A new life for The Old Log Church
September 13, 2019
Del Prevost was looking sharp in his colorful jacket, tie, and creased slacks, but when he stepped to the pulpit at the end of Mass at the rededication of the Sawyer Log Church at Saints Mary and Joseph in Sawyer on Sunday, Sept. 8, a gentle chuckle wafted through the worshippers crowded in the small wooden pews. Apparently, no one was expecting the retired lawyer and former president of Members Cooperative Credit Union to deliver his words with such enthusiasm and energy. It was a fitting end to the celebration of the renovations of the original log structure that started more than seven years ago.
About 200 people filled the old log church and the more modern church, built next door in the 1960s, where they could watch the services inside the older church on a large movie screen.
Bishop Paul Sirba, along with deacon Brian Bassa and visiting priest Father Henry Sands of Washington, D.C. performed Mass and blessed the newly renovated structure.
Among those in attendance were members of the Heine family, some coming from as far away as Florida, including Mike Heine, who was the first child to be baptized in the new church in 1964. "I don't remember much about it," he joked, "But I was told I was baptized in the basement, as the new church wasn't finished yet, but the parish was eager to move out of the log church."
Also in attendance was Merle Olson, age 101, who married her husband Reuben in the old log church in 1951. She still lives in the Big Lake area, although she does go to Alaska for the winter.
The Old Log Church - also known as The Guardian Angel Mission Church or The Church in the Woods, according to the Diocese of Duluth newsletter - was built by missionaries in 1884 and was one of the few structures to survive the 1918 fires. It fell into disrepair after the new church was built. Eventually, the old log structure became dilapidated and was used for storage. It is a National Historic site.
Deacon Bassa spearheaded an effort to restore the structure.
"In all those years the old log church was vacant, bats moved in, rain leaked through the roof, and the elements took their toll, " Bassa said, "But the building was never the victim of vandalism. That itself might be a miracle."
Near the church is a shrine to St. Kateri Tekakwitha, the first Native American saint. The shrine has also been recently rebuilt and now houses a digital copy of a canvas painting of her by a Father Ysermans, created sometime in the 1930s. The original hangs in the adjacent church. Sts. Mary and Joseph also contains a restored centerpiece from the log church altar and a statue of St. Kateri that was blessed by Bishop Sirba.
According to the diocese history, the log church replaced a "large wigwam structure" that was built when Father Vogt came to the Fond du Lac community in the 1880s.
After Sunday's services, everyone gathered for a picnic and to open the time capsule buried at the dedication to the new church building in 1967. The capsule was to be opened after 30 years, but memories faded and the capsule was opened at Sunday's rededication of the old Log Church.
Bassa credited teamwork from the community as well as the work of the restoration committee of Lynn Beatty, Barb Omar, Father David Tushar, Jeannette Korpela, Don Berthuime and Del Prevost in completing the project.
Tours of the church are available by contacting Bassa at 218-879-6933. Visit the website at http://www.stkaterisawyer.com for more information.