Today, Sunday, July 28, 2019, Bishop Paul Sirba, ninth bishop of the Catholic diocese of Duluth, will be celebrating Mass at the Blessed Sacrament Side Lake Chapel. It is an annual summer event for the Bishop to visit the chapel.

This building, also known as the Blessed Sacrament Summer Chapel, may look modest from the outside. But it contains a wealth of history that reflects the love the Roman Catholics of this area have had for their faith over the past 100+ years.

In gathering the information for this week’s page, I used several sources:

1. First and foremost, my greatest thanks to Mark and Barb (Rodgers) Plys. Hibbing residents, Side Lake is their summer home, and for many years they have served as the caretakers of the Blessed Sacrament Chapel. Along with other summer residents, as well as year-‘round residents, the Chapel has been lovingly taken care of inside and out.

2. Thanks also to Teri McKusky for her helpfulness with details!

3. I also used the booklet “Seventy-Fifth Anniversary-1894-1969-of Blessed Sacrament Parish” which was published by the parish. In 1994, when the parish celebrated its 100th Anniversary, a booklet was published which provided information. And in the year 2000, a “Millennium Edition” parish directory celebrating the three newly blended parishes of Hibbing becoming one Catholic Community was also a useful source.

Coming soon on this page will be a history of the Side Lake Chapel of the Pines which serves Protestant worshipers in the Side Lake area.

~ Mary Palcich Keyes

On October 3, 1889, three new Roman Catholic dioceses were formed because of the growing number of Catholics settling in Minnesota and North Dakota. The Dioceses of St. Cloud, Fargo, and Duluth were formed at this time. The Diocese of Duluth at this time also included the area which would later form the Crookston Diocese. In the new Duluth Diocese in 1889, there were 32 churches and 10 missions served by fifteen diocesan and 5 Benedictine priests, and one community of Benedictine Sisters located in Duluth.

The Village of Hibbing incorporated in 1893. In the modest homes of this village were the pioneering families with various national backgrounds: English, Irish, Scotch, German, Italian, Scandinavian, Slavic, and French. About 50 of the families were Catholic. As the nearest Catholic church was forty miles away in Grand Rapids, hardly any of them were able to attend Mass in those early years. In 1894, priests from Grand Rapids, Cloquet, and Tower began to make periodic calls to minister to the villagers.

For six and a half years, Hibbing was regularly attended to as a mission from the Grand Rapids church. Then, Father Clement Gamache from Grand Rapids prevailed upon Hibbing’s parishioners to start putting their nickels and dimes together for a building fund. These plans matured in the summer of 1897. Built of local pine lumber, the new church, Blessed Sacrament, was completed in September 1897 and Father Gamache was soon transferred to Hibbing, becoming the first resident pastor.

The Church of the Blessed Sacrament in the original town site of Hibbing had many lovely stained glass windows. These windows include within their glass the name of the organization or family who donated the money for the windows. Solid oak pews, statues of saints, and other fine details made for an impressive church for the new parish.

The Sturgeon Lake area had also been a mission for visiting priests to serve the lumber company employees living there. By 1895 it was formally associated as a mission church to Hibbing’s Blessed Sacrament. Different spaces in the area were used for the services.

In the early decades of the 20th Century, Catholics from Hibbing, Chisholm, and other Range towns were acquiring properties with lake frontages and building summer homes on Sturgeon Lake, Side Lake, and other lakes in what was now named French Township. By the 1930s, so many of these people spent summers there with their families that an effort was made to have a permanent place for Sunday Mass so they would not have to drive 20 miles. Priests from Blessed Sacrament arranged to provide for services during the summer months, utilizing any space large enough in available buildings, usually the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ building (later known as “The Octagon”). This went on until 1941.

In that year, Blessed Sacrament acquired a two and a half acre tract of land which was formerly a small portion of a Civilian Conservation Camp (CCC), together with some of the buildings. One of these buildings was transformed into a chapel. It would be named the Sturgeon Lake Mission of Blessed Sacrament Church.

The town of Hibbing’s move two miles to the south in the 1920s meant that Blessed Sacrament, and many other beautiful churches, would need to move or be dismantled. Blessed Sacrament could not be moved and thus it was that Blessed Sacrament was sold to the mining company. The parish targeted that money to build a new church, along with a new school, a convent for the Sisters, and a rectory for the priests in the new town. All of those building projects were completed before 1941 on the property between 7th and 9th Avenues and 23rd and 25th Streets, just south of the new high school.

The new church, larger than the North Hibbing church, and built of stone, was not designed to use the stained glass windows or pews from the original church, instead getting mostly new furnishings. So, beginning in 1943, alumni of the Catholic school in North Hibbing, the McGolrick Institute, raised money to refurbish the Chapel. Pews, doors, and the precious windows were installed in what was now commonly called the Side Lake Chapel.

In the spring of 1966, an addition was begun. This addition enlarged the Chapel’s seating capacity. The work was mainly done by summer and year-‘round residents of the Side Lake area with some local companies also being contracted.

In the late 1990s, the difficult decision was made to consolidate Hibbing’s three Catholic parishes, Blessed Sacrament, Immaculate Conception, and St. Leo’s, into one Catholic community.

St. Leo’s Church was closed in September 2003. Light wood had highlighted the St. Leo’s interior and furnishings. What a wonderful idea it was to incorporate many of those items into the Side Lake Chapel. So, today, the chapel contains the St. Leo’s altar; ambo (podium); sanctuary chairs, kneelers and tables; and the statues of Mary and Joseph. The statues are backed by stunning wood frames created by Mark Plys and Bob Haverkamp.

Also in 2004, the chapel received new siding and a new roof. The windows from the original North Hibbing Blessed Sacrament needed (as stained glass does after a period of years) attention. They were carefully transferred to a St. Paul company where they were refurbished. Next to each window there now is a plaque with the names of the people who paid for that window’s restoration.

Many lake cabin people, as well as year-‘round people, love this Chapel and all of the history it contains. What a blessing that through the years, even if some things must change, some things are treasured, not forgotten, and kept close to the heart.

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