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Bishop Joseph B. Cotter

by John P. Sherman (May 1937)

An outline of the early history of the Church in Winona will serve as a fitting background for this sketch of the life of Bishop Cotter. He came to this city as a newly ordained priest in 1871, and what had been done here prior to his time was only a preparation—a very humble preparation—for the growth and vigor of the Church that attended his efforts both as priest and as bishop. The organization of the Church of this city was the work of Right Reverend Joseph Cretin, the first bishop of Saint Paul. In the summer of 1856, Bishop Cretin visited Winona and, in the home of Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Urell, he celebrated the first Holy Mass for the comparatively few Catholics then resident in Winona and its environs. A niece of Mr. and Mrs. Urell, Mrs. Clifford, is still in the land of the living and she has informed the writer that as a child in arms she was present at that first Mass. Her parents had located in Winona in 1855. She states that her uncle's home was situated on the west side of Johnson Street between Wabasha and Sanborn Streets, and, it was on this spot, that Bishop Cretin gathered his little flock around him on that memorable day in 1856.

Shortly after the bishop's visit, he directed Reverend Thomas Murray of Stillwater to include Winona in his list of Missions. Father Murray selected a site for a church, and, on August 18, 1856, William Taylor and Sarah Taylor, his wife, and Charles C. Cook and Esther Cook, his wife, in consideration of the sum of $185, conveyed to Bishop Cretin lots 3 and 6 of Block 4, "Taylor and Company's addition to the town of Winona." Here, at what is now the corner of Dakota and Mark streets, the first church, a humble frame structure, was erected. Father Murray started the little building in 1856 and Father Oster finished it in 1857.

In selecting this site for the church, Father Murray was probably influenced by William Taylor, the sponsor of "Taylor and Company's addition to the town of Winona." At any rate, the location was too far west and too far south for the villagers of that day and the mistake was corrected in 1861. Under date of July 29th of that year, the record in the office of the register of deeds records the transfer to Bishop Grace of Saint Paul of "sixty feet front on Wabasha Street, by one hundred and twenty feet deep in block 127." To this central location, the original church was moved, and it served the needs of the congregation until the present Saint Thomas Church was erected on that corner and dedicated in 1872. The additional lots in the block were acquired from Jacob D. Merrit on April 26, 1865, and from Eliza Knox on October 4, 1873. Part of the original site on Dakota Street selected by Father Murray was sold to the Saint Paul and Chicago Railway (now the Milwaukee Road) for its right of way, and the remainder of it was allowed to revert to the state.

Father Oster of Mendota had succeeded Father Murray as Missionary visitor to Winona. In 1856, Reverend Michael Prendergast was appointed first resident pastor but the good and zealous man was not very much "in residence." His parish extended originally "south from Hastings to the southern boundary of the state, and east and west between the Mississippi and Missouri rivers." This statement, regarding the extent of Father Prendergast's parish, was made by the Archbishop in an address on November 12, 1906 at the celebration of the golden jubilee of the first Mass in Winona. Father Prendergast, however, must have found early relief from part of his burden for his register of marriages and baptisms shows that with Winona as a center, he had charge of Winona, Wabasha, Olmsted, Houston, Fillmore, Stelle and Mower counties -- well-nigh half of the territory of the present Diocese of Winona. The dates affixed to the various entries in his register show that during most of his years here he was constantly on the move from place to place in his extensive parish. The appointment of priests to Wabasha and Caledonia afforded him substantial relief, but, even still, he had field enough for the exercise of his missionary zeal. In addition to the places we have mentioned, Mankato was made the official residence for a pastor in charge of the Catholics in that district.

On September 8, 1858, the German Catholics of Winona purchased a site on Fifth and Walnut Streets with the purpose of forming a parish in which their spiritual needs could be cared for in their native language. Reverend Father Essing of Caledonia directed them in their efforts to build the first Saint Joseph’s Church. In April 1862, with the approval and blessings of Bishop Grace, construction was commenced. The building was finished in August, and, on August the 12, 1862, Reverend Theodore Venn was appointed assistant to Father Prendergast with the duty of taking charge of the Germans, Poles, and Bohemians in Winona and vicinity. Father Venn remained in Winona until October 15, 1863. Father Prendergast left Winona in 1864, and, in April of that year, Reverend William Lette was sent here to have charge of all the Catholics in Winona County. He was transferred from Winona on June 28, 1868. Reverend Alois Plut was his successor, and he, too, had under his spiritual care all the Catholics of Winona County. During his administration, Saint Stanislaus Parish was organized for the Polish people of the city. The acquisition of the nucleus of their parish property is recorded under date of April 12, 1871. Their original church building was started in 1872 and dedicated in 1873. It was a rather spacious brick veneered structure and it served the needs of that large parish until the erection of the present imposing edifice in 1894. The first pastor of Saint Stanislaus was Reverend Joseph Juskiewicz. Reverend Romuald Byzewski succeeded him in 1875 and remained in charge until 1894.

