Thursday, September 24, 2009

Holdingford's Soldiers Shrine

Holdingford's Soldiers Shrine: Anniversary quietly passes by
by Roberta Olson
(Created: Tuesday, September 15, 2009 10:16 AM CDT

The massive Soldiers Shrine is 42 feet long, 18 feet wide, and 22 feet high. It features statues, and flags. The statues were completely refinished in July of 2009.

An anniversary in Holdingford quietly passed by on Sunday, Sept. 6.

It was the 67th anniversary of the day the Soldiers Shrine was dedicated in 1942.

As the Parish of St. Hedwig prepares for its centennial in 2010, a new realization of the history of the parish, and of the World War II shrine, is being experienced.

The shrine in Holdingford, located across the street from the St. Hedwig's on a corner lot, was the very first shrine built in the United States to honor those who served in the U. S. Armed Forces, at home and abroad.

Five thousand people attended the ceremonies, held in the middle of World War II. Among the dignitaries were Governor Harold Stassen, Charles Brenny, mayor of Holdingford; Frederick Schilplin, publisher of the St. Cloud Daily Times; Rev. Gilbert Winkelman, OSB, dean of the School of Architecture at St. John's University; Dr. E. J. Schmitz, master of ceremonies, and The Rev. Fr. John Kromolicki, pastor of St. Hedwig's.

The shrine measures 42 feet long, 18 feet wide, and 22 feet high. Four carved angels with trumpets stand in procession, followed by a large statue of Christ. In July of 2009, in preparation for next year's centennial, the statues were refurbished by Linda Mader. The shrine's altars had been refurbished in 2007. Beautiful flower gardens have been planted around the shrine, and are at peak bloom now.

At one time plaques with names of more than 100 soldiers were embedded into the walls of the shrine. Today they are no longer visible. The four crosses on the shrine are in memory of four young men from Holdingford who died during the war. They are Elmer Kerestes, Pearl Harbor; Walter R. Mattson, St. Lo, France; Walter Krystosek, Anzio Beach, Italy; and Joseph Troxil, U. S. Navy who died at sea.

The original dedication

Gov. Stassen praised the countless volunteers who made Fr. Kromolicki's vision a reality. "The nation must hold true to the basic rights and precepts given them by God or a just peace would be but a vain hope," he said.

Fred Schilplin commented, "This beautiful community's Soldiers' Shrine is the expression of his love and the love of all the people of Holdingford, Stearns County and central Minnesota for the defenders of democracy everywhere." He said "The shrine will stand through the years as a loving patriotic tribute and a physical emblem of the faith of a whole community."

Rev. Gilbert Winkelman, OSB, dean of the School of Architecture at St. John's University, designed the shrine. It was constructed by Edward Feia, his son, Donald, and many parish volunteers. Many area farmers donated more than 540 loads of fieldstone for the construction.

St. Hedwig's Church is a member of the Five Parish Catholic Community. Fr. Mark Stang is the pastor, with Fr. Gregory Ombok serving as interim pastor. The five parishes include St. Hedwig's and St. Mary's of Holdingford; Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Opole; St. Columbkill's in St. Wendel; and Immaculate Conception in St. Anna.

St. Hedwig Church's Centennial celebration has been set for Sept. 12, 2010.