early church history
1850s “In the early 1850s, the first Norwegian settlers came to Rock Dell and Salem Townships, Olmsted County. Within a few years a large and flourishing settlement had developed extending also into the eastern part of Dodge County. Some of the settlers came directly from Norway, but most of them had spent some time in the older settlements in Wisconsin, such as Koshkonong, Bonnet Prairie and the like. Only the native Indians had lived in these parts before. [Seventy-fifth anniv. booklet]”
1850s Norwegian residents in Olmsted and Dodge counties are sometimes married by Justices of the Peace and by ministers of non-Lutheran denominations, since they have no resident pastor and there are only infrequent mission visits.
1856 June 12. Rev C. L. Clausen visits the congregation and conducts a service at which 15 children are baptized and the cemetery of the present East St. Olaf church is dedicated. Most likely the St. Olaf’s Norwegian Evangelical Lutheran Congregation is organized at this time. [Seventy-fifth anniv. booklet] NOTE: The 1956 booklet includes the names of those baptised, their parents, confirmands, and a couple that was married at this June 12 service.
“The first services are conducted under a large oak tree located near the present East St. Olaf church. In addition to school houses, certain farm houses were regularly used for places of worship, as for instance the homes of Tollef O. Golberg, Aslaug Aaby, Hans J. Grønsteen and John P. Tverberg [constructed about 1856].” [Seventy-fifth anniv. booklet]
1856 June 22. Rev. Claus L. Clausen holds first services in the Bear Creek settlement and organizes that congregation, enrolling 40 souls. First large settlement of people from Valdres in Minnesota. Came from Dane Co, WI. Bear Creek was far north of St. Ansgar, Iowa (Clausen’s home) and involved a hundred mile journey for each visit. Three years later, there were eight congregations in the St. Ansgar region, and by 1861 the area Clausen served reached as far west as Estherville in Emmet County, Iowa. He had organized congregations “in or near Mona, Rock Creek, Silver Lake, and Shell Rock in Iowa, and in or near Lyle, Albert Lea, Austin, Blooming Prairie, Emmons, Lime Creek, Little Cedar, Blue Earth, Six Miles Grove, Red Oak Grove, and Round Prairie, Minnesota. For a while he served a territory extending two hundred miles east and west, and about seventy-five miles north and south, a vast domain supporting many thousands of settlers of Norwegian birth or extraction.” (Joseph Shaw biography of Bernt Muus, p. 149.) Bear Creek is served by L. Steen from 1861-1869.
1856 A Rochester church is organized by Pastor L. Steen. (It is later known as the Zumbro Lutheran church.)
1857 August 27 to September 21. Rev. John St. Munch visits Minnesota, including the St. Olaf settlement. Born in 1827, Munch was the 18th pastor in America, serving in Wisconsin from 1855 to 1859.
1857 Census. Dodge County has 198 persons of Norwegian stock in a total population of 4,130. Of these, 122 are born in Norway, 10 born in Minnesota, and 64 born in Wisconsin. In Olmsted County there are 423 of Norwegian stock, of whom 305 are born Norway, 38 in Minnnesota, and 74 in Wisconsin.
1857 Pastor Herman A. Preus visits and holds a congregational meeting in the house of Jacob Knutson in Vernon.
1857 July. Rev. C. L. Clausen performs marriage of Guttorm Hilson and Jane Christenson, residents of Westfield Township, Dodge County.
1857 The St. Olaf’s Congregation buys 60 acres of land for $225. On this land a log cabin is soon erected. This serves as the home of the pastor’s family until 1877. [Seventy-fifth anniv. booklet]
1858 Rev. H. A. Preus visits. Confirmation conducted.
1858 January 13. Official minutes of the Church Council (“Kirkeraad”) of the Norwegian Synod refer to a letter from St. Olaf’s Congregation complaining of fact that the Council had not yet called a pastor, as requested through Rev. Clausen. [Seventy-fifth anniv. booklet]
1858 November 13. A call is extended to Rev. A. C. Preus, a resident of Wisconsin, to serve the congregation for one year. Preus accepts the call. [Seventy-fifth anniv. booklet]
1858 October. Pastor Anders Emil Fridrichsen visits St. Olaf settlement and baptizes five children. (He was born 1810 in Kristiansand, Vest-Agder) active in southern Minnesota — in Brown, Faribault, Waseca, Steele counties. Had been serving in Texas, but could not get any other pastors or synods to ordain him. Known as the “Leatherbreeches Minister.” The Rev. Nils Brandt is also said to have visited the congregation in early days.