The number of Catholics in Winona increased very rapidly, and, in 1871, Bishop Grace assigned Reverend Charles Koeberl to serve as assistant to Father Plut. At the same time, he sent to the Church of Saint Thomas, the newly ordained Reverend Joseph B. Cotter. The bishop directed Father Cotter to take charge of all English speaking Catholics in Winona County.

Joseph Bernard Cotter, son of Lawrence Cotter and Ann (Perrin) Cotter, was born in Liverpool, England, November 19, 1844. His father was a native of Ross Castle, County Kerry, Ireland. His mother was born in Liverpool. In 1849, the Cotter family emigrated and settled for a short time in New York. They moved to Cleveland, Ohio, and remained in that city until 1855. Mrs. Cotter died during their residence in Cleveland. In 1855, Mr. Cotter came to St. Paul, and spent the rest of his days in that city. The future bishop of Winona received his elementary education at private academies in Cleveland and Fremont, Ohio. Bishop Cretin had discerned in Joseph Cotter evidences of an aptitude for the priestly calling. But, before he could carry out his plans with regard to Cotter, the saintly Bishop was summoned to his eternal reward. Bishop Grace confirmed the judgment of his predecessor when he sent the young student to St. Francis Seminary near Milwaukee in September 1864. The following year, Cotter was sent to St. Vincent's College, Westmoreland, Pennsylvania, and he remained for three years in that institution. In 1868, he was recalled to Minnesota and became a student of theology in St. John's, Collegeville. In the Cathedral, on May 3, 1871, Bishop Grace conferred on him the minor orders. On Sunday, May 7, he received sub-deaconship. He was ordained deacon on Sunday, May 14, and on Sunday, May 21, Reverend Joseph Cotter, Reverend John Mullins, and Reverend Ignatius Barsez were raised to the dignity of the priesthood.1

Father Cotter celebrated his first Holy Mass in St. Mary's Church, St. Paul, and shortly after that event, he was assigned to duty in Winona. On June 8, 1871, Bishop Grace handed him his credentials of ordination. Father Cotter registered this document with E. A. Gurdtzen, Clerk of the District Court in Winona on June 17, 1871. The county record shows that on June 19 the new pastor solemnized the marriage of Peter Gallagher and Mary Hall. Mr. and Mrs. Gallagher—now deceased—celebrated their golden wedding at their home in Winona, June 19, 1921.

Father Cotter entered upon his duties in Winona with characteristic zeal and energy. His first and most pressing task was to put the unfinished church of St. Thomas in shape for occupancy. The foundation of the church had been laid in the fall of 1868 under the direction of Father Plut, who at that time had charge of both St. Thomas' and St. Joseph's parishes. It was not until 1870 that the financial status of the parish warranted any additional outlay. In the spring of that year, the contract for the cut stone to be used in the building was let to Mr. E. Savage for the sum of $1100. The Winona Weekly Republican announced in its issue of August 3, 1870, "Messrs. Jones and Butler have taken the contract for the brick work of St. Thomas church for $4400. They commenced operations on Thursday and will carry the work steadily forward so as to have the building enclosed this fall." The cornerstone was laid on August 28, 1870. The Weekly Republican of August 31 reported the event as follows:

The ceremony of laying the cornerstone of St. Thomas Church in this city on Sunday, the 28th, was an event witnessed by a very large concourse of people who will long remember the eventful occasion. The Right Reverend Bishop Grace arrived in the city Saturday afternoon accompanied by Reverend William Riordan of Chatfield. There were met at the depot by the St. Joseph's, St. Stanislaus', and Saint Patrick's Societies, and escorted to the residence of Reverend A. Plut. On Sunday, a high mass was celebrated at Saint Thomas Church, which was filled to overflowing … vespers and benediction were celebrated at Saint Joseph's Church in the afternoon, after which the procession formed in the following order: Germania Band, St. Stanislaus Society, St. Rosa Young Ladies, St. Patrick's Society, girls dressed in white and carrying flowers, altar boys with lighted candles, and the carriage with the Bishop and assisting priests. It was an imposing sight as the venerable Bishop, with the assisting priests, ascended the incline leading to the floor of the foundation, the little girls going before and strewing flowers in the way . . . The Bishop stepped to the foundation and placed the stone in position, assisted by the well-known masons, John H. Jones, Denis Collins and S. E. Smith. A small box was then deposited in the stone containing National coins up to the denomination of one dollar, copies of The Winona Daily and Weekly RepublicanWinona Herald, St. Charles Herald, besides two or three European papers, and the following document in Latin: “The cornerstone of this church was laid by the Right Reverend Thomas L. Grace, Bishop of Saint Paul, on the 28th day of August, 1870. His Holiness, Pope Pius IX gloriously governing and infallibly guiding the church; U.S. Grant, President of the United States; Horace Austin, governor of the state of Minnesota; W. S. Drew; Mayor of the city of Winona; C.R. Schroth, recorder; Aldermen John Ball, R. D. Cone, Wm. Garlock, A. Hamilton, O. Wheeler, G. Tallon, and A. Plut, pastor of the Church. The following clergymen were present: Reverend C. Koeberl, Reverend L. Spitzenberger, Reverend Wm. Riordan, and three students preparing for the priesthood."

