HARDING -- Holy Cross Church has been a staple in the farming community of Harding, about 25 miles south of Brainerd, for nearly a century.
The church joins a gas station, barbershop and two liquor stores in the city of just more than 100 people.
Holy Cross Church is hosting a 100th anniversary celebration Saturday and Sunday, an event that has the town buzzing.
"The whole town goes to church here," Joe Woitalla said, estimating 99 percent of Harding's population attends Holy Cross.
Woitalla owns the town's gas station, serves on the church's board of trustees and is resident historian at Holy Cross.
Woitalla has been a member of the church since he was born, in 1937. He is interested in the church's history and the role his family played in the early years of the church.
The original church, Holy Cross Church, Minnesota, in Morrison County's Platte Township, became incorporated as a church Aug. 19, 1904. According to the original document of incorporation, the church's purpose was "to promote the spiritual, educational and other interests" of the Roman Catholic Church.
One hundred years later, the Rev. Roger Thoennes, Holy Cross' current priest, believes the church is living up to its original contract.
"Church and faith come first in the lives of (Holy Cross') members," Thoennes said. "It was the same with their ancestors -- their church and faith came before them."
On New Year's Day, 1917, the Platte Township church burned down, forcing church services to be held at the parish house and school until another church was built. In 1920, a new church was built, this time two miles east of Platte, in Harding.
At that time, Holy Cross Church was considered a mission church, sharing priests with other churches in the St. Cloud Diocese. In July 1923, the Rev. Stanislaus Goryczka became resident priest of the Harding parish.
Today, Holy Cross Church serves about 125 families compared to the 25 families the church served when Goryczka initially came to Harding.
Following Goryczka's commitment, the name of the church changed to Holy Cross Church of Harding.
"The whole town goes to church here."
Holy Cross Church historian
Goryczka stayed at the Harding parish until 1930. For the past 100 years, 21 priests have served Holy Cross Church.
In 1938, the rural electrification program extended its services from Brainerd to Harding. Woitalla said nearby Kurtz General Store had electricity and, through a gas-powered generator, supplied electricity to the church and nearby parish house.
In 1959, the church building was torn down and the existing building was constructed. Since then, an addition in 2001 added an entryway, elevator, bathroom and gathering space to the church.
"One hundred years ago there was nothing here," Thoennes said. "(Members) take with them the things that have been accomplished since then. Hopefully the church will be here another 100 years."
Holy Cross Church will host several events Saturday and Sunday in celebration of its 100th anniversary. Past and present members of the church are encouraged to attend and the public is also welcome.
There will be a celebration dinner at noon Sunday. Only advanced ticket sales were conducted for the dinner and the deadline for buying the $5 ticket has passed.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.