St Mary, Star of the Sea Church, Duluth, MN

We had left home at 4:30 AM last Sunday and with construction and kids ended up late for Mass.  We were passing through Duluth and at the tip of Ray at Stella Borealis chose to stop at Mary Star of the Sea for Mass.  Beautiful church, horrible music.  The "closing hymn," and I use that phrase loosely, was started with "and a one and a two and a three" and the last verse was met by rhythm clapping through the whole church(I mistook "dancing" for the mad dash to the door by everyone as they applauded the guitarist).  Okay, not only was it guitar music, but the guitarist was not able to play his instrument well either.  At any rate we had to wait only briefly for the church to clear out before we could spend some time in prayer(you know, because we were in a church).

Someone hoping to get some holy water.
The organ which was NOT used. 
The one person who was still there 60 seconds after Mass was over.  I wondered how long he had been at the parish and if he was praying to save it from Guitar Man.

The rest of the photos on Flickr


  1. I apologize for the music. I doubt that would have been like that if the late Fr. Pat McDowell had still been pastor. He died within the past year, I believe.

    Thanks for the great photos! My Polish great-grandparents founded (1883) and built that church (the third one after the first two burned) in 1907.

    But it is the most beautiful church left in Duluth. Most of the other old ones have been torn down or changed to other uses.

  2. Ray, I truly got a sense of the truly Catholic Duluth from being there. Our Lady, Star of the Sea really has added meaning in this last deep sea port of the St Lawrence Seaway. I was glad we did visit there, walking in (late) I was taken aback by its beauty.

    I was reminded of this prayer I pray every day.

    Oh most beautiful Flower of Mount Carmel, blessed Mother of the Son of God, assist me in my necessity. Oh Immaculate Virgin and Star of the Sea, help me and show me that you are my mother and protector. Oh Holy Mary, Mother of God, Queen of Heaven and Earth, I humbly beseech Thee from the bottom of my heart to help me in my needs for there are none who can withstand your grace. Help me to obtain assistance in this life. Amen.

  3. I always have to wince when I hear someone criticize the music in any given church.
    (No offense, BC....I realize the music is more important to some than to others.)

    I try to remember, even when the music is less than perfect, that the musicians are offering their own gift, and delivering as best they can.

    Even 'bad' music, more often than not, is better than 'no' music...which is often the case at various small churches that I've attended.

    1. That is exactly how I feel. I think it is harder to find accomplished musicians willing to give their time and talent in a church with smaller numbers. The bigger churches often have money to hire someone to be in charge of the music. So, it is great that someone stood up and did their best to deliver.

  4. Anon, I'll do a separate post sometime soon concerning church music. I am a traditionalist who grew up with guitar music so that's my angle. Someone else might have a different opinion, I guess it's one of those things that can just be taken for what it's worth. If a person doesn't care to hear the traditionalist take on things they probably wont agree with much on this blog. That said, I would agree that the Mass was meant to be sung. But I also agree with Vatican II on the way the modern Mass should be sung. More details in forthcoming post.

  5. I live and work in Duluth and went to St Mary's this morning (11/7/10) for Sunday mass. There was a wonderful childrens choir and the an engaged congregation. Almost everyone waited until the last note of the last song before giving the kids a nice round of applause. Please don't let one blogger's value judgements while "passing through" affect your view. It may be that all the tourists, and not the locals were at her mass.

  6. I think you are being a bit too harsh. You can't judge the entire church by one Mass you attended on a given day. Just as I wouldn't want my parenting judged on the time that I am yelling at my children. You have to understand that this is an inner city parish with limited funds and organists don't come cheap. I sincerely hope that your post doesn't discourage anyone from attending this beautiful church, as they would be missing out on one of the most beautiful churches in Duluth. Hopefully your wonderful pictures will entice people to come and check it out.

