Anniversary pilgrimage highlights beauty of Minnesota churches designed by Victor Cordella

Growing up in Little Falls, Michael Retka was interested in church architecture. Visiting family in Browerville, he noticed that the church there was similar to his home church, Our Lady of Lourdes.

After some research, he learned that both churches were designed by Victor Cordella, a Polish immigrant born in 1872. He continued to research and discovered that many churches around Minnesota were designed by the architect.

Michael Retka talks with Father Howe at Holy Cross in Northeast Minneapolis. (Photo by Dave Hrbacek)

In fact, in 2020, Retka received the Skalny Civic Achievement Award for his part in documenting the Minnesota churches and buildings designed by Cordella.

So, it is fitting that to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the dedication of Our Lady of Lourdes, Retka planned a bus tour to visit some of Cordella’s churches in the Diocese of St. Cloud and the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

Forty people gathered at Our Lady of Lourdes, part of the Haven of Mercy Area Catholic Community, on the morning of June 1 and set out to learn about the work of Victor Cordella.

“I believe that Cordella’s works are worth mentioning and knowing,” Retka said. “Just as people know Emmanuel Masqueray from the Basilica of St. Mary and Cathedral of St. Paul in the Twin Cities, I think Cordella made substantial contributions to Minnesota ecclesiastical architecture and should have some notoriety.”

Two of the churches that the group visited were toured before selecting Cordella to design Our Lady of Lourdes over 100 years ago, Retka said.

“So, in touring Christ the King (formerly St. Joseph’s) in Browerville, and St. Francis Xavier in Buffalo, we are sort of tracing the founding members’ footsteps.”

Other stops on the day-long tour included Our Lady of the Angels in Sauk Centre, St. Mary of Czestochowa in Delano and St. Mary’s Orthodox Cathedral in Northeast Minneapolis.

The last stop was Holy Cross Church in Northeast Minneapolis, where the group celebrated Mass with Father Ben Kociemba, pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes. Father Spencer Howe, pastor of Holy Cross welcomed them.

Researching Cordella has led Retka to find others who have an interest in his work, including Father Howe, he said.

Father Ben Kociemba celebrated the Mass at Holy Cross. (Photo by Dave Hrbacek)

Retka said that Holy Cross is his favorite church in the Twin Cities and being able to serve Mass there with Father Kociemba was the best part of the trip.

Others agreed that Holy Cross was the highlight.

“This church is phenomenal,” said Cheryl Stanek, a member of Holy Family Parish in Belle Prairie. “It’s everything I thought it would be and more.”

Cheryl explained that she and her husband Charlie don’t usually attend events like this, but something made her want to participate.

Michael Retka talks with Cheryl Stanek. (Photo by Dave Hrbacek)

“I believe that the Holy Spirit guided me here,” she said. “It was the most spiritual and beautiful day I could imagine.”

Retka said he hoped that participants would take away an appreciation for traditional sacred architecture. “It is one major form of evangelization,” he said. “Also, I hope that they appreciate more what they have in their own towns.”

Many participants said they were moved by the beauty of the churches on the tour.

“I learned how symbolism and design in the churches was developed to bring us closer to God and how important that is to people of different cultures,” said Mary, who asked that her last name not be used. “It’s something that we have in common that enriches our Catholic faith.”

Pictured above: Father Spencer Howe, pastor of Holy Cross Parish in Northeast Minneapolis, welcomes the tour group. (Photo by Dave Hrbacek)

Author: Dianne Towalski

Dianne Towalski is a multimedia reporter for The Central Minnesota Catholic Magazine.

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