Very probably, the three ecclesiastical students were Joseph B. Cotter, John Mullins, and Ignatius Barsez who were ordained May 21, 1871. On November 30, 1870, The Weekly Republican reported that "the walls of Saint Thomas church are fully completed and the carpenters will go forward at once with the work of putting on the roof."

And so, when Father Cotter came to Winona, he found Saint Thomas's church under roof. In his gentle and kindly way, he called upon his poor but generous-hearted people to assist him in finishing the work that they had so nobly begun. They responded as generously as their slender means would permit, and, on August 18, 1872, Father Cotter had the happiness of assisting with his bishop and his brother priests at the solemn dedication of the new church of Saint Thomas. At the pontifical high Mass, Father Cotter acted as assistant priest; Reverend John Ireland was deacon; and Reverend C. Koeberl, sub-deacon. Father Plut was master of ceremonies. The music of the Mass was under the direction of Miss C. R. Hamblin, organist of the church, and the members of the choir were the Misses Morgan, Towey, and Chadwick, George Schork, D. Fakler, Michael Ralph, P. Horning and M. J. Ralph. The Winona Republican concludes its account of the dedication by saying that; "In the afternoon, vespers were chanted at 3:00 o'clock, and, in the evening, Reverend Father Ireland delivered a temperance address to the Father Mathew Society."

Father Cotter had organized the Father Mathew Society at a meeting held on February 11, 1872. Officers were chosen to serve until the first annual election in July. Mr. R. Cavanaugh was elected Secretary, and Mr. P. J. Kelley, Treasurer, and Father Cotter, of course, acted as presiding officer.

Father Cotter was a life long -- and consistent -- advocate of total abstinence. He gave himself heart and soul to the work of checking the ravages caused by strong drink. His work in that cause brought him the honor of being elected president of The Total Abstinence Union of America. In part of the years of 1887 and 1888, he served as lecturer for the Catholic Total Abstinence Union, and aided by the W. P. Rand fund, he visited the principal cities and towns in the states east of the Mississippi river. He was always eager to have able speakers from elsewhere come to Winona to address his Father Mathew Society. For instance, The Winona Republican, of April 8, 1872, contains an account of a lecture by Rev. Thomas O'Gorman of Rochester delivered on Sunday evening, April 7th. It states, "The lecture was very largely attended. It was a masterly effort and abounded with wisdom and eloquence. The Father Mathew Society is doing, in a quiet way, a very noble and beneficial work in this community."

Very early in his ministry in St. Thomas parish, Father Cotter began to plan to provide the children under his charge with the blessings of a Catholic education. Father Prendergast, the first resident pastor, had made an attempt along that line, but conditions in his day were such that he was compelled to abandon his project shortly after its inception. On September 13, 1871, Father Plut opened a school at St. Joseph's with Sister M. Damian and Sister M. Nathalia, of the School Sisters of Notre Dame, in charge. Father Cotter sought the help of the same sisterhood and, on September 15, 1874, Sister M. Hermenegild,

Sister M. Leocadia, and Sister M. Fanchea began their work in St. Thomas' parish. Under the fostering care of Father Cotter, the enrollment increased to such proportions that Sister M. Magina, Sister M. Mellita, and Sister M. Claire were subsequently assigned to duty in St. Thomas' school. At this writing (May, 1937), Sister M. Magina is the sole survivor of this band of pioneer teachers. She lives in retirement at the Motherhouse in Milwaukee and is in enfeebled health due to her advanced age.

When Father Cotter came to Winona in 1871, he found plenty of work awaiting him in his numerous missions throughout the county. In addition to finishing the building of St. Thomas' church in the city, he completed the churches in St. Charles and Hart.

In Lewiston, Mr. Peters generously gave him four acres of land for church and cemetery. On this site, in 1876, he built the church of St. Rose of Lima. As the parish of St. Thomas continued to grow, Bishop Grace, when able to do so, sent priests to assist Father Cotter in caring for his Missions. For instance, Rev. E. Fagan was his assistant during 1879 and Rev. D. A. Reilly during 1880. After that year, his Mission churches were assigned to other priests, and Father Cotter was able to devote his undivided attention to St. Thomas' parish.

