It wasn’t until 1916 that the Catholic people of Waite Park had their own church. From its earliest beginning, Waite Park people had a concern for their spiritual welfare as well as their “daily bread”. More than 100 years ago, Catholics depended on traveling priests who celebrated Mass in their homes. Waite Park was located close enough to St. Cloud; Catholics could attend Sunday Mass there, but it meant a journey of some distance by foot or horse and buggy.
After Waite Park was incorporated in 1893 and the street cars came into use, Catholics attended Mass at the Pro-Cathedral of Holy Angels and St. Mary’s, and at St. John Cantius Parish where Polish was the language spoken. Community leaders and Catholics of the village wanted to build a church of their own. A committee was selected to approach the Bishop of the St. Cloud Diocese to discuss this possibility. The delegation consisted of Paul & Joseph Theisen, Anton Knese, Gerhard Feld, Peter Meinz, John P. Otto, Joseph Geisel, Michael Reiter, Frank Ertl, Joseph Frederichs, and Joseph Bautch.
Bishop Joseph F. Busch listened and commissioned Reverend Charles Grunenwald to explore the possibility of establishing a Catholic Church in Waite Park. On February 3, 1916, the Church of St. Joseph, Waite Park was officially incorporated.
July 4, 1916, was a special holiday in Waite Park. A field Mass – a Solemn High Mass – was celebrated by Reverend Leo Gans (who received his early education in Waite Park), and was attended by many priests of the St. Cloud area. The hundreds of people who attended heard the Institute Band and the St. Mary’s Male Choir. Entertainment was provided with a large bazaar which netted over $3,000 to help pay for the church. The church, a frame stucco building, was built on a shelf of granite; the bell, located on the roof at the east entrance, called people to prayer.
Four hundred people attended the first Mass in the new church on August 28, 1916. Bishop Joseph F. Busch dedicated the new church name for St. Joseph, patron of workmen. Reverend Charles Grunenwald was named the first pastor (1916 – 1918). Bishop Busch complimented and encouraged the people who had worked so earnestly to build the church: “The Church is the means of uniting people of this land in their religious beliefs – trust in God”, he said. Following the Mass, the visitors were served dinner by the women of the new congregation. Vespers and Benediction were held in the afternoon since the lights were not in place for an evening service.
The first burial in the church was on September 1, 1916 – 15-year-old Helen Ruhman. On September 3, 1916, Irene Denne was the first child to be baptized. The first marriage was celebrated on September 5, 1916 – a double wedding ceremony with sisters Mary and Anna Forner; Bernard Weitcamp married Mary and Bernard Schreiver married Anna.
Father Mathias Hoffman succeeded Father Grunenwald as pastor from 1918 to 1929.
The first rectory was built in 1918 and stood north of the church. The convent, built southwest of the church, was built in 1922, and an addition was added in 1958. In 1990, the sisters and pastors switched buildings. The old convent was remodeled in 1988, extensively renovated the year before to accommodate modern office and meeting space, and comfortable living quarters. The original rectory was purchased in 1995 by Hal and Pat Undersander and moved to their acreage.
Sometime in the early 1920’s, the church building was expanded to its present size. The portion including the north and south transepts, the old altar area (now the altar area plus the new sacristy) and the old sacristy were added to the expanded building. The chimney for the furnace was put into place on the southwest corner of the expanded building. This chimney would later necessitate a great deal of repair to the church when a tornado brought it down through the roof. The bell tower over the east entrance was taken down and rebuilt over the new south entrance. A choir loft was built over the east entrance.
In 1921, five acres of land south of the village were purchased for a cemetery which was part of the Peter Scheuer farm which had been in their family since 1890. In 1975, Hugo Weyrens, Sr., donated two acres of land to the west side of the cemetery. The Cemetery Board was established in 1963.
Father Aloys Kampmann became pastor from 1929 to 1930. During his administration many needed repairs on the building and installation of the new heating plants were accomplished.
Father Victor Siegler was named pastor from 1930 to 1938. Financial problems during the Depression fell into his hands. One measure he took was to rent the parish recreation center to the public school and kept grades 5 through 8 in the parish school. The children participated every day at Mass and recited prayers in Latin. The oak letters proclaiming the Scripture verse, “Greater Love Than This No Man Hath”, were added and was built by parishioner Chris Stich.
