Street S.E.  At this time, Archbishop John Ireland of St. Paul was president of the parish, Father Kervick was vice-president, James Maguire was secretary, and Anthony Minnehan was treasurer. The contract for the church was let in September of 1887, but construction difficulties delayed the completion of the church until the summer of 1889. The building was a wooden structure 34 feet by 68 feet and cost about $4,500.00. The dedication services were conducted by Archbishop Ireland, whose topic was "The Duty of the Creature to His Creator".  A parish rectory, just north of the church, was purchased in 1900 at a cost of $1, 400.00.

The first baptism in Pipestone was that of Samuel Hirshy on June 30, 1889. Among the earliest marriages were those of Daniel Moriarity and Mary McDermott (June 19, 1883); John Delaney and Catherine Murphy (September 30, 1885); Michael Floody and Maria Kenney (February 16, 1886); Joseph W. Haubrich and Emma VanDeeKerkove (January 14, 1896); Peter C. Haubrich and Clara Riffel (November 17, 1896); and James O'Leary and Ellen Crook (September 4, 1899). All of these people were members of pioneering families in the Catholic Church in Pipestone.

In the year 1900 Monsignor Joseph Mangan was named pastor of the parish. He served in this capacity until his death on August 14, 1938. He is buried in Saint Leo Cemetery, which was established on November 21, 1900 on land northwest of Pipestone purchased from Mr. Bennett, with a new roadway named Mangan Avenue in honor of Monsignor Mangan. This plot of land still serves the parish today as its entire cemetery, with a new section being opened in 1986.

The growth of the parish during Monsignor Mangan's pastorate is obvious in that a new church was constructed at a cost of $60,000.00. This building was of Norman Gothic design built of brick and located on the site of the present church on South Hiawatha Avenue at Fourth Street, facing north. It was 58 feet by 114 feet, the towers rose to a height of 90 feet, and the structure seated 400 people. On October 3, 1915, the cornerstone was laid by Bishop Duffy of Kearney, Nebraska. On September 20, 1916, it was dedicated by Bishop Heffron of Winona, Minnesota, with about twenty-five priests and hundreds of people from the surrounding area in attendance. Also at this time a new parish rectory was erected at a cost of $20,000.00, which was donated to the parish by Monsignor Mangan.

After Monsignor Mangan's death Father Bernel Deslauriers, who was the assistant pastor from December of 1935 until November of 1942, stayed on as administrator of the parish until the arrival of Monsignor John C. McShane in May of 1939. In the early 1940s a home built in the early 1900s by a banker, Seward Duea, was purchased by Monsignor Joseph Mangan's brother and donated to the parish, later used as a convent. It was under the leadership of Monsignor McShane that the Catechetical School was organized, and the convent was used for both the school and the home of the School Sisters of Notre Dame who were sent here to staff the catechetical program. Monsignor McShane also saw to the redecoration of the church in 1947. This took place one year before his transfer to Waseca. It was at this time that Father Bernel Deslauriers, who had been the first assistant priest, returned as pastor. Under his direction Saint Leo School for the instruction of the children of the parish was erected in 1957. It included the parish hall, where many parish functions are held. Father Deslauriers also oversaw the extensive remodeling of the 1915 rectory, expanding the building into the space needed for a growing parish which now had two priests to serve it.

In 1966 plans were begun for a new church to serve the people of Saint Leo Parish and the entire community of Pipestone. Mr. Edward Sovik, an architect with extensive background both in the fields of theology and architectural design, along with Father Aelred Tegels, OSB, as liturgical consultant and Mr. Frank Kacmarcik as liturgical artist, designed a church in the style of its age, but with a timeless simplicity which leaves it open to the needs of the growing and changing church and faith. Incorporating the changes of the recent liturgical renewal from Vatican II along with the rich heritage of nineteen centuries of Christian tradition, as well as the local Indian traditions of peace and brotherhood, the new church stands as a living testimonial to the dedication, cooperation, and courage of the priests and people of Saint Leo Catholic Parish. The organ dedication and recital were held on August 17, 1969, with Charles Kendrick of Chicago as organist. The church itself was dedicated on November 2, 1969, with Bishop Loras J. Watters, Bishop of Winona as celebrant for the Mass.