Bishop Grace resigned on July 31, 1884, and his coadjutor, Bishop John Ireland, became the third bishop of St. Paul. On May 15, 1888, St. Paul was made an Archdiocese with the Most Rev. John Ireland as its first archbishop. On September 30, 1889, The Winona Daily Republican published the following item:

St. Paul, Minnesota, which was recently created an archdiocese, has been divided and, henceforth, will have five suffragan Sees. These are Winona, St. Cloud, and Duluth, Minnesota, and Jamestown and Sioux Falls, Dakota. Rt. Rev. Martin Marty, now vicar apostolic of Dakota, will be bishop of Sioux Falls; Rev. Joseph B. Cotter, now pastor of St. Thomas Church Winona, will be bishop of Winona; Rev. James McGolrick, now pastor of the Immaculate Conception Church, Minneapolis, will be bishop of Duluth; and Rev. John Shanley of the Cathedral of St. Paul, will be bishop of Jamestown.

When interviewed by the press regarding the appointment of the new bishops, the Archbishop stated,

"The vast increase in the Catholic population of the Northwest, and the immense growth in the wealth and the influence of the Church have rendered the creation of several new sees absolutely necessary. The old ones have become so large that it was almost impossible for one man in each to do justice to the work under his charge. The diocese of St. Cloud, for instance, extended all over the northern part of the state, and my own over the whole of the southern, while Bishop Marty of Dakota had a still larger, though more sparsely settled district, over which to travel. The matter of sub-division has been one of such importance that I have found it necessary to devote much time and thought to it. The new diocese of Winona will cut off a portion of my territory, and will relieve me of much traveling. That of Duluth will extend over the northern part of the state, being cut off from the old diocese of St. Cloud over which Bishop Seidenbuech ruled for so long. The diocese of Jamestown will be coextensive with the new state of North Dakota and that of Sioux Falls with South Dakota."

The announcement that Father Cotter had been selected to be the first bishop of the newly created See of Winona was received with unfeigned joy. The first news regarding his appointment came in the early afternoon of September 30th, in the form of a telegram of congratulation from the Catholic News of New York, and at three o'clock a telegram, "Salve Episcope Winonensis," was received from the archbishop.

On the evening after the publication of the good news, a large number of the leading citizens of Winona gathered in an informal way to tender the congratulations of the city to the newly elected Bishop. On that occasion, Judge Wilson spoke as follows:

"Father Cotter—we call on you informally this evening as neighbors and friends to congratulate you on your elevation. I believe our people, irrespective of creed or birthplace, are glad that you have been so highly honored and feel that the honor is deserved and that in honoring you, your church has honored itself. The ability, unostentatious zeal, and self-denial with which you have untiringly labored for the moral, mental, and social elevation of your people have elicited the admiration of all classes and denominations and have, not alone, benefited your own congregation but the entire community. You have not only been the pious pastor but the dignified gentleman, and the courteous and amiable neighbor and friend. We felicitate ourselves, therefore, that you are to continue to reside in Winona, and we feel that this great honor to you reflects honor on our city. While we cannot promise that our friendship or our admiration shall be any greater for Bishop Cotter than for Father Cotter, we do promise that they shall not be less, and we hail the Bishop of Winona and invoke from him many days and that greatest pleasure that a good man can fell—the consciousness that the world is better because he lived."

Bishop Cotter, Bishop Shanley, and Bishop McGolrick were consecrated in the Cathedral in St. Paul on December 27, 1889. The archbishop was the officiating prelate and Archbishop Grace and Bishop Marty were co-consecrators. Rev. Anatole Oster was assistant priest. The deacons of honor were Rev. Maurice E. Murphy and Rev. James Trobec. Rev. Charles Koeberl was deacon of the Mass, and Rev. P. Kenny, the sub-deacon. The archiepiscopal cross bearer was Rev. John Stariha, and Rev. John Harrison was the processional cross bearer. The pontifical briefs were read by Rev. Thomas O'Gorman, Rev. J. C. Byrne and Rev. T. J. Gibbons. The sermon was delivered by Rev. Walter Elliott, C.S.P., of New York. Only once before in the history of the church in America were three new bishops consecrated on the same day. That was in 1853, when Bishops Bailey, Loughlin and DeGoesbriand were consecrated in St. Patrick's Cathedral, New York, for the Sees of Newark, Brooklyn and Burlington. Never before in the history of the church in this country were three new bishops taken from the same diocese, consecrated at the same time, and appointed to three newly created districts.