On May 3, 1938, a tornado struck the area. Lying in the path of destruction was St. Joseph’s Church which received some of the heaviest damage in the area. With determination of volunteers, men and women of the parish began repairs. Church services were held in the auditorium of McKinley School, and on Tuesday, August 30, 1938, the repair church was rededicated and blessed. A celebration was held and the following Sunday, the first Mass was celebrated in the “new church”.
Father John Denery (later Monsignor Denery) became pastor in 1938 and served until 1946. During his tenure of eight years, he endeared himself to the community with his Irish wit, ever-present smile, and his charming ways of bringing spiritual and material growth to our parish. He influenced young people to become involved in the parish. He organized sports events and renovated the bowling alley.
Father August Preusser was appointed pastor in 1946 and served for one year.
Fr. Claude Schwinghammer served the people of Waite Park longer than any other pastor. He served the people of God in this area faithfully from 1947 to 1969. Bishop Peter W. Bartholome sent the parish its first assistant, Father Kenneth Thielman who served until 1961. Other Assistant Pastors were Fathers Maurice Suchy, James Scully and James Thoennes. According to the spirit of the Second Vatican Council, parish structure changed as the pastor and assistant pastor sought the consultation of a Parish Council and Board of Education. Father Schwinghammer suggested the formation of a Noctural Adoration Society which began on June 20, 1962. He also began publication of a parish bulletin in August 1967. Before that all activities were announced from the pulpit.
Funeral dinners began in October 1968. These dinner were organized by Lorraine Hengel, Elaine Jost and parishioners, and were served in the school gym. Some dinners were also served at the American Legion in Waite Park. The parish used the Legion until 1975 when the church basement was remodeled.
Father Kenneth Thielman became pastor in 1969 and served until 1980. He ministered to the people together with assistants: Fathers Eberhard Schefers, James Thoennes, Robert Schmainda, Ralph Zimmerman, Steve Binsfeld and Robert Kieffer. With the help of volunteer parishioners, the enclosed front entrance was added to the church and the basement was remodeled. Changes in ministry and education included the first Youth Minister for the Parish, Jeff Johnson, and expanded religious education programs. Eucharistic Ministers were also commissioned for Sunday Mass.
Father Vincent Lieser served as pastor from 1980 to 1991. Under his service, continual change and growth occurred as evidenced by an active liturgy committee, introduction of the Every Member Committed program, and Renew. He was assisted by Fathers Steven Binsfeld, Kenneth Popp and Nathan Packard. In 1982, the roof on the church and the stucco were repaired, along with new lighting and wiring, along with a new sacristy and sanctuary. In 1984-85, the elevator and full carpeting were installed. The pews were refinished.
On June 7, 1982, Deacon Richard Midas was ordained to the diaconate by Bishop George Speltz and assigned to the parish; he continues to serve at the present time. He has celebrated over 450 baptisms and works with pre-marriage preparation, leads Novena devotions and wake services, visits the sick and welcomes new parishioners.
Father Herman Winkels was pastor from 1991 to 1994. The church basement was fully renovated to include a larger kitchen, and all new stainless steel equipment was installed in 1993. New furnaces were installed and the new Parish Center was dedicated on May 1, 1994. Fr. Winkels was assisted by Fathers Ben Walz and Christopher Trussell. Fr. Winkels was granted an indefinite leave of absence from the priesthood in February 1994.
From February to July 1994. Father Vincent Lieser was appointed administrator of the parish and he was assisted by Fathers Ben Walz and Christopher Trussell.
Father Ronald Weyrens was named pastor in 1994 and served through June 2005. During this time the parish has benefited from four international priests in residence: Father Mansuetus Setonga from the Diocese of Same in Moshi, Tanzania (1994-98), Father Susainathan Michael from the Diocese of Madras, India (1998-2000), and Padre David Trujillo (2000-05) and Padre Jose Gregorio Braccamonte (2005- 07) from the Diocese of Maracay, Venezuela.
The parish also began a capital campaign to research and plan for a new worship and gathering space. The “Crossroads” campaign raised over $1 million as planning continues into the future. Property adjacent to the school and church was purchased for future expansion.
Deacon Joseph Kresky was ordained to the diaconate for the parish on June 4, 2004, by Bishop John Kinney. He served the parish as homilist, RCIA coordinator and in pastoral ministry.
Father Ralph Zimmerman was named pastor on July 1, 2005. He had been assistant pastor from 1976 to 1979.
This passage is from the “History of St. Joseph’s Waite Park”, as published in the 2005 Church Directory.