In 1880 a group of stalwart, faithful Slovaks began arriving in Minneapolis. They settled on the banks of the Mississippi River under the Washington Avenue Bridge in the southeast corner of the city. This area came to be known as “the Flats.” Upon their arrival most families worshipped in their homes. As their number increased, they sought a way to establish public worship services.
The Lutheran Slovaks became acquainted with a German Lutheran pastor, Reverend Friedrich Sieverson, who offered them use of his congregation’s church on Sunday mornings. Simple services were conducted, with prayer and hymn singing from books carried to America from the homeland; and a collection of sermons prepared for Slovak émigrés by Lutheran pastors in Slovakia.
Though it was a big step forward that the Slovaks had use of a church building, Sieverson knew this flock needed a shepherd. At a conference of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, held in 1887 in Mankato, Sieverson met a Slovak-speaking missionary, Reverend Karol Hauser, who was serving as a pastor to Slovaks in Montgomery, Minnesota.
Sieverson persuaded Hauser to come up to Minneapolis to meet with the Slovaks living on the Flats, and to at least serve them Communion, which they could not have without a pastor.
On April 5, 1888, Reverend Karol Hauser, a Slovak-speaking missionary, celebrated the Sunday divine service with the Slovak congregation who had settled in the Bohemian Flats of Southeast Minneapolis. Things must have gone well, because after the service, a group met with the pastor to organize an official congregation.
That very day, it was resolved that the church would have an organizational structure with an elected chairman and a secretary. It was also resolved that the congregation would be called the Slovak Evangelical Lutheran Church of Saint Emmanuel. Reverend Hauser agreed to conduct Slovak services there once a month.
Under Hauser’s leadership, the congregation was formally organized on August 2, 1888, with 36 charter members. The congregation continued to share space with the German Lutheran church until October 8, 1888, when it was decided that the Saint Emmanuel congregation would purchase its own building.
St. Emmanuel obtained its new structure from the Swedish Lutheran Church, which had just built a new facility and had an empty building on its hands. This church was located at 101 Cooper Street in the Flats.
Reverend Karol Hauser was installed as the first pastor of the Slovak Evangelical Lutheran Church of Saint Emmanuel, preaching his first sermon on the first Sunday in Advent, 1888. The new building on Cooper Street in Minneapolis was dedicated the following spring.
This is how Reverend Hauser recounted the purchase of his congregation’s new church building, and the relationships that helped this take place. His words are taken from a history compiled by the Hauser family:
“The members of my congregation all worked in the flour mills and at the street car barns, and they encouraged me to go to [their employers] to solicit help to build a small Lutheran church out of this building. I visited these gentlemen and received almost $600 to $700 from them. These executives expressed their pleasure that my people in the Flats would now also be given spiritual care…. So we built a fine little church with an altar, pulpit, steeple and church bell. We dedicated this in the spring of 1889 to the service of the Triune God.”
During Reverend Hauser’s tenure, he founded a parochial school located on Washington Avenue on the bluff that rose above the Flats. In 1893, Hauser accepted a divine call to Freeland, Pennsylvania. He was succeeded by Reverend D.Z. Laucek of Cleveland, Ohio, who served our congregation for only 11 months.
In 1895, the Reverend J.S. Micatek accepted the call to our congregation, serving from 1895 to 1910. During this period, the congregation flourished due to a large number of immigrants arriving in the Twin Cities from Slovakia. Soon, the church on Cooper Street became too small. As a result, plans were made to build a larger church. And preferably on higher ground, since the small church — as the rest of the Flats — was prone to flooding.
On March 10, 1906, a Relocation Committee was elected, consisting of three members of Saint Emmanuel. Lots were purchased on Pleasant and Delaware streets in Southeast Minneapolis. However, because this property was next to the expanding University of Minnesota campus, the state would not grant permission to build a church there. So, the committee identified a suitable church site on the corner of Ontario and Essex streets Southeast.
This land was purchased for the sum of $2,830. Shortly after the purchase, a Building Committee was elected to consider and plan for construction of a new church building.