Bishop Cotter returned to Winona on Saturday evening, January 4, 1890, and was accorded a most enthusiastic welcome. Rain falling during the day had covered the streets and side walks with a coating of ice but that caused no diminution in the crowd that turned out to honor their new bishop. The different Catholic societies began to congregate shortly after five o'clock and, by 6:30, a double row of torches on Center Street reached from Wabasha Street to the Milwaukee depot. The sidewalks and boulevards on both sides of the line of march were crowded with people. The train from St. Paul pulled into the station at 7:00 o'clock and the Bishop and his party, which included Bishop Shanley, Rev. Fathers Sullivan and Reilly, was lead by an escorting committee to a carriage, and the parade commenced. The line of march was so arranged that it passed each Catholic church then in existence in Winona. The procession was in charge of Grand Marshal James Dunne, assisted by August Schreiber, Cornelius Horrigan, Joseph Hitzker, and J. Brand, together with marshals in charge of the various Catholic societies. Along the line of march, the illuminators were profuse. The Catholic churches were all richly decorated for the occasion and, as the procession passed, their bells pealed forth a gladsome note of welcome. A large arch, brilliantly illuminated spanned Center Street at the side of St. Thomas Church and, underneath it, were the words: "'Welcome to our bishop." At the entrance to the church was a smaller illuminated arch with the words: "Welcome Home." Upon the return of the procession to St. Thomas Church, the Bishop alighted and, from the steps of the church, he spoke a word of thanks to the vast throng gathered around him. When he entered the church, he proceeded to the sanctuary and, in a few words, expressed his gratitude to the people of Winona for their kindly reception.

"I have no new plans for the furtherance of my work in this diocese. I am happy to feel that the lines have been made by the first Bishop of Minnesota and Dakota, Bishop Cretin, of blessed memory. These traditions have been fostered by one whose gentle presence we have still in our midst, Archbishop Ireland, and strengthened by him to meet the exigencies of the present time. How can I hope to improve upon the traditions left by such apostolic men, how to improve upon their plans for furtherance of work in this diocese? What I can do I will do. I will work on while I live to the best of my power. I will do all I can for your Souls' sake. I pray that God's grace may be with you. I trust I may have your sympathy, love, and prayers that all the graces necessary may be vouchsafed me in the onerous work before me. I would stand before God in the judgment day as one without sin, full of zeal, the spirit of God. To be found so, it is necessary that I do well my duty in your midst. I pray that I may do this. Duty well done by a bishop means prosperity, peace, and plentiful benedictions. I pray God that he may so enable me to do my duty that all these gifts may come to you and that on the day of judgment we may all meet together to bless and glorify God."

The Bishop then imparted to the assembled congregation his first Episcopal benediction.

On the following morning, Sunday, January 5, the Bishop was solemnly installed. At the pontifical high mass, Rev. John Meier and D. A. Reilly were deacons of honor, Rev. P. Kiernan was deacon, and Rev. John Sullivan, sub-deacon of the Mass. Rev. P. Pernin was assistant priest, and Rev. P. J. Gallagher, master of ceremonies. In addition to the archbishop, Bishop Shanley, and Monsignor O'Connell, then rector of the American College in Rome, occupied places in the sanctuary. The apostolic brief appointing Bishop Cotter to the See of Winona was read in Latin and English by Rev. John Sullivan. The sermon was delivered by the Most Rev. Archbishop. He said in part:

"Now, I salute these with love, hope and gladness, your diocese of Winona, and I rejoice that it is my privilege to extend the first salute. I have known it and loved it for many years. Long ago, when Winona was a straggling village and our church was a frame building, I spoke and officiated at its little altar and, in early times, I have crossed the prairies contained within this diocese. I have seen its cities and villages grow. I have known and know almost every Catholic within this territory. Surely I have known and loved every priest ministering to souls in this territory. So far as strength has permitted, I have labored with you, but now you have grown to manhood and demand a chieftain to do things that cannot otherwise be done. The first sub-division of the archdiocese of St. Paul is the diocese of Winona. In God's name, I bid it go forth and do great things for God and souls. It enters into life amid hopeful and bright prospects. He, who has been elevated to the bishopric, has been known among you for his zeal, prudence and untiring work. He was chosen because he has fought well. And now, beloved brother, I commit to your care the churches, schools and Catholic institutions of this diocese and, what is dearest far, the immortal souls of thousands, for each of which on your own judgment day you will render an account. Love well, as Christ loved, the Church. Let your every thought be for your diocese."

On Monday evening, January 6, as a greeting to their new bishop, the pupils of St. Thomas school gave an elaborate program in the parish hall. At its conclusion, Mr. P. Fitzpatrick, a prominent attorney, delivered an address and presented to the bishop a substantial purse as an expression of the esteem of the Catholic people of Winona. Rev. Max Wurst of Wabasha spoke for the priests of the diocese and presented the bishop with a gift as a token of the respect and regard they entertained for him.

