This is the first narrative history of the Archdiocese of St. Paul, from 1840 to 1962. Historian Marvin R. O'Connell brings to life the extraordinary labors and accomplishments of the French priests who came to the upper midwest territory during the first half of the nineteenth century. Over the next fifty years a flood of settlers, primarily Irish and German Catholics, filled up the land. In 1850 Rome created a new diocese centered in the village of St. Paul, and in 1851 French priest Joseph Cretin was named its first bishop.
O'Connell's lively account stresses the social, economic, and political context in which the Catholic Church in Minnesota grew and evolved. He vividly illuminates the personalities of the bishops who followed Cretin, Thomas Grace (1859–84) and John Ireland (1884–1918). Ireland inherited a sophisticated system of churches, schools, orphanages, and hospitals, staffed by orders of religious men and women. Ireland built upon this legacy, founding colleges for men and women, a major seminary, and cathedrals in both St. Paul and Minneapolis. Ireland's successors, Austin Dowling (1919–30) and John Gregory Murray (1931–56) were not as colorful as Ireland, although Murray was immensely popular. William Brady is the final archbishop covered in this book, serving from 1956 to 1961 when he died unexpectedly from a heart attack. O’Connell ends his narrative In 1962, soon after the death of Archbishop Brady and a few months before the first session of Vatican II.
"With a sweeping overview, cogent detail, and witty insight, Marvin O'Connell tells the stories of the people who built the Archdiocese of St. Paul: men of energy, grace, vision, and not a little political skill; scoundrels and scalawags on a fluid frontier; women religious who made possible the schools and hospitals that nurtured the faithful; families who built churches through deep faith and painful sacrifice. We see these real people, with personalities and passions and flaws, leaving enduring marks on Minnesota's landscape. This is a grand tale on a grand scale."—Ann Regan, author of Irish in Minnesota
“Marvin O'Connell's magisterial Pilgrims to the Northland provides a detailed, colorful, and readable history of the Catholic Archdiocese of St. Paul. Deeply researched, O'Connell's revealing history breathes life into the challenges, disappointments, and triumphs of generations of Catholics who built modest frontier chapels, thriving ethnic churches, and sprawling suburban parishes to serve the spiritual needs of a diverse people. Readers will savor a narrative rich in the ambiance of Catholic culture and in deft portraits of memorable figures, including ascetic pioneer pastors, assertive women religious, rascal priests, and visionary leaders. From Augustin Ravoux's Dakota language catechism to Virgil Michel's legendary Liturgical Press and Louis Gales's Catechetical Guild and Catholic Digest, Minnesota Catholics practiced their faith and wrote about it. This is an essential interpretation of Catholicism in the Upper Midwest in the years before Vatican II. O'Connell's delightful prose makes history more absorbing than fiction!” —Anne Klejment, University of St. Thomas
“Fr. O’Connell’s Pilgrims to the Northland offers an account of the Archdiocese of St. Paul from its earliest beginnings to the years just preceding the Second Vatican Council. O’Connell does history as it should be done, taking account of the great deeds and the great personalities but also the less successful moments and the less admirable personalities who are also a part of the story. Overall, this is a well-researched, thoroughly engaging and beautifully written treatment of its subject.” —Scott Wright, University of St. Thomas, author of Gather Us In: A History of the Parishes of the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis