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ON FAITH: Thanking the past and serving the future

In 1922, Monsignor D.W. Lynch, pastor of St. James Church in Duluth, wrote a letter to Minnesota Senator Frank B. Kellogg regarding Father Elais Lemire and the (then) Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Church in Cloquet.

“I know something about the work done by Fr. Lemire in his parish and the difficulties he has had to contend with, especially because of the fire. The parish is large and is made up of a considerable number of poor people, many of whom are employed in the Cloquet Mills. At various times the influence of this local Church has been very actively exerted in favor of law and order against agitations.”

Many letters were sent to Sen. Kellogg urging him to advocate for Sacred Heart Church regarding relief efforts after the 1918 fire. This may have been a long shot considering Kellogg’s membership in the Freemasons but, hey, it doesn’t hurt to ask. The Railroad Administration offered compensation of 50 cents on the dollar for property loss of anything under $25,000 and 40 cents for any loss above $25,000. The idea was that losses over $25,000 would by-and-large be from businesses that had more resources than individuals who were trying to rebuild their homes. The letters to Kellogg argued that Sacred Heart Church was not a for-profit business with deep financial reserves but in a sense the “home” of everyday hard working people of Cloquet and so should be in the 50 percent category. I’ll leave the merits of this argument to Harry’s Gang, but in the end the Railroad Administration declined the request.

Despite the setback, those “poor people” of Cloquet were able to build what we now know as Queen of Peace Catholic Church. Not only the house of prayer and worship for area Catholics, but also an historical and majestic landmark for our Cloquet community. I once saw it ranked on the internet as the seventh most beautiful church in Minnesota. Thanks internet! I knew you were good for something.

The church building will be 95 years old this summer and while the “church” is best understood as a people-made one with the unity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, church buildings have an essential role in forming the body of Christ. Christians mark time as holy by dedicating time to prayer and worship. To show God’s sovereignty of not only time but also space, we dedicate buildings to house the people of God and to give them a place to worship. Each Sunday, Christians are challenged to rest from their daily labors, to contemplate the goodness of God, to make present the victory and triumph of Christ's death, to enter the joy of the Risen Lord, to receive the life-giving breath of the Spirit, and to commit themselves to serve those in need.

Just as Christ used visible signs to make us aware of the invisible reality of the Father’s love, so too, church buildings give us a visible sign of the invisible. A beautiful church expresses the beauty of God’s holy people and points us to our Creator, the source of all beauty. Not only that, but they also can be a sign of what a community values and serves. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden. A beautiful church is a sign to the world for all to see.

If it’s true that God is the source of all beauty and everything beautiful leads us to God, then beauty is not subjective or a matter of taste. Things are beautiful or they are not. If this isn’t true, well, No. 7 on the internet isn’t half bad.

Writer Father Justin Fish is the priest at Queen of Peace Catholic Church and Holy Family Catholic Church in Cloquet.

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