  7. The quality of music was at the point that it completely distracted me from the actual Mass. I can appreciate that I might have just been at the wrong place at the wrong time. I don't agree that organists are cheaper than guitarists. My grandmother-in-law has played the organ at her parish for decades for nothing. Sometimes it's just a matter of asking parishioners. My impression was that people who like clapping and rhythm guitar were on the Worship Committee and preferred to have that style of music in the parish. Or maybe most of the parishioners like to have Mass celebrated that way. Having sacred music during Mass does not even need an organ. Plainchant and other simple but beautiful and would fit so nicely in a church like this. Let me say this really is one of the most beautiful churches I've seen, and I really have seen a great deal of them. Honestly I do not intend to discourage others from attending, only to give my impression from my seat in the pew on that day.

    If someone from the parish wanted to confirm that the ordinary musical approach at the parish is different than what I experienced, I'd be happy to do a follow up post on it. There is no parish website so I have no way to get any more information that my firsthand account last summer. But people who have a traditional appreciation for liturgy like I do would want to know beforehand if the music was of poor quality, even for a modern and banal approach like a guitar Mass.

    If you would like assistance in the music and desire a more traditional approach, please feel free to email me and I can get you in contact with people locally who can help you.

  8. Hello, Matt, my fellow traditional Catholic! I feel for you in what you had to experience. Of course, I grew up with the SSPX (God bless my father for that!) and still go there for the most part. I also go some semi-traditional Parishes in downtown Detroit. If you really want to see Mass the way it was meant to be offered, then you have to take a trip out here to Michigan to St. Josephat's or Assumption Grotto. The most beautiful Parishes if you ask me. I don't understand why we're so blessed here to have them but most thankfully we are. Hey, is there anyway I can email you?

  9. Jonathan, my email is listed on the side of right side of the site in the "About Me" section.

  10. I grew up in Duluth as a protestant Catholic-wanna-be and I never got to see the inside of Duluth's RC churches while growing up. At 61 I finally became a Catholic in Minnesota at the Basilica of St. Mary but I regret not having experienced Catholicism in the old Catholic churches in Duluth as a kid. Thanks for the beautiful pictures.

  11. Hello,
    I am the new secretary at St. Mary, Star of the Sea Church in Duluth. We have 3 masses at our church. A 4:30 pm Saturday, 9:30 am Sunday and 12 Noon Sunday. Our organist plays at the 4:30 pm and 12 Noon Masses each weekend except during the month of August when she travels to Russia to visit her family. The 9:30 am Mass is considered the "contemporary" Mass with a variety of voices and a guitarist. We must have had a substitute that weekend, because our guitarist is a professional performer and we don't clap for him.

    The last man in the church is Fr. James Crossman who was 89 at the time of these photos.

    I do hope you come back again! I've been a member of this church for 16 years and have seen it go through many changes. Some good, some not so. Feel free to find me. I'm the mom with 10 children that most anyone can point you to. And typically the last one to leave the church.

    Thank you for the offer to help with our music.

    Kristi Salls, Church Secretary/Bookkeeper/Events Planner, St. Mary, Star of the Sea, Duluth, MN

  12. Kristi, thank you very much for the info! That is exactly what I was looking to find out! I would love to see the church again, a priceless heirloom to the area, and would like to hear that organ as well :). God bless you and your family.

  13. Wow, the sermon I heard was all about not judging. The music was horrible, the laity were indisciplined and didn't seem to know they were at Mass, as is usual in most Minnesota churches thanks to the horrible catechesis.

  14. Guess that sermon didn't do you much good.

  15. My uncle is the parish priest here now.

  16. The pipe organ is a two-manual 1907 Lyon & Healey tracker-action instrument of 13 ranks. Small by today's standards, but pleasant to the ear. It has remained unaltered in the back gallery since it's installation.

    The current organist has served for about 18 years. Life-long parishioner and long-time organist, Helen K. played for weekday and Sunday Mass for more than 50 years. She had a fatal heart attack at her home with music in hand while going out the door to play for a weekday Mass. Hers is an AMAZING legacy, one of MANY who have served in the same capacity in most of Duluth's older parishes, especially that of Mrs. Joan C. who was the organist at our former Sacred Heart Cathedral for 60 years!


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