Welcome to the Parish Community of Saint Bridget
Who We Are
The Parish Community of Saint Bridget, is a Eucharistic community rooted in the north side of Minneapolis and committed to being the peaceful, compassionate and welcoming presence of Christ in the midst of a changing neighborhood.
We do this by listening and responding to the gospel, through our liturgical life, faith formation programs, pastoral care, social justice ministry, hospitality, and outreach to the wider community.
The Parish Community of Saint Bridget is a Catholic community on the north side of Minneapolis striving to create and maintain a welcoming environment and to offer opportunities for worship, faith formation, outreach and the promotion of justice in our parish and the wider community.
The history of the Parish Community of Saint Bridget is, for many years, the story of two faith communities established on the north side of Minneapolis—the Church of Saint Bridget and the Church of Saint Austin. Up until three years ago, beginning in January 2012, each of these communities served the people in their respective neighborhoods as independent parish communities. They each had their unique history and story to tell; their own traditions and customs. Both of them were born at a time when the Catholic population of the north side was growing and thriving. Both of them operated parish schools that were often at capacity. And, unfortunately, both experienced the same decline in population when many people made an exodus to the suburbs in the late 1980’s and 90’s. Changing demographics bring about new realities and with those come new challenges and opportunities. As we enter into our Jubilee Year, we look back in gratitude for those who have helped shape the past, we embrace the present moment with energy and confidence, and we look forward to the future with hope and trust that God will continue to walk with us and work through us.
It was May 1915 when the Reverend James Donahoe, a City Missionary from Prince Edward Island, was given permission to establish a new parish on the north side of Minneapolis by the legendary John Ireland, Archbishop of the then-Diocese of Saint Paul. Stories abound of how Fr. Donahoe raised funds and carried boards from the lumber years across the Mississippi River so that the new parish of Saint Bridget of Kildare would have a church building in time for its First Mass and Dedication on November 21, 1915. Renowned for his kindness, charity, and industriousness, Fr. Donahoe oversaw the completion of the first parish house (1918), the Saint Bridget School building (1922), and a convent for the Sisters of Saint Benedict, Duluth, MN (1930). By the year 1924, the burgeoning congregation outgrew the small wooden church and the school gymnasium was refitted to become the community’s place of worship until a new and larger church could be built.
Meanwhile, the Catholic population in north Minneapolis continued to grow and expand. Early in 1937, Archbishop John Gregory Murray and the consultors of the now-Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis decided to establish yet another parish in the area. The Reverend James Troy was given the responsibility of finding suitable land and naming the new parish. On March 19, 1937, the Mass was celebrated in the home of a parishioner and the Church of Saint Austin was established. A site was eventually chosen on the corner of Dowling Avenue and Washburn Avenue—less than a mile from Saint Bridget’s—and a church was built. The church was named for Saint Augustine of Hippo, in honor of Archbishop Austin Dowling.
In 1950, Saint Austin School and convent opened on the corner of Thomas Avenue and 40th Avenue. The Sisters of the Humility of Mary were engaged to teach the 290 children who were enrolled in the first year. Eventually, more classrooms and an auditorium were added and, by the mid-60’s, the school could accommodate 640 students.
AN ERA OF GROWTH AND PROPSERITY
Back at Saint Bridget’s, upon the death of Fr. Donahoe in 1955, the Reverend Martin V. Donovan became the second pastor. It was he who would oversee the continued growth of the parish community and the building of the “new” church (1957) and a sizeable extension on the school building (1958). These edifices were solemnly dedicated and blessed by Archbishop William O. Brady. Thanks to Fr. Donovan’s foresight and dedication, these buildings continue to serve the parish and wider community today.
By the early 60’s the congregation of Saint Austin’s had grown to over 1000 families and the original church no longer adequately served the needs of the community. The parish ultimately purchased property adjacent to the school and convent and the Reverend Joseph Brennan, second pastor, assumed the responsibility to build a new and bigger church. The present building was solemnly dedicated by Archbishop Leo Binz in September 1963.
With the retirement of Fr. Donovan in 1967, the Reverend Bernard Coughlin became the third pastor of Saint Bridget’s. Prior to his appointment, Fr. Coughlin taught for 27 years at the then-College of Saint Thomas and, as a student, attended the University of Notre Dame where he played college football under the legendary coach Knute Rockne, and alongside the famous “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.” With the parish campus complete and the church mortgage paid, Fr. Coughlin enjoyed a pastorate free of building projects and financial woes. He retired in 1974.
Following Fr. Coughlin’s departure, Archbishop Brady invited the Franciscan Friars of the Third Order Regular, Province of the Immaculate Conception, to assume pastoral responsibility for the parish. The Reverend Father Salvatore E. Corica, TOR was the first Franciscan pastor and, in the forty years since that time, a good number of the Franciscan Friars—both priests and brothers—have served the parish and community in various roles of service.
In April 2002, the Very Reverend Father Anthony M. Criscitelli, TOR became the pastor of Saint Bridget’s and also established the Provincial Residence and Office for his Franciscan Community in a portion of the Parish Center. By this time, the demographics of the parish and neighborhood had changed significantly and the parish, which once boasted a census of over 1200 families, was now comprised of 250 families, many of whom were elderly or widowed, and dedicated parishioners who moved to the suburbs but continued to call Saint Bridget’s their parish and their spiritual home. This same phenomenon affected Saint Austin’s and all the north side Catholic communities.
