Soldiers Shrine began with ‘largest and most spectacular’ religion event ever in Holdingford

On Sept. 6, 1942, Holdingford dedicated the nation’s first shrine built to honor those who served in the United States Armed Forces, World War II, both abroad and at home. Dubbed as the largest and most spectacular religious event in the history of Holdingford, an estimated 5,000 people were in attendance. The day’s ceremonies were opened by a town parade during which two flights of Taylor Cub Airplanes flew in low formation over the line of march and dipped their wings in salute to the Flag.

Harold E. Stassen, then governor of Minnesota, gave praise to the countless volunteers making Father J. Kromolicki’s vision a reality and said, “The nation must hold true to the basic rights and precepts given them by God or a just peace would be but a vain hope. America with its grand freedom and its love of justice and truth must take the lead in obtaining a just and lasting peace and not merely an armistice.”

Fred Schilpin paid tribute to Father Kromolicki, pastor of St. Hedwig’s Church, for his vision and dedication to seeing this undertaking materialize. “This beautiful community’s Soldiers Shrine is the expression of his love and the love of all the people of Holdingford, Stearns County and Central Minnesota for the defenders of democracy everywhere.”

And in speaking of the shrine he said, “ It will stand through the years as a loving patriotic tribute and a physical emblem of the faith of the whole community of Holdingford.”

The Shrine was designed by the Rev. Gilbert Winkelman, O.S.B., dean of the School of Architecture at St. John’s University and constructed by Edward Feia, son Donald, and many parish volunteers. More than 540 loads of fieldstone from area farmers were used in the construction.

Located in the corner lot directly across from St. Hedwig’s Church, the Shrine is 42 feet long, 18 feet wide and 22 feet high. Four carved angels with trumpets stand in procession followed by a large statue of Christ the King. Plaques with names of more than 100 soldiers were at one time embedded into the walls of the shrine, but today are no longer visible.

The four crosses on the shrine are in memory of four young men from Holdingford who died during active duty including, Elmer Kerestes, Pearl Harbor; Walter R. Mattson, St. Lo, France; Walter Krystosek, Anzio Beach, Italy and Joseph Troxil, U.S. Navy who died at sea. Recently the crosses have been updated in stainless steel and the addition ofanother which is dedicated to all men and women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.

For 70 years, the Shrine nestled in the backdrop of Holdingford has been a symbol of community faith and pride for those who have served and are serving America. This Shrine has been dutifully kept up by parishioners of All Saints-St. Hedwig and many members of the community of Holdingford.

Information provided by the Stearns County History Museum.