Saint Stanislaus Kostka Parish has been named a Minor Basilica by the Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI, an honor that will be celebrated this weekend. A Mass of Elevation will be held on Sunday, September 9, at 10 a.m.
On Saturday, September 8 at 7 p.m., St. Stans will host a concert of Polish music by the Lira Ensemble of Chicago in the basilica. All events will be open to the public and free of charge.
St. Stans is only the second in the state to be bestowed with such a distinctive title, and the status symbolizes the special bond between the parish and the Pope, as well as the entire Catholic Church worldwide. While the parish has a history dating back to 1870s in Winona, its newest chapter came more recently, when Bishop John M. Quinn of the Diocese of Winona sent a petition to an office of the Vatican requesting that St. Stans attain the Minor Basilica status.
“It is a very significant and important occasion for not only the parish and the diocese, but the entire region,” said Bishop Quinn in a statement.
Basilica means “royal hall,” and part of the designation recognizes the beauty of the church itself. The story of how Polish immigrants pulled together to fund its construction shows a commitment and devotion that dates back more than 100 years.
Early Polish settlers began arriving and building homes on Winona’s East End as early as the 1850s, and during the Franco-Prussian war of 1870 and after, many more Polish people followed suit, fleeing the religious persecution there. As the Catholic Polish families grew in Winona, having a parish and place to worship became central as they began a new life along the Mississippi.
In the 1870s, a small wooden building was built at the corner of Fourth and Carimona streets for under $1,000, and soon it was outgrown as the parish’s numbers steadily grew. Although many families were impoverished at the time, they gave what they could, and by Thanksgiving 1895, the new church was dedicated.
The church, designed in Romanesque style in the form of a Greek cross, has undergone extensive repairs and maintenance over the years, including following a 1966 storm when the dome of the church was struck by lightening and flames shot through the windows.
“We really wanted to recognize the Polish immigrants [who] settled in the Winona area,” said Father Tom Hargesheimer, pastor of St. Stanislaus Kostka. “Their heritage has had such a large impact on the development of the region. We also want to honor this parish as a faith community that contributes to not only the religious aspects of the community, but also the secular side of society as well.“
“It is a very significant and important occasion for not only the parish and the diocese, but the entire region,” said Bishop Quinn.