Church in Melrose, Minn. unveils plans for new church amid uncertainty

Parish leaders in Melrose unveiled initial plans Sunday for a new Church of St. Mary’s, almost two years after the original building was damaged in a suspected arson fire. 

The inside of the church was badly damaged in the March 2016 fire, but the structure is still standing. 

“We have gone through possibilities of restoration and we have felt and been instructed to move on,” said Kurt Schwieters, who is on the Parish Council and serves as a spokesman. 

A group of parishioners, Friends to Restore St. Mary’s, have gone to court seeking an injunction forcing the Diocese of St. Cloud and church leaders to restore the church, originally built in 1898, instead of tearing it down. 

“The bishop absolutely refuses to listen or act on anything we have proposed, so we are not causing the problem—it’s their side,” said Gerry Ossendorf of Friends to Restore St. Mary’s.

Parishioners voted to restore the original church, but the diocese of St. Cloud rejected those plans. The Diocesan Building Commission found that while the fire was tragic, it gives the community an opportunity to build a church that would serve the parish far better than the current one. 

The case is in mediation, however neither side is budging. 

“We don’t have a building, we don’t have a church and we don’t have a united parish,” said Timothy Vogel, a member of Friends to Restore St. Mary’s. 

Schwieters and other parish members disagree. 

“This is where we are and we are moving forward,” Schwieters said. “We’re building a new church and we want to show the people what some of our opportunities are.” 

Schwieters said he couldn’t comment on the pending litigation. 

He said the current plans are a work in progress, as church leaders will continue to take feedback from church members before making their final decision. 

They hope to begin construction on the new church in the next year.