1859 Rev A. C. Preus of Wisconsin makes two or three visits to the congregation, during which he baptizes a large number of children. He possibly also conducts confirmation and communion services at this time. [Seventy-fifth anniv. booklet]
1860 April 17. At a meeting of the congregation, the following resolution is adopted: “The congregation calls Rev. N. E. Jensen of Fillmore Co. to serve as its temporary pastor from April this year to May, 1861. The pastor shall conduct services four times during this period, and each time at 3 or 4 different places in the settlement.” Rev. Jensen accepts this call. [Seventy-fifth anniv. booklet]
1860 As early as this year “the pioneers of this new settlement — while still living in sod huts and log cabins — contributed more than one thousand dollars for the building of Luther College at Decorah, Iowa.” [Seventy-fifth anniv. booklet]
1860 Rev. Jensen visits the St. Olaf congregation three times during this year. [Seventy-fifth anniv. booklet]
1861 Rev. Jensen visits congregation twice this year. In 1860 and 1861 he baptizes 84 children, performs a number of marriages and also conducts confirmation and communion services. [Seventy-fifth anniv. booklet]
1861 September 1. Luther College in Decorah founded — the first Norwegian college in America. Influence of its first president, Laur Larsen, upon the course of education and religious development among Norwegians was exceedingly important. (As result of Luther College and the influence of the Decorah Posten, the town of Decorah became most important cultural center for Norwegians in the US.)
1861 August. Rev. Lauritz Steen comes from Norway to become the first resident pastor of St. Olaf’s Norwegian Evangelical Lutheran congregation. He serves until 1869. There are no church buildings at this time, so services are held at various homes and schools. Pastor Steen holds 101 services in the John P. Tverberg log house. Steen serves the charge, including Bear Creek and Rochester, for eight years. Schools are organized for religious instruction of the children during this period. [Seventy-fifth anniv. booklet]
1862 January 2. A St. Olaf congregational meeting decides: 1) to build a church as soon as possible, 2) that it should be a frame church according to the same lines as the church in Holden congregation, Goodhue, Co., MN, 3) that it should be built on the parsonage grounds, 4) that the following seven elected members should serve on the building committee: Aslak Aaby, Hans Johnson, Andrew Halvorson, Christen Hellekson, Ole S. Saetre, Jacob K. Thoe, Thrond Christenson. [Seventy-fifth anniv. booklet]
1863 December 9. At a meeting, the location of the West St. Olaf church is decided upon. Lars Folkestad, Ole Jørnson, Erick C. Himle, and K. L. Larson are elected to solicit funds. The church remains one corporation during the time the building of the two separate churches is planned. [Seventy-fifth anniv. booklet]
1863 November 28. At a meeting it is decided by members from the western part of the congregation to build their own church. The following are elected as a building committee: Aslak Anderson (Aaby), Jacob Knudson (Thoe), Leiuf Evenson (Folkestad), Ole Monsen, Hellek Throndson and Sjur Olson. [Seventy-fifth anniv. booklet]
1863 The St. Olaf congregation establishes its own education program by this year. During Steen’s term (until 1869), the congregation is divided into quadrants. During Thorsen’s pastorate (beginning 1869), individual districts are identifed by their names.
1863 Religious schools are conducted in four different districts. The teachers are Knut Knutson Sletto and Aslak Halvorsen. The following year Taerge Jørgensen Hjemdalen also serves as teacher. [Seventy-fifth anniv. booklet] There are 82 students in 1863. [Leon Holtan’s translation of the minutes of congregational meetings.]
1864 Religious school students in two of the four districts of E-WStO congregation number 54.
1865 In two districts, schools are conducted for the E-WStO congregation, with the following teachers: Southwest – Tarje Jørgenson and Aslak Halvorsen; Southeast – Knut Knutson Sletto. There are a total of 54 students in the two districts.
