In 1856, eight German-Jewish families in St. Paul founded the first Jewish congregation in Minnesota. It was called Mount Zion Hebrew Association. In 2012, Mount Zion Temple had 1,000 members. The synagogue building on Summit Avenue in St. Paul was designed by internationally recognized architect Erich Mendelsohn.
Divorce in Minnesota's nineteenth century Norwegian-Lutheran community was a rarity. Legal separation between a leading pastor and his wife was unheard of. But an 1879 court case in Holden Township led to both those outcomes, and triggered a public debate about married women's legal rights.
Eric Norelius traveled to the Minnesota territorial town of Red Wing in 1855. He planned to meet with groups of immigrant Swedes looking for a Lutheran minister to lead them. The twenty-one year-old churchman thus began a six-decade ministry that served the state's Swedish Lutheran population.
The Sabes Jewish Community Center (JCC) began in 1918 as a community center for immigrant youth on the North Side of Minneapolis. Located in St. Louis Park since the early 1960s, in the twenty-first century the Sabes JCC continues to be a mainstay of Jewish cultural life for the greater Minneapolis community.
Sharei Chesed (Gates of Kindness or Splendor) is a Conservative Jewish congregation in Minnetonka. It was created in 1969 when two North Minneapolis Orthodox congregations merged. They were Sharei Zedeck (Gates of Righteousness) and Gemelus Chesed (Providing Kindness).
Shir Tikvah is a Reform congregation located in south Minneapolis. It was founded in 1988 after a dispute at St. Paul's Mount Zion Temple over the homosexuality of Associate Rabbi Stacy Offner. Offner resigned from Mount Zion in February 1988. She was the first woman rabbi in Minnesota.
Two Jewish homes for the poor and elderly operated in the Twin Cities area through most of the twentieth century. They merged in 1971, then merged again in 1995 with another agency devoted to eldercare to form Sholom Community Alliance. Sholom operates two campuses, one in St. Louis Park and the other in St. Paul.
In 1851 Bishop Joseph Cretin needed help to preach the Catholic faith to the growing St. Paul community. In July of that year he asked the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet in Missouri to assist him. Mother St. John Fournier and three Catholic sisters traveled to the city in the fall and quickly influenced the health and welfare of the region.
St. Joseph’s Academy traces its origins to 1851, when the first Sisters of St. Joseph opened a school for girls in a log cabin on the banks of the Mississippi. One hundred and twenty years later, the final St. Joseph’s Academy High School closed its doors. Today, its buildings on Marshall and Western Avenues are on the National Register of Historic Places and still in use.
St. Mary’s Orthodox Cathedral was completed in 1906. It is the home church of a small community of Rusyns (also called Ruthenians or Carpatho-Ruthenians) who immigrated to Minneapolis from the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the late nineteenth century.
Founded in 1888, St. Peter Claver Church was the first African American Catholic Church in Minnesota. The parish was created by St. Paul’s African American Catholic community and an Archbishop who vowed to “blot out the color line.”
Three Hebrew schools were founded in St. Paul between 1880 and 1920—the era of peak Jewish immigration to the city. Each had its own constituency and neighborhood. After much negotiation, they joined forces in 1956 and took the name Talmud Torah of St. Paul.
Two of Duluth's oldest Jewish congregations—Temple Emanuel and Tifereth Israel—had little in common after they were founded in the 1890s. While Temple Emanuel was affiliated with Reform Judaism, Tifereth Israel conducted worship services in the Orthodox tradition. Tifereth Israel's 1945 shift to Conservative Judaism, however, coupled with the decline of Duluth's Jewish population, led the two congregations to unite in 1969 as Temple Israel.
Minneapolis's oldest synagogue, Temple Israel (originally named Shaarai Tov), was founded in 1878. By 2012, over two thousand member families belonged to the temple, making it one of the largest Jewish congregations in the United States.
By 1910, some of St. Paul's Eastern European Jews had moved from their original immigrant neighborhoods in Lowertown and the West Side to the Cathedral Hill district. A group of Orthodox men met that year to discuss creating a new congregation there. It would conserve traditional Jewish practices, but modernize them to appeal to the next generation.
Women members of Mount Zion Temple in St. Paul founded Neighborhood House in 1897 to assist poor Russian Jewish immigrants. For its first sixty-five years, the settlement house operated in the West Side “Flats”—the neighborhood near the Mississippi River across from downtown where the immigrants first settled.
Mennonites arrived at Mountain Lake in 1873. Mennonites are a Protestant Christian group with sixteenth century European origins. Their name refers to Menno Simons, who was a Dutch religious reformer. Simons preached a fundamentalist, more literal interpretation of the Bible. He also emphasized the importance of adult baptism. Along with these beliefs, Simons promoted a simple way of life similar to Jesus Christ and the apostles. As part of his creed, he stressed the importance of Christian brotherhood, pacifism, and the primacy of family in Christian life. The tenet of pacifism played a significant role throughout Mennonite history.
During a fifteen-year span beginning in 1837, a series of Christian missionaries moved into the Mdewakanton Dakota village of Red Wing. Their goals, in the language of the day, were the "education and civilization" of the Indians. Welcomed by some of their hosts and tolerated by others, these Euro-Americans attempted to convince the Mdewakanton to adopt the ways of the whites.
One of nearly a dozen early Orthodox Jewish congregations in North Minneapolis, Tifereth B'nai Jacob was founded by immigrants from Bessarabia. The congregation served the community for seventy years before merging with other synagogues and moving to St. Louis Park.
Expert Essay: Doug Rossinow, Professor of History at Metropolitan State University, discusses the faith-based traditions, leaders, and organizations that have shaped the history of religion in Minnesota.
Jane Williamson was a schoolteacher and anti-slavery activist in Ohio before coming to the Presbyterian Dakota Mission at Lac qui Parle in 1843. She spent the remaining fifty-two years of her life working with the Dakota people.