Melrose–A step toward having a permanent Catholic church building in Melrose was taken Sunday at a site blessing ceremony south of St. Mary’s Cemetery and north of Kraft Drive.

Over 650 people, including children, attended the Mass and blessing. It is the first of three ceremonies planned for the site as a new building is constructed for the Church of St. Mary.

“We will also have one at the ground breaking, which will be right before construction,” said Bob Leukam, co-chair of the building committee. “We will then have the dedication ceremony with the opening of the new church.” 

So far there is no timeline for those events. The parish has been without a permanent church since a fire in March 2016 damaged the 118-year-old church building. An investigation by the Stearns County Sheriff’s Department concluded it was intentionally set by a 13-year-old.

Leukam agreed it seems like it is taking a long time to get the church started but noted that the committees are continuing to seek what people would like in the proposed 178-foot by 122-foot structure of the nave and narthex of the church.

“There was a lot of work done to get to today,” he said. “We have to thank the committee for putting this event together. This is bigger than just Melrose. This is bigger than the Catholic faith. This is for all Christians that believe in Christ.”

During the sermon at the bi-lingual Mass, Fr. Marv Enneking, pastor of St. Mary’s, more than once referred to the church as a sign of working for and with Christ. The building will reflect, in its architecture and statues, the history and multi-cultural community of the local church, past, present and future. 

“Currently we are thinking about commissioning an artist to create a statue of a multi-cultural Mary,” said Leukam. 

The plans also call for using the stations from the previous building in the new church. At the service there were statutes of Mary, from the St. Mary’s altar, and of Our Lady of Guadalupe at the service. They had survived the fire.

Following the Mass was a blessing of the site of the new church. Part of that service was collecting prayers people had written and burying them at the foot of the wooden cross on the site. The gift table used for this Mass marked the spot where the altar will be in the new church.

“With these prayers the land become holy. With these prayers we ask God to bless this land as the new site of our church and facility,” Fr. Enneking prayed at the dedication. “I invite you now to place your prayers and intentions into the soil.”

With that people came forward and dropped the prayers, written on paper, into a pre-dug hole that was later covered. 

The cross marked the spot where the church’s baptismal font will be. It also served as a visible sign of where a church will be built.

Besides Fr. Enneking, priests at the Mass were Fr. Oswaldo Roche, parochial vicar; former pastor Fr. Vince Lieser; and Melrose native Fr. Kevin Niehoff, OP. Deacon Ernie Kociemba also served at the Mass. Former pastor Fr. Ralph Zimmerman attended the site blessing service.