Cathedral of Saint Paul celebrates 175th anniversary

Cathedral of Saint Paul celebrates 175th anniversary.
Mark Labine stands in front of the Cathedral of Saint Paul; one of his ancestors helped build the historic church.

Many Minnesota natives will remember learning about the French fur traders and settlers who came to the Saint Paul area in the 1800s. Some might recall learning that it was fur traders who helped build the original log chapel in Saint Paul in 1841. But perhaps few know that the city of Saint Paul was actually named after the chapel of Saint Paul, which officially changed it from the original name of the settlement, Pig’s Eye.

The Cathedral has a long history with the people of Saint Paul, including some families who are still involved in the community today. One of the families instrumental in making sure the city was not forever known as Pig’s Eye is the Labine family. Joseph Labissoniere and his son Isaac helped build the original 18-by-25-foot chapel. Joseph was a French fur trader who took on the role of superintendent for the chapel, where Father Lucien Galtier celebrated the first mass on All Saints Day in 1841; it became a cathedral in 1851 after a visit by Bishop Mathias Loras.

Galtier avidly promoted the name Saint Paul to go with the nearby community of Saint Peter. The Pig’s Eye settlement had originally been named after Pierre “Pig’s Eye” Parrant who owned a tavern on the settlement and had an injured eye that looked pig-like. Luckily, the name Saint Paul stuck.

Mark Labine, who lives in Arden Hills, says he heard some stories from his own grandfather about Joseph Labissoniere, Labine’s great-great-great-great grandfather, which sparked a passion for finding out more about his family history and the Cathedral. “A lot of these traders came to Fort Snelling, and a community grew there because there was military protection. We have a fairly good idea of what the first chapel looked like, but there is still some mystery behind it,” says Labine, who is the president of the French-American Heritage Foundation and is writing a book about the history of the chapel.

On November 1, the Cathedral will hold a special service at 5:15 p.m. with Archbishop Bernard Hebda to commemorate the church’s 175th anniversary. A reception featuring a multimedia presentation of photos and artifacts from the cathedral will follow the mass.

Since the original chapel, the cathedral moved three other times before landing at the fourth and current location.

Father John Ubel, rector of the Cathedral of Saint Paul, has his own connection to the cathedral’s history. “My great-grandfather carried the processional cross after the final mass in 1914 to the site of the new cathedral. The cross is still used when the archbishop celebrates liturgies,” Ubel says.

The current cathedral assumes the intricate role of merging its history with its active parish. Ubel notes that at least a third of the congregation at Sunday masses are visitors who also tour the grounds following mass.

One group involved in serving the parish is the Cathedral Young Adults (CYA), who create faith, service and social activities for young people dedicated to their faith. Vice chair of the CYA, Kristin Vanevenhoven, says the cathedral has been a good foundation for the group. “The cathedral draws people to [the church], so having it as our base has been great, because young adults from the greater Saint Paul area come,” Vanevenhoven says.

Ubel believes the history of the cathedral has shaped its parish today. “We are a living, breathing church. We have to respond to the needs of the day, while calling people to remember their roots,” he says. “The cathedral’s past reminds me of the importance of being rooted. It’s about preserving faith for future generations.”


Find out more about the Cathedral. Learn more about the Cathedral Young Adults group and their events. The French-American Heritage Foundation has published several books with ties to family histories and Minnesota historical events.