The silver jubilee of the Bishop's ordination was celebrated on May 12, 1896. The Winona Daily Republican of says that date,

Twenty-five years ago, there came to Winona, a young priest to take charge of the then small parish of St. Thomas. He was new in the Ministry, this being his first charge, but he entered upon his work with a full realization of the high and ennobling duties of his calling. His earnestness found a response in his flock and, under his ministrations, the parish increased in numbers and good works. He early took a pronounced position in favor of temperance and his good deeds soon won him the recognition and esteem not only of his parishioners but of all right thinking citizens regardless of church affiliations. Six years ago, his abilities, as a churchman, were recognized by Pope Leo XIII in his appointment to the diocese of Winona created at that time. This is the man - the Rt. Rev. Joseph B. Cotter - whom churchmen and Winonans have today delighted to honor in the celebration of the 25th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood.

The jubilee Mass was celebrated at 10:00 o'clock. Very Rev. P. Pernin was assistant priest; Rev. Father Oster of Clomarf, and Rev. C. Koeberl of St. Paul were deacons of honor; Reverend James Pachoiski of Winona was deacon; Rev. J. J. Treanor of Waseca, sub-deacon; and Rev. P. J. Gallagher and Rev. Max Wurst were Masters of ceremonies. The sermon was delivered by the Archbishop. In the afternoon, a banquet was held in the Hotel Winona and this was followed by a public reception to the bishop in the hotel parlors. Mr. William P. Cosgrave, Dr. John S. Tracy and Dr. D. B. Pritchard acted as the reception committee. In the evening, a public entertainment in honor of the bishop was held in the Winona opera house. The program was under the direction of the Sisters of St. Thomas' school. Addresses were delivered by Bishop McGolrick, Bishop Shanley, Bishop O'Gorman, and by the archbishop. The concluding speaker, Bishop Cotter, received a magnificent ovation when he stepped onto the stage. He spoke feelingly of the many manifestations of kindliness and esteem tendered to him during the day and, from his heart, extended his thanks to the people and clergy for what they had done. He modestly 9 disclaimed the credit for the advancement of the church in the city and in the diocese. Whatever had been accomplished, he said, had been done through the people and the priests who had upheld him in his work.

The year 1906 marked the fiftieth anniversary of the celebration by Bishop Cretin of the first Mass in Winona. Bishop Cotter directed the work of celebrating the event in a fitting manner. The festivities began with a pontifical high Mass on Sunday, November 11. The sermon was delivered by Rt. Rev. James J. Keane, D. D., at that time Bishop of Cheyenne. Rev. A. Plut was assistant priest, Rev. John Meier and Rev. J. A. Cummiskey deacons of honor, Rev. C. Koegel and Rev. F. T. English, deacon and sub-deacon of the Mass. Father Gallagher was the master of ceremonies. At that time, a number of the pioneer Catholics of Winona were still living and they were given places of honor in the front pews. Several of these early settlers had been present at the first Mass in 1856 and the others were members of the congregation in its earliest days. There were William Hussey, John Conway, Patrick Loy, Patrick McLaughlin, Jerry and Dan Moran, Thomas Linehan, Patrick O'Meara, John Daley, Thomas Lynch, Thomas Duane, Patrick O'Rourke, Stephen O'Dea, Edward Sherbino, Michael Carney, John Rowe, Daniel Burke, Thomas White, John Boyce, Mrs. Thomas Urell, in whose home the first Mass was celebrated, Mrs. Walch, Mrs. Mowry, Mrs. Gaines, Peter Hengel and Joseph Prochowitz, who served at the first Mass, Mrs. Wilhemina Gernes, Mrs. Helen Schuler, Mrs. Pauline Mertes, Joseph Braenale, Anthony Heim, Mrs. George Martin, Mrs. Mara Orth, Mr. & Mrs. Ernest Eckert, and Mrs. Frances Schumacher and her daughter, Mrs. G. Strunk. Rev. William Lette, at that time over eighty years of age and living in retirement in Germany, came to Winona for the golden jubilee celebration.