1865 October 22. A visit to the St. Olaf congregation by Rev. H. A. Preus (President of the Norwegian Synod from 1862-94) is recorded in a note he writes concerning the keeping of parish records.
1866 It is decided by the St. Olaf congregation to build a stone church a few feet longer and wider than the Holden church in Goodhue County. Likewise it is decided to build the church on the lot donated for that purpose by Haldor Bystølen, one acre located east of the parsonage. [Seventy-fifth anniv. booklet]
1866 The foundations of the West St. Olaf church are laid. [Seventy-fifth anniv. booklet]
1867 The walls of the West St. Olaf church are raised. [Seventy-fifth anniv. booklet]
1868 October 10. Apparently the first meeting ever held in the new East St. Olaf church occurs on this date, at which Rev. H. A. Preus, president of the Synod, presides. The following summer work has progressed so far that services can be conducted in the church. [Seventy-fifth anniv. booklet]
1868 Pastor Ole A. Bergh takes charge of the South Zumbro congregation.
1868 The South Zumbro (Hauge Synod) church is built just east of the Canisteo-Salem township line.
1869 Rev. Lauritz Steen leaves the E-WStO congregation.
1869 Summer. The St. Olaf congregation extends a call to Cand. Theol. I. [sic] A. Thorsen to become its pastor. Thorsen accepts and is installed on September 19, 1869. He directs the affairs of the charge for 47 years until he resigns in September, 1916. [Seventy-fifth anniv. booklet]
1869 Regular and thorough instruction of the children is continued under Rev. Thorsen. In addition to examinations conducted at the schools, Rev. Thorsen also holds frequent catechisations at the regular services. [Seventy-fifth anniv. booklet] (List of teachers included; see booklet.)
1870 During this year, the St. Olaf congregation holds meetings to plan religious education in districts with the following names: Sølverness, Engen, Tveten, Flaten, Steen, Rime, Kvale (Qualey?), and Thorsness. Teachers include L. Vinje and Petrius Opbøe (Sølverness & Engen districts), O. Vold (Tveten and Flaten), Mr. Loken and K. Helgeson (Steen district), K. Helgeson (Rime district), Ole Kvamsøe (Kvale/Qualey district), Jørgen Bøe (Thorsness district). Schedule of reading for the pastor in 1870 indicates Kittel H. Aasen was teacher in the Rime district.
1870 The roof of the West St. Olaf church is constructed. Construction continues into 1872. [Seventy-fifth anniv. booklet]
1871 4th Sunday after Trinity. First services are held in the West St. Olaf church. [Seventy-fifth anniv. booklet]
1871 Thor Olsen is teacher for the Vegger Prairie district school; seminary student Søraas is teacher for the Gilderhus distrcit school. Ole Kvamsøe is teacher in the Kvale/Qualey district school.
1872 Temporary seats are provided in the West St. Olaf church. It is used regularly from now on. The plastering is done this year. [Seventy-fifth anniv. booklet]
1873 April. At a meeting it is decided to reorganize and form two separate congregations — East St. Olaf Congregation and West St. Olaf Congregation. [Seventy-fifth anniv. booklet]
1873 St. Olaf’s Norwegian Evangelical Lutheran congregation numbers 1300. Members come from the area of Kasson, west of Hayfield, Dexter and Sargeant. As time goes on, parishioners who live in these outlying areas see the need to form their own congregations. One by one they sever their ties with West St. Olaf. St. John’s of Kasson, Trinity of Hayfield, and Evanger of Sargeant claim West St. Olaf as their mother church.
1874 Pastor Bernt Julius Muus, of rural Goodhue County, establishes St. Olaf’s School.
1874 St. Olaf College is founded in Northfield, Minnesota. It receives its charter in 1889 and becomes the largest and best equipped of all the Norwegian-American colleges. Its primary motive is at first to train candidates for the theological seminaries of the various church bodies. Thorbjorn Mohn, whose parents and siblings live in Dodge County, becomes St. Olaf College’s first president.
