St. Olaf in the City

There has been a big church on corner of 2nd Avenue South and 8th Street as long anybody living can remember.The Universalist Society built their first building on this corner way back in 1876. The Church of the Reddemer was attended by some of the distinguished Minneapolis residents, including Charles Loring, John Crosby, William Washburn, and Alonzo Rand.

Twelve years after the church was completed, it was hollowed out by a tremendous blaze. Somehow the 170 foot steeple and most of the exterior walls survived and were utilized in the second Universalist Society Church of the Redeemer, dedicated on November 24th 1889. The new church featured memorial, stained glass windows designed by the Herter Brothers of New York and an $11,000 organ built by Carl Barckoff.

This building was used by the Universalist Society for over 50 years. In 1941, the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis bought the church for $112,500. They spent $300,000 on remodeling and refurbishments and the old place was dedicated as St. Olaf Catholic Church to commemorate an eleventh century warrior-saint and honor the city’s large Scandinavian population.

On Ash Wednesday, February 18, 1953, twelve years after St. Olaf was dedicated, the building burned again. After the fire was put out, Father Leonard P. Cowley noted that the statue of St. Olaf that stood on the alter in the main chapel had miraculously survived a fall through the floor and was found among scattered bricks in the basement. The steeple was still standing after the second fire, but it eventually gave way to ropes and saws. A crowd gathered the day it was pulled down. Among the crowd were 53 girls that lived in the Pillsbury Club residence behind the church. For safety’s sake the girls were locked out until the demolition was completed. A new church of contemporary design was built on the same spot and St. Olaf reopened on Ash Wednesday, February 23, 1955.