At the solemn vespers on Sunday evening, Monsignor Oster was the celebrant and Bishop O'Gorman preached. On Monday morning, a solemn requiem Mass was celebrated by Rt. Rev. Alois Plut and, on the following morning, a Mass of thanksgiving was offered by Rt. Rev. James Trobec, Bishop of St. Cloud. On Monday evening, November 12, a public demonstration was held in the Winona Opera House. The archbishop was the principal speaker and he said in part:

"I have disliked to interrupt the splendid musical program given by the young people, but in this jubilee celebration tonight, it is necessary to have with the new, the old. I represent the old. We are assembled to commemorate old times. I have known Winona for many and many a year. I remember sailing down the Mississippi river in 1853. I had left behind me the great city of St. Paul with 1800 inhabitants, and St. Anthony with five or six hundred population, with Minneapolis, a mere possibility. I recall how my companion, now Bishop O'Gorman and myself stood on the deck of the Menominee and watched the scenery as we passed down stream. At Hastings, there were only two or three houses. At Wabasha, Indian tepees were all that was in evidence, while at Winona there were only two or three small houses. Eight years later, I returned after having studied abroad, and re-ascended the Mississippi and great was the change that had been wrought in that interval of time. Riches had been brought out of barbaric scenery, and there were thousands of settlers, where before there had been only a few. Winona appeared in the majesty of a young queen. Wabasha, Red Wing, and Hastings had become well established, St. Paul had grown to 12,000 and Minneapolis had been born."

The archbishop then spoke of the visit of Bishop Cretin to Winona and southern Minnesota in 1856, and declared that it should be the pride of Winona that the first Mass was celebrated by that saintly apostle. The archbishop then spoke of the priests who had labored in this territory prior to the coming of Father Cotter in 1871. The archbishop continued:

"I need not tell of things done since Father Cotter came to Winona. You can tell what he has done better than I, but I shall always feel that I have done a great deal for Winona for I helped send Father Cotter here, first, as a priest and of the present diocese, later, as bishop—Oft have I traveled through the territory of the present diocese of Winona and accepted the hospitality of the old settlers. They came here from distant lands to wrest from the wilderness a home, ready to endure every hardship to provide comfort in their later years for themselves and their children. I met those old settlers in their early homes—poor in the things of this world but rich in faith and always ready to help the Church. It was a visit to paradise for a young priest to appear among them. I trust their descendants may have the courage, zeal, and generosity of the old pioneers. When in 1851, the first bishop came to St. Paul, there were only two priests in the entire territory now embraced by Minnesota and the Dakotas, where there are now seven bishops, over six hundred priests, and nearly a half million of Catholics. There are doubtless in this audience tonight some who will be here when the hundredth anniversary of the establishment of the Catholic Church in Winona will be celebrated. May we hope they shall be able at that time to tell stories of even greater achievements?"

The jubilee celebration closed with a banquet in the Philharmonic hall on Tuesday evening, November 13. The speakers on that occasion were the Archbishop, Bishop Shanley, Bishop McGolrick, Bishop O'Gorman, Hon. W. J. Onahan of Chicago, Hon. P. Fitzpatrick of Winona, and Bishop Cotter. In connection with the jubilee, the editor of The Winona Daily Republican, published in the issue of November 12, the following tribute to Bishop Cotter:

Broadminded, just, liberal and godly men like the venerable Bishop of Winona cannot fail to make their influence felt throughout the length and breadth of any community. Winona is to be congratulated that it has a prelate of Bishop Cotter's high character as a citizen. His influence has always been exercised for the uplifting of his own people and for the betterment of the social and moral conditions of all the people of the city without regard to religious differences, nationality, creed, or narrow sectarian animosities. Made Bishop of Winona 17 years ago, (December 27, 1889) his record has been one in which all citizens take a just pride and he is today honored by Protestant and Catholic alike as a citizen and prelate. Fifty years ago, in 1856, only a few Catholics were to be found here, for the city of Winona was then only a village. In the summer of that year, Bishop Cretin, the first Bishop of St. Paul, paid a visit to Winona and gathering the few Catholics together in the house of Thomas Drell celebrated the first Mass. From this little parish of half century ago, five large parishes have been formed, including fully half of the population of the city. Bishop Cotter died on Sunday evening, June 27, 1909. His death was not unexpected, but his passing brought genuine sorrow to everyone that ever knew him. His friend and ardent admirer, Mr. Daniel Sinclair, publisher of The Winona Daily Republican, expressed the universal sentiment when he wrote of him in an editorial on June 28th:

"His charity was broad enough to reach all, and his gentleness and kindliness of heart were felt in every household without regard to sectarian lines. But few men 11 were more generally loved. Protestants and Catholics alike vied with each other in honoring him and, throughout this entire community, which had been his home as priest and bishop for nearly 40 years, he was universally esteemed. People of all faiths were shocked when he was stricken with the disease that closed his life. They eagerly sought for words of cheer from his sick bed and had been hopeful that in his heroic battle for life he might triumph over the grave and be restored to his people. But, the Creator, who guides all men’s' lives willed otherwise. Beautiful in his life, his death was glorious, and in the final judgment at the throne of the Savior whom he had so long and so zealously served, he will receive his reward as one who had been tried and found faithful and whose name has been written in the book of life as one who loved his fellow men."

