Recalling the 1985 Demolition of St. Dominic Church

This spring, St. Dominic parish will celebrate the 25th anniversary of the laying of the cornerstone of their church. Nearly forgotten is the old church and the tumultuous debate that preceded its ultimate demolition in the Fall of 1985.  Tradition-minded parishioners joined with preservationists in the community to try to save the old church building. The contest attracted letters to the editor of the Northfield News from around the country, and newspaper articles in the Faribault Daily News and the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

With the help of Hayes Scriven and the Northfield Historical Society, I have assembled a handful of photos that perhaps explain why so many were so attached to the lovely old red-brick building. More photos and analysis of the episode available on my blog.

[All photos courtesy of The Northfield Historical Society]

See the large slideshow or this small slideshow:

9 thoughts on “Recalling the 1985 Demolition of St. Dominic Church”

  1. Andy –

    Thanks for a great post. As a life-long member of St. Dominic, I have many fond memories of the old church building.

    I was only a few years out of high school when it was decided to demolish the old building and build the new one. I wasn’t as emotionally tied to the old church as I feel I am today. I miss the stained glass windows, the long main aisle leading to the altar, the marble alter and communion rails and the mural behind the altar that had eyes that seemed to follow you no matter where you sat in the church. (Anyone who attended mass in the old church knows what I am talking about.)

    The old church building was grand in its stature. Sure it was old and in desperate need of repairs but it had so much character and charm.

    I miss the old building but I can’t say the decision to build anew was wrong. To me its the people, rather than the building, that are the Church of St. Dominic.

    Thanks again for your post and I hope that you gather enough infomration to perhaps publish a book on the history of St. Dominic church & school.



    1. Arlen,

      Yes, I learned a lot about parish and school history. The fun part of a project like this is that you stumble across so many interesting facts. For example, did you know the residence immediately to the west of the school on St. Olaf Ave. was once the church, which was located on the corner of St. Olaf and Linden, where the present-day rectory now stands? When they built the brick church in 1913, they moved the old wooden one across the street, took off the steeple, and turned it into a house!

      1. That is very interesting, Andy. I believe there may be a picture of the original convent, which if I remember correctly was located towards the NE corner of the school property, on display in the library. I was told the girls boarded there while the boys boarded in the upper level of St. Dom’s school. Sr. Bernelle might be able to shed some light on that.

  2. Andy,

    I would be interested to hear your opinion on when historical structures like the old church should be preserved, who should pay for the preservation, and when the actual owners should be forced to give up the property interest they have in favor of the good of the greater community.

    It would seem that the same issues are arising with the Holy Cross Church in Dundas that arose with St. Dominic.

    I came in 1989. So, I missed the whole controversy. However, the wounds were still fresh in many people’s minds. There was the concern about the decision-making process, the costs, the historical preservation, and, for some, the fact that non-St. Dominic parishioners were involved in trying to preserve the building.

  3. David,

    My research indicates that it would have been cheaper to renovate the old church than it was to build a new one, which is what many members of the parish wanted to do. As indicated in my blog, my belief is that the old church was replaced not as a cost-saving measure, but because the powers that be wanted a structure that reflected the more modern approach to the faith that they favored.

    It is a good question, even today, to ask who the “actual owners” of a Catholic church are. The five “owners” officially at the time — whose names appeared on the deed — were Archbishop John Roach, another archdiocese official, parish priest Stephen O’Gara, and two parish trustees. These all supported the demolition; but it was pointed out by the Save St. Dominics group that only three of them were residents of Northfield.

    I think you are assuming this was a debate pitting members of the parish in favor of demolition against non-members in favor of preservation. That wasn’t the case. The most active opponents of demolition came from a group within the parish.

    1. Andy,

      I had heard that local preservationists who were not members became involved, including future Senator Paul Wellstone. I was wondering what your take is on folks who don’t have a “dog in the fight” wanting to have their say.

      Should this be a broader community issue or should St. Dominic or Rejoice! get to decide what happens to the buildings that they own?

  4. As a neighbor ( not a member) who was here before and after the decision to demolish the old building, I must admit I think the old one was much more distinguished than the present one. While I understand the congregation’s desire to exchange hisorical distinction for efficiency, I miss seeing the twin bell towers at the end of my strteet!

  5. David,

    I must have read through two or three dozen articles about this event, and I didn’t see Wellstone’s name mentioned even once. If he had a role, it wasn’t prominent.

    Ultimately everyone had their say, but the decision made by the parish priest and council was final and could not be stopped by anyone. I imagine the same will be the case with Rejoice! Church.

    My sympathies are with the members of the parish who opposed demolition because of what the old church represented on a religious and spiritual level. The irony was noted that the main justification for a new church was the perceived need for a building that accomodated “liturgical participation” of the congregation. Yet many members of the parish felt they had not been allowed to participate in the decision itself to demolish and rebuild.

  6. I’m like Jane…I’ve here most of my life which takes in before and after the demolition. And like David L, I do remember walking into the issue accidentally. I commented to a St. Dom member that I really like the old church and hoped it could be salvaged…that I had done a lot of work on older building to make them function better, conserve energy, etc. I guess that church member passed my comments on becuase it wasn’t long before other members were asking if I’d write letters and provide support for the ‘save the church’ group. I felt a bit awkward about it since I was not a member of the church.

    On most of these issues I tend to side with a democratic principle at work. If there is a congregation vote to do something, then it probably needs to be respected and allowed to move forward.

    But I do miss those twin towers at the end of First Street.

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