After much prayer and patience, parishioners of St. Mary Church in Melrose are planning to claim ground for a new church.
An outdoor bilingual Mass and site blessing will be celebrated Sept. 9 at 11 a.m. on land that lies south of the parish cemetery. Guests may enter from Kraft Drive between Patton-Schad Funeral Home and the Land O’Lakes plant.
Refreshments and fellowship follow the blessing, which will take place rain or shine. Attendees are encouraged to bring lawn chairs.
The blessing comes two-and-a-half years after fire heavily damaged the former church building.
“The intent of the Mass is to bless the land,” said Bob Leukam, a member of St. Mary’s and co-chair of the building team for the new church. “The land has been church property for a very long time but it has new purpose, and even more, it is an opportunity to claim this land as our new building site.”
The parish chose to use the word “claim” for its connection to baptism, he said.
“The baptismal rite reads, ‘This Christian Community welcomes you with great joy in its name. I claim you for Christ our Savior, by the sign of the cross,’” Leukam explained. “We are claiming this site for Christ our Savior. It is for the community of believers much bigger than just St. Mary’s, much bigger than even the diocese. It is for Christ.
“We hope people come from miles around to witness this action,” he added. “It really is a beautiful event for us. Also, and very simply put, this Mass is progress in this long journey of faith for the parishioners of St. Mary. We continue to move forward to bring a new worship space to the parish and community of Melrose.”
The Mass kicks off the first of a series of three events — the site blessing, a still-to-be scheduled groundbreaking and, eventually, the new church dedication. Plans for the new design were unveiled at a community-wide gathering in February. Weekly bulletin announcements have kept parishioners informed of the progress.
“These have been informational, healing and spiritual announcements helping people to understand how new churches are built properly and the guidelines we have to follow,” Leukam explained. “We have utilized our liturgical design consultant, Ken Griesemer in many ways, drawing on his extensive experience in designing Catholic churches in many states and how we are building a welcoming parish church to serve the community in the best way possible for the next century.”
Leukam said the new church design is not a “cookie cutter” style and the plan, with input from the parish community, incorporates elements from the original church, including the Stations of the Cross. Mary, the patroness of the church, also will have a prominent presence in the new space.
“It is a church specifically designed for the multicultural community of believers we have right here in Central Minnesota,” Leukam said. The parish offers a weekly Mass in Spanish.
“One of our main goals is to have people recognize, when entering, that this church was designed for the community we have in Melrose, and this is a multicultural community,” he said.
The parish received permission from Bishop Donald Kettler for the “basic footprint” of the new church. Additional design plans are still being fleshed out and will need approval.
A group of parishioners and community members who are seeking full restoration of the fire-damaged church building filed a lawsuit against the diocese in August 2017 to prevent destruction of the structure. The suit is moving through the judicial process.
The next step in the building process includes working with the zoning and planning boards and committees in Melrose.
Leukam is optimistic that the Mass on Sept. 9 will be a time of healing for the whole community and beyond. He hopes that people far and wide will attend the celebration.
“People are encouraged to bring a written note that will be placed in the ground together with [notes from] the whole community,” he said. “On it [they can write] their dreams for this new church, their hopes for the community and their prayers for all parishioners. … What we plant in faith and let grow in hope, love will harvest. And God’s glory will be shown.”