Loop Back: “Greatest Church In The Northwest”
At the spot where thousands of drivers now enter and exit Interstate-394 in the North Loop each day, there used to be a Gothic Revival style Catholic church, known as the Church of the Immaculate Conception.
Completed in 1872 when the city of Minneapolis was only a few years old, it was declared “the greatest church in the northwest” in newspaper articles. But it only lasted 50 years here.
As the area began to explode with industrial and warehousing businesses along the ever-expanding rail lines, the parish sought a new church in a quieter, less-congested area of Minneapolis.
In the early 1900s, Archbishop John Ireland had a vision of building two grand places of worship–a cathedral in St. Paul and a pro-cathedral in Minneapolis. Parishioners here started holding fairs and bazaars in 1903 to raise money for the new pro-cathedral. And a wealthy parishioner, Lawrence Donaldson, of Donaldson’s department stores, donated land at 16th and Hennepin in the Loring Park area.
The cornerstone for the pro-cathedral was laid in 1908, and its first mass was six years later with two thousand worshippers on hand. It was named the Pro-Cathedral of St. Mary (a pro-cathedral is defined as a church used temporarily as a cathedral by a bishop). Pope Pius XI raised it to the rank of basilica–America’s first–in 1926.
The old church, meanwhile, saw much less activity once the congregation shifted over to the pro-cathedral. Immaculate Conception was relegated to being a chapel for the parish’s work with settlers arriving here from other parts of the country.
The church was condemned in late 1921, with demolition complete by the spring of 1922.
We have much more neighborhood history in our Historic North Loop section.
By Mike Binkley, North Loop Neighborhood volunteer