On the day of his funeral, the city of Winona rendered Bishop Cotter a tribute that has not been paid to any other of its citizens before or since. All business activity was suspended during the hours of his funeral. On Tuesday, June 29, the mayor issued the following proclamation. "Owing to the death of our beloved citizen, Rt. Rev. Joseph B. Cotter, whose life work has been devoted to the uplifting of mankind and whose sterling worth as a citizen has been universally recognized, I respectfully ask all places of business in this city to close during the hours of the funeral Wednesday, June 30. W.E. Hamilton, Mayor.”

The funeral Mass was celebrated by Rt. Rev. James McGolrick, Bishop of Duluth, and the funeral sermon was delivered by the Archbishop. It was a beautiful and sincere tribute to a noble and Christ-like life. His Grace said:

"He was the kindliest of men, ever in this regard, the selfsame, whether as the young man struggling with the vicissitudes of the world, whether as the priest working in a parish, or the bishop presiding over a diocese. He won all hearts by the sweetness of his love. His will and purport of action was ever to please, to serve. He passed by doing good. No enemies had he, none could have been so vile as to hate one so incapable of hatred, to revile one so incapable of doing injury, so intent on efforts to avoid giving displeasure.

He was most resolute in the accomplishment of duty, most self-sacrificing in obedience to it. Need I recall the early years of his priesthood in Winona when the flock he tended was poor of the poverty of pioneer settlers, when the territory committed to his pastoral cure was vast in extent, almost inaccessible in the rudeness of its roadways? Did he ever complain? Did he ever hesitate to rush whithersoever he was needed, amid the frosts of winter, amid the somber shadows of night? I remember one Sunday evening in Winona. He had said Mass and preached in the parish church; he had driven to say a second Mass twenty miles away; he returned drenched from the heavy rain, and within a few moments after a hurried change of raiment and a hurried snatching of a slender meal, he was in his chair for two hours, presiding over a temperance society. And, such for him, I learned, was one Sunday after another for many long years. Need I ask whether as bishop he refused himself to priest or people, were they removed from his home by hundreds of miles?

His a keen divining of what was to be done, an intelligent grasp of circumstance, the tact to do whatever came to his mind. Years ago priests were few and, immediately after his ordination, Father Cotter was put in charge of the parish in Winona and the adjoining missionary stations. No mistake made he; no reproaches ever came from his superior. I recall the saying of the lamented Bishop Grace that the parish of Winona under the pastorship of Father Cotter was a surprise and a delight—so well were all things done.

And zealous was he. The mere routine of pastoral work was never his rule. He sought out occasion of work; and once discovered, quickly were they put to profit. A special instance to be noted is his preaching of total abstinence, not only in his own diocese, but also throughout the whole United States. In his parish of Winona, while he was yet a priest, the cause of total abstinence flourished as in no other parish in Minnesota. At one time, president of the American Total Abstinence Union and general lecturer he preached total abstinence in most of the large cities of the country where his name today is held in grateful reverence.

Yes, priest and a noble bishop. Not always around the bier of death is grief so intense, so universal, as it is today; not always are the dead so worthy of our grief as Bishop Cotter is of ours.

Dear Bishop Cotter, I must, in obedience to my heart, speak my personal tribute to you. For forty-eight years, you were my friend and I was yours. I knew and I loved you when you were still a youth in the world. I was one of those who thought you worthy of the holy priesthood, who bade you betake yourself to the school of sacred learning. I labored with you side by side in the days of your priesthood. I chose you for presentation to the Holy See as first Bishop of Winona. I have labored side by side with you in the days of your Episcopate. Never was there between us a note of discord; never was I able to discover in you a cause for reproach. My deepest friendship was ever yours and yours was ever mind. Life-long friendships are few and precious. In your departure, I lose a most loyal ally, a most devoted friend. My heart shrinks in anguish as you go from me; the remainder of my journey through life will be lonely because you shall not be with me."

After the funeral Mass, a vast concourse of people followed the remains of their beloved bishop to their last resting place in St. Mary's Cemetery. At the grave, the Archbishop gave the final benediction of the Church as all that was mortal of Bishop Cotter was consigned to the earth to sleep there in peace, and to await the summons to a glorious resurrection. More than five and twenty years have passed since that day, but his memory lives in the respect and the affection of a devoted people. His name in Winona is still a household word, and a generation that never saw him has heard from its elders the story of his beautiful life, and has witnessed in myriad forms the enduring results of his priestly zeal. He was a genuine ambassador of Christ and the good he did lives after him.

1The History of Winona County, published in 1883 by Hill & Company, Chicago, contains, at pages 476 and 832, an account of the early history of the Church in Winona and a sketch of the life of Bishop Cotter. The information for both items must have been furnished by the Bishop.