Old church demolition saddens, improves Catholic community

Published 8:27 am Friday, February 8, 2019

By Angie Riege 

Mesabi Daily News via Associated Press

VIRGINIA — Those who have the strongest emotional ties to St. John’s Catholic Church were saddened to see the piece of history demolished recently in Virginia.

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“I cried all day,” said 94-year-old Kathleen Kishel to Mesabi Daily News. She had hoped, she said, that her funeral could one day be held in the church rooted in the early-1900s, known for its beautiful stained glass windows and designated as a historic place.

Eighty-eight-year-old Val Bazzani, who was baptized at the church, said it was “heart-wrenching” to see it go down. He had stood at the site, taking photos as heavy machinery razed the structure, baring to the outdoors the choir loft where he had sung for years.

But Bazzani’s many decades on Earth have taught him that “all old things” eventually become a memory in time, he said recently, sharing recollections of the now-gone church and looking ahead to what he sees as a positive future for the building’s footprint.

Jean Virant, principal of the adjacent Marquette Catholic School, also spoke emotionally recently at the school of her family’s connection to St. John’s, beginning with her grandparents who had worshipped at the church.

While it was difficult to see the structure torn down, Virant said, she has found “great solace” in knowing her grandparents would approve of future plans for the site.

“My grandparents would love to know children will be playing there,” including their heirs, she said.

“From death comes resurrected life,” said the Rev. Father Brandon Moravitz, pastor of Holy Spirit, built in the 1970s adjacent to St. John’s and now the community’s remaining operating Catholic church.

Following more than four years of discussions that involved the whole parish and diocese, it was decided, said the priest, that the space could better serve the growing needs of the parish and school in other ways.

“We are landlocked here,” he said. “We need more parking and a place for the kids to run and play.”

During the past five years, “only two or three weddings” were held at St. John’s, and not much else, Moravitz said. It was simply getting too expensive to heat and sustain the nearly century-year-old church building.

During the next 10 years, “about $1 million will be saved in heating and maintenance costs” now that the structure is no longer here, he said.

Moravitz said he was “saddened” to see the church go, but he echoed the sentiments of parishioner Alyson Bielke, who said: “The presence of Jesus is not in the building. It’s in the community.”

So, while Marquette’s elementary school children were on Christmas break, St. John’s was leveled — leading the way for the birth of the parish and school’s future.

But not before all of the church’s art and sacred items were reverently removed to be preserved and re-used, Moravitz said.

“Let us remember the past with gratitude, live the present with enthusiasm, and look forward to the future with confidence.” The quote from the late Pope St. John Paul II is one of Moravitz’s favorites.

And it is most fitting for St. John’s, he said. Even more fitting because it was said by a Polish pope, and St. John’s originated as a Polish-affiliation church.

“I look to the past with so much gratitude,” Moravitz said, talking of the great sacrifices of the Iron Range settlers who first established the area’s churches.

“Faith was so ingrained in them,” Moravitz said. “It was the most important thing in their lives.”

Virginia’s Polish immigrants first worshipped at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church, which was made up of various nationalities and was located near where Holy Spirit now stands.