Father Bernel Deslauriers retired in May of 1972 and made his home at his cabin on Lake Shetek. Father Deslauriers died in 1979, and his funeral and burial were at Saint Leo in Pipestone.

Father Paul F. Halloran came to Saint Leo in May of 1972 to July 1975. A WWII Navy veteran he attended the University of Idaho as a freshman before entering the seminary. He served many years as the Newman Chaplain at Mankato State University before becoming pastor of our parish. During that time he served as Diocesan Director of Rural Life and Chaplain of the Department of MN. for the American Legion. Father Paul was an extraordinary speaker and homilist as well as an author of several books and columnist. His interest in the local Native American Community helped spearhead the renovation of the old Rock Island Pipestone Depot into the Spirit of Peace Indian Center which still exists and flourishes today in 2012. And of course, who can forget Father Paul’s “special green” celebrations and words each St. Patrick’s Day!

In July of 1975 Father Paul C. Evers returned to Pipestone to be the next pastor. He had been  here as an assistant from 1960 to 1965.  In 1979, because the parish could no longer find sisters to staff the religious education program, the convent that sat on the grounds where the present Noah’s Ark Preschool Playground sits was sold to Daryl and Donna Hanenburg of Edgerton, and is now a lovely home in the country. In June of 1979 Father Evers celebrated his Silver Jubilee to the priesthood. He was transferred to Heron Lake in June of 1983.

In June of 1983 Father Lawrence Gavin came from Austin to Pipestone to be the next pastor. In January of 1984 he was also appointed to serve as pastor of Saint Joseph Parish in Jasper. On June 21, 1990 Father Gavin died from a stroke. He was buried at St. Leo Cemetery, Pipestone, MN.

In August of 1990 Father Robert Taylor became pastor until 1994. During his pastorate, St. Martin, Woodstock was clustered with St. Leo and St. Joseph, now forming our Tri-Parish. Father soon became aware of the many repairs needed to update the rectory and slowly began making plans for renovations. Also, more functional space was needed for the parish catechetical program. Before ending his pastoral care for St. Leo, Father gifted to the church our present wall Stations of the Cross.

In July of 1994 Father Kevin Connolly became pastor until July of 1997.  While he was pastor and with the help of the parish council, a new colored parish directory was published.  His tenth anniversary of priesthood was celebrated with a large gathering at mass followed by dinner in the parish hall.

In July of 1997 Father Martin Schaefer became pastor. During his pastorate he oversaw the building of the new addition to the existing church. After much consulting and many parish meetings it was decided to add a new gathering area unto the exiting church, along with various rooms that could also be used as classrooms. As plans moved forward Fr. Schaefer moved into the rectory in Woodstock as the rectory at St. Leo was determined to be unsafe and had to be demolished. The addition for this new building project began in the spring of 2008. It was at that time that Fr. Schaefer was assigned to another parish, leaving in April of 2008.

Father Gerald Kosse, then pastor of St. Adrian, Adrian, MN and of Our Lady of Good Counsel, Wilmont, MN and Priest Moderator of St. Anthony, Lismore, MN and St. Kilian, St. Kilian, MN was then made administrator of St. Joseph, St. Leo, and St. Martin in April 2008. In July of 2008 Fr. Kosse was assigned pastor of St. Joseph, St. Leo, and St. Joseph. Fr. Kosse finished the work on the new addition that was begun by the former pastor, Fr. Schaefer in 2009. On July 26, 2009 Bishop John Quinn came and dedicated the new addition. The Tri-Parish added to the education program by starting a preschool called Noah’s Ark, for the community of Pipestone in the spring of 2010 with 35 children attending.

On October 28, 2012, at St. John the Evangelist Church in Rochester, Minnesota, Bishop John M. Quinn presented Papal Certificates from Pope Benedict XVI to eight priests of the Diocese of Winona.  Our Tri-Parish Pastor, Reverend Monsignor Gerald C. Kosse received the distinction of Chaplain to His Holiness.