1875 November 30. Rev. B. J. Muus dedicates the East St. Olaf church. The following also take part in the service: Rev. Thorson, V. Koren, Ylvisaker, R. Larson, Svennungsen and Mohn. The church has a capacity of about 650. The altar coverings, carpets, communion vessels, candlesticks, and also two altar paintings — “The Last Supper” and the “Crucifixion” — are given by the women of the congregation. [Seventy-fifth anniv. booklet]
1875 December. West St. Olaf Lutheran church is completely furnished and dedicated in services conducted by Rev. V. Koren of Winneshiek County, Iowa.
1876 April 3. Six families belonging to congregation of West St. Olaf church in Vernon Township meet with Rev. Thorson. They receive permission to organize a congregation of their own. Meeting is held over a store on Kasson’s Main Street. (see p. 263 for families’ names)
1876 Norwegian Synod is organized, with Pastor Bernt Julius Muus of rural Kenyon (founder of St. Olaf College) as its first president.
1876-1901 Kasson’s St. John’s Lutheran Church services are held in members’ homes and in Methodist, Baptist, and Presbyterian church buildings.
1877 A new St. Olaf parsonage replaces the old log cabin. It is a roomy brick house costing between three and four thousand dollars. [Seventy-fifth anniv. booklet]
1879 May. Rev. Ole Gunderson Felland is installed as pastor of St. John’s congregation at salary of $500. (He also serves parishes at Hayfield, Evanger and Rochester.)
1879 The Minnesota District of the Norwegian Synod holds its convention in the parish (both East and West St. Olaf church facilities are used). Over 100 pastors and delegates are in attendance. [1956 booklet]
1880 November 17. Constitution of Kasson congregation is adopted, with name changed to St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Congregation (member of the Norwegian Synod).
1880s East St. Olaf, like many congregations of the Norwegian Synod, suffers a division that lasts nearly 30 years as a result of the Predestination Controversy. A number of families withdraw their membership and form Zion Congregation which affiliates with the United Lutheran Church. (See 1917, below.) [1956 booklet]
1881 October. The first West congregation Ladies Aid is organized at the home of Ole Roe. [Seventy-fifth anniv. booklet]
1881 Rev. Ole Gunderson Felland relinquishes three of his congregations (including St. John’s in Kasson) to begin duties at St. Olaf’s School in Northfield (later St. Olaf College, where he is professor there for over 50 years and its librarian from 1891-1925).
1882-93 No resident pastor at St. John’s, but Rev. Thorsen preaches there as often as possible.
1886 The young people in the West St. Olaf congregation take the lead in providing the church bell. [Seventy-fifth anniv. booklet]
1890 First class at St. Olaf College (Northfield, MN) is graduated; consists of 3 men.
1890s The East St. Olaf congregation builds a school house on the parsonage grounds directly across from the church. Here a parochial school is conducted for the benefit of the children in the neighborhood. In addition to the common school branches daily instruction is given also in Norwegian and religion. [Seventy-fifth anniv. booklet]
1891 June. West St. Olaf Congregation entertains the Minnesota District Convention of the Norwegian Synod at which 129 pastors and delegates are present.
1893-1900 Rev. Johann Linnevold pastor of St. John’s. Also serves parishes of Hayfield, Rochester, Evanger and Zumbrota. Known as the circuit rider because he makes pastoral rounds on bicycle. Between Sept. 1893 and Sept 1894 he travels 3,985 miles.
1894 January 31. The West St. Olaf congregation decides to buy 20 acres of land located 1 1/2 miles southwest of the church to provide a home for the teacher. The following year a house is erected which afterwards serves as teacherage. [Seventy-fifth anniv. booklet]
1900-01 Rev. J. N. Ylvisaker of Hayfield is substitute pastor at St. John’s, Kasson.
1901 December 1. Rev. Albert Gustavus Quammen comes to St. John’s to serve Kasson and Rochester congregations. Lives in Rochester parish.
1902 Sunday School for St. John’s is organized by A. G. Nelson. Classes held in his home.
1903 St. John’s congregation includes 23 families. Congregation pays $1,000 for building formerly owned by the Danish baptists, located on corner of Second Avenue and Fifth Street, NW. This building had been built in 1875 by Norwegian Danish Evangelical Lutheran Church. Prior to this time some parents sent their children to Sunday School at South Zumbro Church.