A NEW BEGINNING
In 2009, the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis, in response to the decline of the Catholic population on the north side of Minneapolis began an in-depth study of how to best serve the remaining population and, at the same time, make the best use of its physical, financial, and human resources. This ultimately resulted in the merging, consolidating, or closing of some parishes in the area. In January 2012 the Church of Saint Austin was merged into the Church of Saint Bridget and gave birth to what is now called the Parish Community of Saint Bridget. For several years prior to the merger, these two parishes, along with others in the area, established a collaborative Faith Formation Program, RCIA, and Parish Nurse Program and explored other areas of working together to better serve their people. Like any birth, this one was not without pain and effort, but thanks to the fidelity of the parishioners of both communities, the dedicated ministry of the staff and parish leadership, and the sensitivity, compassion, and kindness of Fr. Anthony, the merged Parish Community of Saint Bridget is now approaching the end of its third year. During those years, everyone worked hard at becoming one community and maintaining a sense of welcome and hospitality while continuing to be faithful to the mission of the Church.
HOPE FOR THE FUTURE
For almost 100 years, the Parish Community of Saint Bridget has been an important presence on the north side of Minneapolis. Now, with the welcome addition of our Saint Austin Campus and their own history of ministry and presence in the community, we can have an even greater impact on our neighborhood and continue to be a force for good and a sign of hope. To conclude where we began…we look back in gratitude for those who have helped shape the past, we embrace the present moment with energy and confidence, and we look forward to the future with hope and trust that God will continue to walk with us and work through us. May we become the Eucharist we receive!
Who was Saint Bridget?
The life and times of St Bridget of Kildare is clouded both by myth and legend, so it is difficult to tell what is fact and what is not. The biographies are varied and somewhat sketchy. We have assembled a few things from those facts and legends to illustrate who Saint Bridget was.
Bridget (Bridgit, Brigit, Brigid, Brid or Bride) was born in the year 453. According to tradition she was born in Faughart Ireland to a pagan chieftain of Leinster and a Pict slave woman. There are other accounts of Bridget being kidnapped and brought to Ireland as a slave. Bridget was named for the pagan goddess Brid who’s name stands for “fiery arrow”.
Some of Bridget’s qualties were beauty, wisdom, charity and selfless care for the poor. As a child she had heard St Patrick preach, which she never forgot. She could not bear to see anyone hungry or cold and to help them, she gave away things that were her father (slave owner?). When he protested, she replied that “Christ dwelt in every creature”. On one occasion, she was waiting for her father in his chariot, he tried to sell her to the King of Leinster, and while they bargained she gave a treasured sword to a leper. Before the king, she told her father that she gave the sword to God through the leper because of its great value. She said that if lepers and beggars asked for her king and her father, she would give them away also. Before her father (owner?) could strike her, the King, a christian, forbid him to strike Bridget, saying “Her merit before God is greater than ours”.
As a young woman, Bridget was to be given in arranged marriage with a young bard. Bridget refused and went to her Bishop (Saint Mel of Ardagh) and took her first vows as a nun (she received her veil). Legend says that she prayed that her beauty be taken from her so no one would seek her hand in marriage; her prayer was granted, and she regained her beauty only after making her vows. Bridget studied and travelled widely throughout Ireland, caring for the sick and the poor.
Bridget and several nuns that took their vows at the same time, went on to found several convents. At the invitation of several Bishops, Bridget founded convents all over Ireland and eventually she became the abbess of Cill-Dara (Kildare). Kildare became a center for religion and spiritual learning, and became a cathedral city.
Bridget died in 524 of natural causes.
“I would like the angels of Heaven to be among us.
I would like an abundance of peace.
I would like full vessels of charity.
I would like rich treasures of mercy.
I would like cheerfulness to preside over all.
I would like Jesus to be present.
I would like the three Marys of illustrious renown to be with us.
I would like the friends of Heaven to be gathered around us from all parts.
I would like myself to be a rent payer to the Lord; that I should suffer distress,
that he would bestow a good blessing upon me.
I would like a great lake of beer for the King of Kings.
I would like to be watching Heaven’s family drinking it through all eternity.”
– Saint Bridget of Kildare
Saint Bridget’s Cross
Saint Bridget’s cross is something that is seen as iconic, where we identify ourselves with our patron saint. Have you ever wondered about the story of St Bridget’s cross, and what the origin of that cross was?
Making a Saint Bridget’s cross is one of the traditional rituals in Ireland to celebrate the beginning of early spring, 1st February. The crosses are made of rushes that are pulled rather than cut. They are hung by the door and in the rafters to protect the house from fire and evil. According to tradition a new cross is made each Saint Bridget’s Day, and the old one is burned to keep fire from the house. Many homes have several crosses preserved in the ceiling the oldest blackened by many years of hearth fires. Some believe that keeping a cross in the ceiling or roof is a good way to preserve the home from fire which was always a major threat in houses with thatch and wood roofs. Saint Bridget and her cross are linked together by the story that she wove this form of cross at the death bed of either her father or a pagan lord, who upon hearing what the cross meant, asked to be baptized.
One version goes as follows: “A pagan chieftain from the neighborhood of Kildare was dying. Christians in his household sent for Bridget to talk to him about Christ. When she arrived the chieftain was raving. As it was impossible to instruct this delirious man, hopes for his conversion seemed doubtful. Briget sat down at his bedside and began consoling him. As was customary, the dirt floor was strewn with rushes both for warmth and cleanliness. Bridget stooped down and started to weave them into a cross, fastening the points together. The sick man asked what she was doing. She began to explain the cross, and as she talked his delirium quieted and he questioned her with growing interest. Through her weaving, he converted and was baptized at the point of death. Since then the cross of rushes has been venerated in Ireland.”