At this time, our congregation numbered more than 1,300 people. It had served more members of the Flats community than any other church.
In March of 1908, the Slovak Evangelical Lutheran Church of Saint Emmanuel purchaseded land upon which to build a new, larger church “up the hill” in Southeast Minneapolis.
On April 15, 1908, construction of the new church began. A Cornerstone Laying Service was held May 24, 1908, with the Reverend Martin Tomaska of Connellsville, Pennsylvania, officiating.
Pastor, J.S. Micatek, invited Saint Emmanuel’s first pastor, Karol Hauser, now serving a congregation in Pennsylvania, to join him in officiating at the Dedication Ceremony for the new church. This divine service was held November 4, 1908. The altar was finished the following year and, in December 1909, a Dedication of the Altar Service was held.
The entire cost of the land, church building and furnishings was $25,617. Soon after, an organ was purchased for $825.
In June, 1966, property was purchased at 104th Street and Nicollet Avenue in East Bloomington, for $125,000. For this price, we received just under 25 acres of land, with a $26,500 rambler on one corner of the property. The land and home were purchased from Northwestern Lutheran Theological Seminary.
On August 25, 1968, the Board of Trustees was authorized to accept $107,500 for our property at Ontario and Essex streets in Southeast Minneapolis, and $6,500 for the property we had purchased on 26th Avenue in South Minneapolis. Our architect, Ekberg and Petri, presented its final plans to the Voter’s Assembly, which were approved. Plans were then submitted for bidding on November 18, 1968. Eventually, George Adolphson and Gordon Peterson were hired as general contractors.
On January 19, 1969, approval was given to proceed with the construction of our new church building. In typical Slovak fashion, however, we took the hard road. Rather than wait for a spring thaw, we broke ground in February in below-zero weather.
On February 2, 1969, in 16-degree-below-zero-weather, we held the Groundbreaking Ceremony for Holy Emmanuel’s Bloomington incarnation. Since this is all the information written in our history about this event, we can only assume that few, if any, dignitaries attended. However, the people who mattered most, Holy Emmanuel’s members, were no doubt present, presumably led in some formal — though perhaps brief — ceremony by Pastor Velebir.
Our Cornerstone Laying Service was more conducive to outdoor activities than our Groundbreaking Ceremony, since it was held in September — September 7, 1969, to be exact. The guest speaker for the occasion was Dr. Oswald Hoffman of St. Louis, Missouri — at that time, the very well-known speaker from The Lutheran Hour radio program.
On Sunday, October 26, 1969, we dedicated our new church. The guest speaker here was the Rev. Dr. Milan A. Ontko, president of the SELC, of Byram, Connecticut. Also participating was the Rev. Martin Hauser of Luverne, Minnesota (son of Holy Emmanuel’s first pastor); Rev. John Prok and our pastor, Rev. Emil Velebir.
Total cost of the construction of the worship, office, educational and fellowship facilities was $562,000.
Our beautiful 12 glass stained-glass windows were designed by Dieter Spahn and Mel Geary of Dohmen. More than 1,000 individual pieces of glass were used in the 12 panels, which together measure 10 by 16 feet. The windows were created in three months at a studio in Dusseldorf, Germany, and purchased for $4,500. The prominent color in the windows is violet, to emphasize the sacred spiritual color of preparation and penitence. And, in a practical sense, it accents the color of our carpeting.
The designers, in concert with our symbolism committee, decided that the 12 panels should tell the story of the Life and Mission of Christ. Individual panes depict: The Alpha, The Prophecy, The Fulfillment, The Christian Education, The Baptism, The Rest and Meditation, The Christian Healing, The Feeding of the 5,000, The Lord’s Supper, The Crucifixion, The Resurrection and The Omega.
Pastor Emeritus Velebir continued to preside over Slovak services, which were held in the chapel. These services continued until Sunday, August 21, 1994, when 30 worshippers celebrated Holy Emmanuel’s last Slovak service.