Church History

The Saint Olaf History

The corner of Second Avenue South and Eighth Street has long been a site for worship in downtown Minneapolis.

In 1876, just nine years after Minneapolis was incorporated as a city, the Universalist Society chose this corner to build their church. This choice, however, was thought by some to be too far out of town. Nevertheless, the Church of the Redeemer was built on this site and became the spiritual home to many of the city’s most distinguished citizens, including William Washburn, Charles Loring, Alonzo Rand and John Crosby.

Twelve years after the church was built, it was destroyed by fire. Construction of a new church began immediately and the second Church of the Redeemer was dedicated in 1889. It served as a spiritual home for the Universalist Society until 1941 when, because of dwindling membership, it was sold to the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis for $112,500. After extensive remodeling in both the upper and lower levels, it was dedicated as Saint Olaf Catholic church on June 1, 1941. The name, Saint Olaf, commemorating the eleventh century warrior-saint, was chosen because of the city’s large Scandinavian population.

The central location of Saint Olaf, along with a schedule of sacramental ministry designed for the convenience of the downtown worker, visitor, and resident, brought the Catholic faith life within easy access to thousands of people.

Twelve years after Saint Olaf was dedicated, history repeated itself: the church building was again destroyed by fire on February 18, 1953. Adding irony to tragedy, this occurred on Ash Wednesday. Plans for a new church began while the ashes of the old were still smoldering. The new and present Saint Olaf was rebuilt and reopened on February 23, 1955, on Ash Wednesday, of course!

In architectural style, the new Saint Olaf has little in common with the old. It was built in contemporary design, a bold move at the time but one that has been validated repeatedly, especially after the Second Vatican Council.

The mission of Saint Olaf as a “living sign of Christ’s saving presence in the heart of the city” has evolved over time.

Since the early seventies, Saint Olaf has served the poor of the area through an extensive social outreach program. In 1980, the lot adjacent to the church was purchased to provide room for building expansion and parking. The Chapel of Saints John and Paul was a major addition in 1980.

In 1990, a parish center was built which has allowed Saint Olaf to become a leader in parish education, programming, and spiritual formation. In 1995, Saint Olaf purchased the Exodus Hotel to our south, which is a transitional housing facility for residents who would otherwise be without a safe, clean place to stay. It is likely that Saint Olaf is the only church in the nation that is connected to a major city’s skyway system, bringing us even more closely into the pulse of downtown Minneapolis.

In 1996, Saint Olaf purchased the property on the corner of 9th Street and 2nd Avenue as an investment for the future. The parish created the “Assisi on 9th” park on the site as a haven of rest and beauty for those who work and live downtown.

In 2000, the sanctuary of the church underwent extensive renovation to enhance accessibility, improve lighting and sound, and establish a permanent location for our music ministry. A major addition to the sanctuary as part of this renovation was the new Lively-Fulcher pipe organ, installed in 2001 as Saint Olaf celebrated its 60th anniversary. New liturgical furnishings were dedicated in 2001 and 2002.

Today, the Eucharist is celebrated 17 times a week, bringing people throughout the Twin Cities metropolitan area together for praise and thanksgiving to our gracious God.

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