Historic Log Church Renovated, Open for 134 More Years of Memories

St. Mary and Joseph Church in Sawyer built in 1884 is open after seven years of renovations.

SAWYER, Minn.- This Sunday mass was no regular one for these churchgoers. They were attending service in the newly restored St. Mary and Joseph Log Church.

“They think this is the greatest thing that happened,” said Deacon Bryan Bassa. “I’m just, oh I can’t explain, it’s just out of this world.”

Also called the “Sawyer Log Church” and the “Church in the Woods,” the building was closed in 1964 when a new Saint Mary and Joseph Church was built next door five years later.

“To see a historic building brought back to life and going to be put back into use is just amazing,” said Michele Beeksma, President of the St. Louis County Historical Society.

Thanks to a $128,000 grant, the 134-year-old structure was renovated by the Northern Bedrock Historic Preservation Corps.

“We had to put a new roof on, we had to put a new floor on, we had to get new fuse built in there, and we had to put a new bell tower up,” Deacon Bryan said, “wire in between the logs and you put cement on top of it.”

Seven years of work to restore the church and open it up once again.

Built in 1884 by Chippewa parishioners, the Church in the Woods is the second oldest structure in the Diocese of Duluth.

It is one of the few remaining buildings in Carlton County to survive the fires of 1918.

“To preserve that for people to come is very important going forward as well,” Beeksma said.

The church in the woods also has ties to the native community in the area, as Beeksma, a Native Catholic herself, explained.

“Back in the day it was actually, the land was donated by a native person and we had native pastors, and priests, and native families that were instrumental in building the original church.”

Now the archaic building will become a staple for the Catholic community once again, to worship in front of the oldest wooden altar in the Diocese of Duluth.

“We plan to have, if people want, weddings, or funerals, or even services in the church and baptisms,” said Deacon Bryan.

Preserving today’s Catholic culture, while honoring the Native cultures which founded it in the past.

“It’s really extraordinary. The community here is actually more non-native and for them to restore this church is very heartfelt,” Beeksma said.

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