In the beginning...
Recognizing the need for the development of the vast prairie in southwestern Minnesota, Bishop John Ireland contracted with the railroads to act as their land agent in the areas near railway expansion. Bishop Ireland wanted only the best land reserved for future Catholic settlers. He sent his inspector, Major Ben Thompson, to procure the most fertile land for the Bishop's projects. In 1876 Bishop Ireland secured land in Swift County, MN. After that he set his sights on the most desirable land available outside of the St. Paul area: Adrian, MN.
In 1877 Adrian was a small community with only three houses, two stores, one hotel, and a wayside station. The only Catholic in the town at that time was M. Sullivan. Local masses were held in the farm home of Nick Neyens in Grand Prairie Township, Section 24 with a missionary priest officiating. That changed quickly when Bishop John Ireland sent Father C. J. Knauf to establish "St. Adrian Parish," named in honor of St. Adrian the warrior. Upon his arrival in Adrian on September 20, 1877, Fr. Knauf busied himself building a congregation. By December of 1878 there were sixty families in the growing local Catholic community.
1878 saw the construction of a wood framed church building, costing $700.00, compliments of Bishop John Ireland. This served as St. Adrian's place of worship until 1887. By 1887 $15,000 had been raised for the building of a new church. The brick veneered structure, complete with a tower of great height and the capacity to seat 500 worshipers, was dedicated by Bishop John Ireland in 1889. The old church building was sold to W. E. Timmons, who converted it into a cow barn.
By 1882, 250 Catholics, most of German or Irish descent, were members of St. Adrian parish. With all those families came the need for a school. In 1892 Fr. Knauf called for the building of St. Adrian's first parochial school. The rectory was completed in November 1899.
On December 24, 1899, a fire started in the basement of the church. The fire spread quickly and due to the intense heat and the brick veneer on the outside of the church, the structure was a total loss, although a few items from the church were saved.
The baptismal font was carried safely away from the burning building. The font is stored in the church today. The two angels that decorated the altar now stand as sentinels on either side of the reproduction of Di Vinci's "Last Supper" on the main altar. The pulpit, still edged in gold leaf, was also rescued from the burning church.
Over $30,000 was raised to build a new church. The corner stone of the church was placed and dedicated on July 4, 1900, by Bishop John Cotter. A metal box containing local and church papers, coins, and other items of historic value, was placed within the cornerstone. In 1901 the congregation began worshipping inside the twin towered, beautiful new church.
St. Adrian High School was started in 1905, with the first class graduating in 1908. A new school building was begun in August of 1910, and completed in 1912, and dedicated by Bishop Hefferon. The school educated hundreds of children until it closed in July of 1973. Most area students now attend the Adrian Public School, District 511.
From hopeful beginnings a congregation was born. Now, 125 years later, over 418 families belong to St. Adrian parish. As we look toward the future, we reflect on our history; the dedication and courage of our ancestors, who crossed the vast Atlantic Ocean to begin anew on the untamed prairie. We respect their sacrifices and their faith in God. We are here because they dared to dream and trust in God. Their legacy is our blessing. Our legacy will be in the blessings and faith of our own children. And, above all, our faith and our hope is in God.