Koshiol family tours churches built by their ancestors

In Polish, the word for “church” is “kościół.”

So on Sept. 30, the extended Koshiol family visited five churches across Stearns County — churches that their forefathers had helped to build.

Paula Koshiol Kraus organized a bus tour for more than 60 family members from Minnesota, Florida and Illinois. She’s a great-great-granddaughter of the original immigrants, Paul and Madeline Koshiol.

An engraving at Sacred Heart Church in Freeport includes the proof that Paul Koshiol was there building the church in 1905. (Photo by Kimm Anderson / For The Visitor)

“In the 1870s, Paul and Madeline and their five children emigrated from Prussia,” said Paula of Mendota Heights, Minnesota.

“We knew that both sons helped build churches — Paul Felix as a brick layer and Valentine as a plasterer,” Paula said.

“Paul Felix moved to the city to work while Valentine stayed on the farm,” said Paul Koshiol of Luxemburg. “Valentine, my grandfather, was the ‘country Koshiol.’ But Valentine died in 1902. He contracted pneumonia, most likely due to sleeping in damp basement conditions while constructing one of the churches. He left a pregnant wife and six children.”

John Roscoe, one of the authors of “Legacies of Faith: The Catholic Churches of Stearns County,” guided the tour, helping them understand the churches their forebears had a hand in building.

A member of the Koshiol family explores St. Hedwig’s Church in Holdingford. (Photo by Kimm Anderson / For The Visitor)

“This tour was a legacy of the Koshiols’ work,” Roscoe said. “The family was very interested — I fielded lots of questions.

They realized that not only were there these five churches but probably others as well.

“Because Paul Felix Koshiol’s specialty was masonry, I pointed out different brickwork details and colors at the sites,” he continued.

Their day began with Mass at Seven Dolors Church in Albany, followed by a guided tour. The second church they visited was Sacred Heart in Freeport. Here Paul Felix had been named the general contractor and was given approximately $23,000 to oversee its construction, according to a book about Sacred Heart’s history.

“The book also stated that ‘The contractor applied himself diligently to making repairs,’” Paula said. “He was to be paid $800 as soon as money became available.”

The Luxemburg Paul, a current-day builder himself, said, “A few years ago, a friend told me that the Koshiol name was written in the basement of Sacred Heart Church, back by the furnace room, scratched in the cement. We found it, and the date, Sept. 12, 1905.”

Paul Koshiol shows off the toolbox of his great uncle, church builder Paul Felix Koshiol. (Photo by Kimm Anderson / For The Visitor)

The surprise warmed their day.

Another highlight came from Paul, who still lives on the original homestead and century farm in Luxemburg with his family. “I brought Paul [Felix]’s old tool box to show the family on Sunday. His tools were in it — a trowel, level, and a Stanley tool book from 1905 with measurements written inside.”

After that, they visited the churches of St. Hedwig in Holdingford, Holy Cross in North Prairie and Holy Trinity in Royalton, seeing different styles of building, learning about special features of each.

“Visiting the ‘Koshiol’ churches helped us understand the legacy they left,” said Paul.

Heather Koshiol stops to take a smartphone photograph of the gothic interior of Sacred Heart Church Sunday, Sept. 30, in Freeport. She and about 60 members of the Koshiol family toured five area churches built by their ancestors, Paul and Valentine Koshiol. (Photo by Kimm Anderson / For The Visitor)

“We don’t know when they learned these skills of masonry and plastering,” said Paula. “Was it from their father Paul while in Prussia?”

They do know that Paul Felix worked on St. Raphael’s Hospital and St. Mary’s Grade School, both in St. Cloud.

“I’ve always had a strong sense of identity,” Paula said, “But to be on the same bus with all these Koshiols, descendants of church builders — it was a special feeling. Our name means ‘church.’ Transporting ourselves back to the churches our ancestors built and appreciating their craftsmanship — it strengthened us.”

About Nikki Rajala

Nikki Rajala is a writer/copy editor for The Visitor newspaper.

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