The History of the Saint Francis Xavier Church
(Chippewa City Church)
Saint Francis Xavier Catholic Church, known locally as the “Chippewa City Church” is one of the last physical remnants of a once vibrant community. The area of the church was a North East Minnesotan Ojibwe settlement from the 1880s-1930s.
The Church was built under the direction of Father Specht in 1895 on land donated by Antoine and Antoinette Fillison. Money for the church was raised by basket socials, baskets made out of birch bark by community members and filled with baked goods. Lumberjacks were often bidders!
The building was built in the French style by Ojibwe carpenter Frank Wischop of hand-hewed, dovetailed timber. It is 25 x 30 feet with a lean to of 8 x 14 feet. A 225 pound bell and pews were added in 1896 and the sacristy in 1903. It served as the only Catholic church in Grand Marais from 1895-1916 when St. John’s was built. As the population of Chippewa City diminished, so did the use of the church with the final mass conducted at Christmas 1936.
In 1958 efforts began to restore the building, the Lions and Catholic Church worked together. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1985. In 1998 the church was donated to the Cook County Historical Society by the Diocese of Duluth. Major grants from the Grand Portage Band of Chippewa and the Minnesota Historic Society have helped continue the restoration. During the past 10 years the church has had repairs such as: a new roof, an archaeology test dig to ensure the area around the church is safe to dig on during the future repair phases, and an assesment of the foundation of the church have all been completed. With the help of donations the church will be a part of history for another 100 years.
The Future of the Church
The main focus for the church is to keep the stabilization and preservation of the church building. To do this there will need to be repairs such as: rebuilding the chimneys, repair of the foundation, and structural repairs to the rotting logs and spreading walls.
Author/researcher Staci Drouillard will soon be publishing a book on the history of Chippewa City.
The Historical Society's goal is continue to share the historic church as a museum with additional open hours and activities at the site.
With the help of donations the church will be a part of history for another 100 years.