Catholic church in Spring Hills turns 100

This article submitted by Linda Stelling on 9/27/00.

St. Michael's Church Parish members at St. Michael's Catholic Church in Spring Hill held a centennial celebration of their church on Sunday morning. Construction of the current brick church was started 100 years ago, in June 1900.

On Sunday, Father Leo Leisen held a special centennial celebration mass for the parish. After the mass, fellowship for the parish members was held and a buffet lunch was served.

The parish at Spring Hill is nearing its 150th year. The parish had two churches that burned down before the current brick structure was built around the turn of the century.

During the fellowship, parish members reminisced about their childhood, growing up in a church where German was the dominate language. Members shared memories of the church, and a skit was presented by two clowns.

Leisen, who currently serves the parish, recalled that he visited St. Michael's for the first time in October 1954, six months after he was ordained.

Monica Barten recalled how, during the early years of the church, the men and boys sat on one side of the church and the women and the young girls sat on the other side of the church. That segregation was ended by a new priest who had the dividers removed from the pews. In 1952, he also switched mass from German to English.

Ralph Klassen related the story of building the church as told by Joseph Athmann, who was 12 when the church was built and lived a century himself. The parish house sits higher than the church, Klassen said, because when the church basement was dug, all the dirt was placed on the site for the parish house.

Klassen added that it was 20 years before the parish could afford to purchase an altar for the church because they were short of funds.

History of the parish
History of the St. Michael's Parish is recorded in the book, St. Michael's on the Hill. The book was written by Sister Mary Gordian Miller to commemorate the 135th year of the parish. The book was published in 1993.

In addition to the history of the church, through letters and interviews, the book includes histories of early members of the parish.

The following is a summary of the history of the parish.

The first Catholic mass was held in a private home in Spring Hill in 1855. In 1864, the parish had built a log church, but it was destroyed by fire in 1871.

A frame church was then constructed on the site of the current church.

Around 1880, a rectory was completed at a cost of $2,000. The church was enlarged and was topped by a steeple in which a bell was placed. The cross of St. Michael's stood 85 feet above the ground on that structure.

An early morning fire destroyed the 150- by 70-foot wooden structure, along with the parish residence, on Oct. 31, 1899. Two sisters from Little Falls, who happened to be at the parish residence, helped parishioners in removing contents from the burning buildings.

It was decided that a brick church would be built to replace the wooden structure. The foundation rocks were quarried from a pasture two miles away on the Athmann property. Gravel was obtained from another pasture southeast of Spring Hill. The bricks were brought from a brick yard near Meire Grove.

All building materials had to be hauled by horse and wagon from Greenwald and Melrose as there was no railroad through Spring Hill.

The cornerstone of the new church was laid in June 1900. It took a couple of years before even the basement of the church could be used for services. The new church was dedicated on Oct. 6, 1903.

Those two fires were not the last natural disasters to visit the parish. In 1946, a tornado ripped off the southwest corner of the church.

The sanctuary of St. Michael's was remodeled in the 1980s.

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