PERHAM - It is a church built for the ages--of brick and steel and cement and copper--but for Perham's St. Stanislaus Church, an era spanning 133 years will end in 2009.
Bishop John F. Kinney wrote a letter to St. Stanislaus parishioners last week, announcing that the church will close this year and merge with Perham's St. Henry's Catholic Church.
That the parish had been anticipating the announcement for about two years didn't make the news any easier for the loyal, dedicated congregation.
"We all feel bad about it, that's for sure," said Al Stigman, who was married to his wife Beverly (Simon) about 48 years ago in the stately brick structure. "It is such a beautiful building. We were up in the belltower, and it has steel beams all the way across. The dome is made out of copper."
St. Sanislaus dates to 1876, in the midst of a large influx of Polish immigrants, when a mission for the Polish was established as the St. Stanislaus Society. The present brick church, built in 1922, replaced an earlier structure. From about 1918 to the 1940's, there was an even a parochial church school, with a distinctively Polish-American student body.
"It is with sadness that I am officially announcing the closing of Saint Stanislaus Parish in Perham," wrote Bishop Kinney, St. Cloud diocese, in a Jan. 2006 letter to parishioners. "I ask the two current parishes to select a new name for the newly formed parish. I will leave the actual date of the closure to your pastor, trustees and parish pastoral council. Members of my staff will be available to help with this process in any way that the parish feels is necessary. You need to know that this is not an easy decision nor is it one that has been made lightly."
What will become of the building is uncertain, though there is reportedly at least one plan in the works to preserve the church as a historical icon of Perham.
Two church meetings were scheduled this week on the subject, including an all-parish session Thursday night, Feb. 5, at 7 p.m.
"The Bishop gives us a parish and as a community quite a bit of room to work to settle these questions," wrote Rev. Joseph Herzing, in a letter that accompanied the letter from the bishop. "We recognize the questions of what do we do with the church building, how do we memorialize what has been such a presence in our lives, when and how should be celebrate a closing mass, how so we move toward working together with St Henry's? These questions and other are yet to be decided and call us to work on them."
Known for most of its years as Perham's "Polish Catholic Church," it was an early Polish teamster who helped dig the basement, with genuine horsepower. It was current St. Stan parishioner Gene Malikowski's grandfather who drove the horse-drawn rig.
By today's standards, the church needs modernization, said Stigman.
"It doesn't have handicapped access," said Stigman, noting that it would cost at least $60,000 to bring it up to code. Bathrooms also lack handicapped accessibility.
Meanwhile, the roof has asbestos shingles. Because of the contaminant in the asbestos, it would cost $40,000 just to dispose of them, added Stigman.
Other than those deficiencies, St Stan could easily survive the ages--from a structural standpoint. Even the pews inside the church are solid--and only ten years old.
"We have the nicest pews around," said Stigman, who serves on the church council.
Were it not for the drastic shortage of Catholic priests, St Stan's probably could have held on indefinitely, contends Stigman.
Church attendance was stable, and filled to its 300 capacity for many summer services.
"We had to set up additional chairs for summer services," said Stigman, noting that St. Stan's has been a popular worship service for seasonal residents.
"The main reason we're closing, really, is that there are not enough priests," said Stigman. "It is a changing world."
"We knew the closing was going to happen," said Fran Johnson. "But its like a terminal illness: you know it is coming, but when it comes--it is still hard."
"Over the years, the members of this parish have been faithful to our Church," wrote Bishop Kinney. "The committed and dedicated people who have been a part of Saint Stanislaus have been a strong example for all. I now ask your to continue with that strong commitment as you merge with your neighboring parish of Saint Henry. Please be a part of the solution and pass your deep faith on those who will come after you."
"We have been part of wonderful prayer and celebration at St. Stanislaus," wrote Father Herzing, who is also pastor for the St. Henry's and Bluffton parishes. "It truly had been a blessing for me and the memories will live deep in my heart. Any time of loss, brings our faith into deeper focus...Like any time of challenge, this closing of a parish calls us to rely more fully on the work of God in our community and in our lives."