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Missionaries like early explorer Father Louis Hennepin were curious, observant, versatile, practical, and buoyed by their faith. The occupations of the missionaries included preaching, farming, writing, linguistics, and compiling of dictionaries. What they found were Native Americans who recognized a Great Spirit but also had gods for diverse needs and occasions. Their beliefs harmonized with the natural world. What perhaps was most unusual to the Native Americans was that not all "white" people were religious.
The first organized Christian gathering was at Fort Snelling in 1823. In 1834, missionaries Samuel and Gideon Pond received permission from Major Lawrence Taliaferro, who was the Indian agent at Fort Snelling, to work with a Dakota band that summered next to Lakes Calhoun and Harriet. The Pond brothers worked with chief Cloud Man and his community to teach new farming techniques. In 1834, Jedediah D. Stevens, a missionary from New York, with the assistance of the Pond brothers, erected a school for the young native children near Lake Harriet and had hopes of converting them to Christianity. Work at Lake Harriet was distinctively missionary and never advanced to any form of formal organization. However, Stevens did serve as pastor at the Fort Snelling Presbyterian Church. In 1840, Rev. Samuel Pond became the minister at Fort Snelling; and, in 1849, his brother Gideon reorganized the church and it became known as the Oak Grove Presbyterian Church. In 1862, the name was changed to the First Presbyterian Church of Minnesota and it was located near Nineteenth and Portland. In the meantime, Rev. Gideon Pond had also been holding church services at Colonel John Stevens' home. The two churches merged in 1865 and held services until 1952.
In 1856 a church building was begun at 21 S.E. Prince Street in St. Anthony. It was built of limestone quarried on Nicollet Island. It was erected as the home of the First Universalist Society of St. Anthony. The building was used by the Society until 1877. That same year a French Catholic congregation formed and bought the church and renamed it Our Lady of Lourdes. The church was nominated to the National Historic Registry in 1934 and has the distinction of being the oldest church building in Minneapolis. By the 1830s the early French Canadians who had came to Minnesota as explorers and fur traders began to settle in the Mendota area. During this time French Catholic priest Father Augustin Ravoux was sent by Bishop Mathias Loras to the Mendota area. In 1844 Father Ravoux became the priest of the church. He directed the Catholic mission to the French Canadians and Dakota in the area for many years.
Around 1845, soldiers at Fort Snelling ousted settlers who were "squatting" on or near Fort Snelling lands. During this time, many French Canadians moved into the St. Anthony area. Under the leadership of Ravoux, the congregation of St. Anthony of Padua was formed. Pierre Bottineau, an interpreter, guide, and scout, became a community leader in the young village of St. Anthony. He donated a total of 14 lots to the parish. Father Ravoux was priest to all Catholics in the area including Mendota and St. Anthony. He was anxious to build a church; the first church building for St. Anthony of Padua was built out of wood and was erected in 1851.
The New Englanders like Stevens and the Ponds brought with them their religious traditions to Minneapolis. Methodists, Congregationalists, Episcopalians, Quakers, Universalists, and Presbyterians formed congregations that had roots in New England. As new immigrant waves arrived, churches were established that offered the familiar religion of the home country, including religious organizations for the Germans, Irish, Poles, Swedes, and Norwegians. The first formal movement to establish a synagogue in Minneapolis was begun in 1878 by Western European Jewish immigrants who settled in Minneapolis. By 1922, there were 280 organized congregations in Minneapolis. Today there are over 52 denominations and religions representing most all of the major religions in the world.
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