Father Pierz statue to come home to namesake city

Terry Lehrke

It’s been nearly 150 years since Father Francis Xavier Pierz came to Central Minnesota as a missionary.

In a few weeks, Father Pierz, or at least a statue of the Roman Catholic priest, will come home to the city that bears his name – Pierz – a gift from the St. Cloud Hospital.

The intent to donate the statue first came before the Pierz City Council in October 2009.

However, officials from the hospital and the city of Pierz wanted to first consult with leaders of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe because the statue features a Native American in addition to the Catholic priest and a pioneer settler.

There was no opposition from the Mille Lacs Band.

Monday night, the Pierz City Council formally accepted the donation, with the St. Cloud Hospital expected to deliver the statue within the next few weeks.

The Council immediately hired the firm of Short Elliott Hendrickson as the engineer to design a slab to hold the 7-foot high bronze monument, that sits on a 10-foot wide by 8-foot deep base.

“I’d hate to end up with a cracked slab or have the statue tip or lean,” said Mayor Toby Egan.

City equipment and labor, as well as volunteer labor, will be used to help with setting the statue in its new home.

“If anybody wishes to volunteer, we’d certainly love to have them,” said Egan.

The only decision left is where on Main Street the statue should be displayed.

Egan said Billig Park will likely be the spot, located just south of the fire hall. A gazebo is centered in the lot. “We’re shooting around some ideas right now,” said Egan, referring to himself, City Clerk Mary Korf, City Administrator Anna Gruber, and Public Works Supervisor Bob Otremba.

“One idea,” said Egan, “Is that maybe we should move the gazebo, or we may have to take a tree or two down to make room for the statue. If anyone has any suggestions, we’d love to hear them.”

History of the statue and the man

The statue was created in 1952, by Italian sculptor Domenico Mastroianni.

The sculptor was commissioned by the St. Cloud Diocese to create the 7-foot high monument to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Father Pierz’ coming to the Minnesota territory.

Father Pierz came to the area in 1852, and started many communities in Central Minnesota, including Sobieski and Rich Prairie (later renamed Pierz) in Morrison County.

The statue, modeled in clay and cast in bronze, depicts Father Pierz as the central figure, flanked by a pioneer man, hat in hand, on one side, and on the other, a Native American laying his gun at the priest’s feet, in peace.

The statue originally stood in a St. Cloud city park near the St. Cloud Hospital. In 1969, when the hospital purchased the park and converted it into a parking lot, the statue was moved to Sixth Avenue North in front of the hospital.

St. Cloud Hospital project spurs donation

In 2009, in conjunction with a major construction project, St. Cloud Hospital leaders considered several options to move the statue to another location. One option was to move the statue to the opposite side of the hospital, along the Mississippi River.

However, the hospital’s board of directors and members of the corporation, including Bishop John Kinney, felt that although Father Pierz had historical significance to the St. Cloud Diocese and the Central Minnesota region, his historical significance was not specific to St. Cloud Hospital.

Considering one option for the statue, hospital officials approached the city of Pierz about donating the statue to that community, named for Father Pierz. The city was thrilled.

“Everybody I’ve talked to within the city is excited about it,” said Egan. “I don’t think I’ve talked to anybody that isn’t excited about it.”

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