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Walking the stations in Lent: Paintings first adorned Red Wing Catholics’ second church

A circa 1945 photo illustrates how Stations of the Cross paintings were displayed in Red Wing's old Catholic Church, which served the parish from the 1870s to 1965. Photo courtesy of Church of St. Joseph

Longtime members of the Church of St. Joseph remember well the Stations of the Cross paintings that graced the walls of the 1870s building that served the Catholic congregation back in the day.

But in the half-century since the current church building opened, everyone pretty much forgot about them. Small, modern stations were used in the 1965 building instead of the old paintings, probably because they didn't fit its contemporary design.

That's no longer the case. The historic images are back.

Thomas Kommers"There's a wonderful juxtaposition of the stained glass in the contemporary part of the building with the traditional paintings," said Father Thomas Kommers. "It just makes me smile."

He looks forward to sharing them with the congregation and the community during special services planned at 5 p.m. each Friday during Lent.

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The St. Joseph congregation already has been reintroduced to the artworks.

Last fall on Give to the Max Day, the church had "Give to STJ Day" and raised funds for a variety of projects.

"We had photos of two or three (of the damaged paintings) on a poster," he explained, along with information explaining how the church wanted to restore them and put them on the walls once again. "It was one of the sparks for the giving" that day, Father Thomas said.

The funding also enabled the church to have recessed lighting installed above each painting to provide a halo of light over each station.

Stations of the Cross, also known as The Way of the Cross, is a centuries-old tradition, particularly in Catholic churches. Traditionally, 14 images or carvings represent incidents that occurred during Jesus Christ's progress from his condemnation by Pilate to his crucifixion and burial. Devotions are performed at each station.

Stations of the Cross are very much a part of Lenten services yet today. Some Catholics used to do them before other services, and school children traditionally walked them on First Fridays, especially during Lent.

Red Wing got its first Catholic church in 1865. It was replaced by a larger church, seating about 400, in 1877. The present Church of St. Joseph, which seats 1,350, dates to 1965.

Paintings of the 14 stations were purchased for the second church during a remodeling, probably in 1923. They might have been used in some other church before coming to Red Wing, but no one knows for sure.

Those paintings were placed in storage in the attic of the old school building, which stood where Holy Family Hall is today. When the school was torn down, they found their way into a hall closet upstairs in the new administration building.

"We forgot about these great, beautiful paintings," said Kommers, who came to Red Wing in 2003.

While planning for the church's 150th anniversary Jordan Harris, parish administrator, asked Red Wing artist Art Kenyon to look at an old painting of St. Joseph holding Jesus. It had some water damage.

Kenyon spotted the Stations of the Cross paintings in the same storage area, and the paintings' journey began. Harris never saw them in the old church, but she sees great potential in them "to enrich people's journey, especially during Lent, and bring to life Jesus' path to the cross. ... They're pretty spectacular."

The work was completed last week, and on Sunday Kommers blessed the restored Stations of the Cross to begin each Mass.

He will lead Stations of the Cross devotions on Fridays until Easter, which falls on April 1 this year. It will use traditional rather than contemporary booklets. A simple soup supper will follow. Everyone is invited.