Near this spot in 1680, Father Louis Hennepin first sighted and named the Falls of St. Anthony. Our Lady of Lourdes Church is the oldest continuously used church in the city of Minneapolis. It was designated a U.S. historic landmark in 1934 and is the first parish in the United States named in honor of Our Lady of Lourdes.
The superstructure of the church clearly shows two different types of architecture. The original building, the front rectangular nave, which is the part from the side doors back to the inner glass doors, was constructed of native limestone by the First Universalist Society between 1854 and 1857, in a Greek temple style, as can be seen in the enlarged photo on display in the vestibule of the church. Twenty years later, in 1877, the building was purchased by the Catholic French Canadian community, which had been a part of St. Anthony of Padua parish, the first Catholic parish in Minneapolis. This community has worshipped here continuously for over 120 years.
These first parishioners added a mansard style transept to the east end of the building. This addition changed the design to that of a French Provincial church, which is one of seven French styles of architecture used for the construction of churches in Quebec. Other early additions by the parishioners include a bell tower, sacristy, and a vestibule with steps. In 1881 a one-ton bell was purchased. It strikes the hours, the Angelus and the Mass times.
Our Stained glass windows were installed in the late 1890’s and early 1900’s, one pair at a time. Although many of the name plates are from the original families or groups that donated them, some of the names were lost many years ago when the plates were broken.
In 1968 Our Lady of Lourdes Church was scheduled to be closed and boarded up. Minneapolis City Council members, recognizing the value of the building as the focal point of the future development plan for the Eastbank area, which now includes Riverplace and St. Anthony Main, persuaded both Archbishop Leo Binz and Coadjutor Archbishop Leo Byrne to keep the church open and functional until the area around it could be developed.
For over 30 years our parish has been involved in a complete renovation and restoration of the church buildings, inside and out, with the purpose of bringing them to the strength, beauty, and splendor which their original architects envisioned.
In 1977 a local stained glass company removed all our windows, straightened them, repaired cracks, replaced broken pieces and braced them in such a way that they will be kept firmly in place for many years to come. At that time several previously lost name plates were replaced with the names of persons and families who have been of major help in the present restoration efforts.
In 1980 the total restoration of the interior of the main church was completed, to the design determined by our architect historian as the one which most closely matched the goals of our founding fathers.
In 1987 an elevator was installed in our church building, providing easier access to each level. The sacristy, the ground level Petite French Hall and the Great Hall were restored in the style of the period to which our church building belongs.
In 1989 a large and efficient flash freezer was constructed to accommodate our French Meat Pies (Tourtieres). In 1991 a melodious set of carillon bells was donated to our parish and mounted in the church tower, and a Rose Window was installed high on the North wall of our church, facing Hennepin Avenue. The major figure of this illuminated window is that of Father Louis Hennepin, as he first viewed and dedicated this area to his beloved St. Anthony. Various scrolls in the church recognize those who offered gifts or memorial donations to our Restoration Fund.
In 1992, the former rectory was totally restored and converted into much-needed offices and classrooms. In 1994, exterior work on the church was started with masonry tuck pointing. Work continued in 1995 with stained glass window sash and frame repair, gutter and soffit replacement, and trim painting. A restoration was completed of the Blessed Virgin’s grotto above the front entrance to the church. This included new steel support beams, plaster work, and roofing. Additional lights were added to the church to highlight its beautiful interior. In 1997 the church pews were stripped of many coats of dull brown paint and re-stained to a natural wood finish allowing the warmth of the old oak to shine.
Our ongoing parish projects include lighting the steeple at night as a sign of hope and prayer in our city’s skyscape; raising funds for major organ refurbishing; and planning for a restoration of the Church ceiling and the addition of air conditioning.
Our parishioners and friends are a continuing source of support, through their prayers, their special gifts and memorials, their generous weekly contributions toward our day-to-day expenses, and their hard work in making French Meat Pies as a fundraising effort — a project believed to be the only one of its kind in the United States. It has been their zeal that has helped keep our church open and our parish growing. At present our parishioners come from 30 suburbs and many neighborhoods of Minneapolis and St. Paul.
The restoration of this church comes at a time when the parish is becoming the center of a new residential neighborhood. There has always been a warm welcome here for visitors and for those who find Our Lady of Lourdes Church to be their spiritual home.