1904 St. John’s church secretary first begins to write minutes in English.
1905 September 9. The 50th anniversary of the St. Olaf congregations is observed. [1956 booklet]
1907 September. Original East St. Olaf Church struck by lightning and burned. [Seventy-fifth anniv. booklet]
1908 November 10. The present East St. Olaf replacement church (as of 1931) is dedicated by Rev. L. M. Gimmestad. [Seventy-fifth anniv. booklet]
1908-10 Rev. Carl Bertinius Ingebrigtson serves St. John (Kasson) and Rochester parishes.
1910-11 Students from Luther Seminary conduct services at St. John’s.
1911-15 Rev. Clarence Haugen serves St. John’s (except on year while in Leipzig, Germany when Rev. William K. Naeseth fills in.)
1916 August 26. A new St. John’s church building is dedicated.
1916 September. End of Rev. J. A. Thorsen’s service to the St. Olaf congregation. During his 47 years there, he had officiated at 4,179 baptisms, 729 weddings, 1,472 funerals, and he instructed 2,308 confirmands. The highs for individual years were: 167 baptisms, 81 confirmands, 38 weddings, and 52 funerals.
1916-26 Rev. J. C. K. Preus serves St. Olaf’s Norwegian Evangelical Lutheran (West St. Olaf).
1918 Congregation of St. John’s (in Kasson, MN) passes a resolution calling for the congregation to become an independent parish and served by a resident pastor.
1919-21 St. John’s is served by Rev. Gilbert Oppen of Hayfield and Dr. O. E. Brandt, vice president of the Seminary. Seminary students also conduct some services.
1921 Rev. Mikkel Lono serves St. John’s. He reorganizes Young People’s Society. Sunday School enrollment rises to nearly 100.
1921 The East congregation’s school is discontinued due to financial and other difficulties resulting from the world war. [Seventy-fifth anniv. booklet]
1922 First lutefisk dinner at St. John’s by Ladies Aid.
1922 The teacherage provided by the East St. Olaf congregation (on 10 acres located directly north of the parsonage) is sold about this time. After this date also, Sunday school is conducted in both congregations during the summer months. In addition, a month or more of vacation school is provided in a number of districts. [Seventy-fifth anniv. booklet]
1925 June 28. Dedication of West St. Olaf Luther League Chapel. Cost of more than $5,000. [Seventy-fifth anniv. booklet]
1925 Rev. Lono, pastor of St. John’s, marries. He leaves Kasson in 1926.
1925 West St. Olaf builds and dedicates a chapel with material obtained through purchase of the United Lutheran Church of Hayfield (sold after the merger of the United and Synod congregations). The chapel is used for Sunday School, Luther League meetings, and by the ALCW and other functions. One outstanding event which is the responsibility of the ALCW is the annual spring “Norwegian Smorgasbord.”
1926 September 1. Rev. J. C. K. Preus moves to Albert Lea, MN. [Seventy-fifth anniv. booklet]
1926 October 10. Rev. D. J. Borge installed as successor to Preus. [Seventy-fifth anniv. booklet] He serves until 1957.
1928 Pipe organ and electric light system installed in East St. Olaf church. [Seventy-fifth anniv. booklet]
1945 December 9. A fire breaks out in West St. Olaf Church. The fire is kept under control by the assembled crowd and fire departments from neighboring towns. However, much damage occurs and much renovation is required. [1956 booklet]
1946 St. John’s church membership: 508.
1948 August 29. A severe storm blows down the upper half of the old wooden tower of West St. Olaf Church together with the bell. [1956 booklet]
1948 September 12. The fully renovated West St. Olaf Church is dedicated.
1952 November 9. Again, a renovated West St. Olaf church is re-dedicated.
1956 June 29 – July 1st. East and West St. Olaf Congregations celebrate their 100th anniversary.
1957-70 Rev. Arnold Mellom serves St. Olaf’s Norwegian Evangelical Lutheran (West St. Olaf).
1970 Rev. Lester Peterson begins to serve St. Olaf’s Norwegian Evangelical Lutheran (West St. Olaf).
1976 St. John’s church centennial.
1979 West St. Olaf congregation numbers 350 baptized members, a much smaller number than formerly, due to establishing of daughter congregations and the changing community.
1981 West St. Olaf congregation celebrates its 125th anniversary.
2006 St. Olaf congregation celebrates 150-year anniversary.