The city of Bozeman was founded in 1864 as a grazing and agricultural community. Fifteen years later, in 1879, Holy Rosary Parish was formed as the first Catholic community in the area. Although two blocks of land was offered to the Jesuit Fathers of St. Louis to build a church, they declined the offer. A year later the Jesuit Superior in St. Louis sent Rev. Lawrence B. Palladino to Bozeman in order to assess the need of a church building. He decided that there were too few Catholics in the area in order to justify the building of a church. Local Catholics were visited infrequently by traveling priests after that, and met in homes and community halls until 1885.
In 1885 Rev. Joseph Guidi, S.J. was sent from the Diocese of Helena to build a church in Bozeman. Walter Cooper generously donated four lots on what is now the corner of South Seventh Avenue and Mendenhall Street for the project. Shortly after work had begun, Father Guidi was moved from Bozeman and the newly ordained Rev. Cyril Pauwelyn arrived to complete the construction of the church. Rev. Pauwelyn was the first secular priest to be ordained in Montana.
On August 29, 1885 Bishop John B. Brondell dedicated the church, naming it after Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary. At that time Seventh Avenue had not been opened, so the church was in the country and surrounded by fenced ranch land. It was a common sight to see parishioners crawling under fences and wading through mud to reach the entrance. Father Pauwelyn did not remain long in Bozeman, so once again the Holy Rosary congregation was serviced by traveling priests from Helena from 1885-1889.
Rev. Amatus R. Coopman was assigned as Holy Rosary’s first pastor in 1889. His pastorate included Gallatin and Park Counties and the area in Meagher County aroung White Sulfur Springs. Unfortunately, Father Coopman was transferred to Livingston in 1891. Rev. A. H. Lambaere succeeded Father Coopman for several months. Soon, the Bozeman and Livingston parishes were combined with priests from Livingston serving the Bozeman parishioners. The priests assigned to Bozeman were: Rev. Amatus Coopman, Rev. John Pirnat, and Rev. Joseph Blaere. For ten years this arrangement remained intact and in 1901 reorganization again centered parish activities at Holy Rosary in Bozeman.
Between 1901 and 1904, Holy Rosary had a succession of three pastors: Rev. H. B. Allaeys, Rev. B. M. Gallagher and Rev. J. E. O’Brien. Bishop John Brondel died on November 3, 1903 and in 1904 John P. Carroll, D.D. was appointed Bishop of Helena. One of Bishop Carroll’s first acts was to transfer Rev. Joseph B. Thompson from Boulder to Bozeman.
At this time, Bozeman was expanding quickly and soon the little church on South Seventh had become much too small. Father Thompson began the arduous task of building a larger building. The land for the present site of Holy Rosary Church on Main Street and Third Avenue was obtained in 1905 and work on the new church began in the spring of 1907.
The church envisioned by Father Thompson would cost $65,000. The walls were to be constructed of Hebron “granite” brick with stone sills and trimmings, together with a slate roof. There were to be massive stone steps leading up to three huge double oak doors. To the right of the steps, a tower was to rise 102 feet, piercing Montana’s big sky and establishing a lasting mark on Main Street. The windows were to be of Munich stained glass. Solid oak pews would seat 500 on the main floor while the choir loft would seat an additional 100. The main and two side altars would be Gothic in style.
On June 9, 1907 the cornerstone of the new Holy Rosary Church was laid. The stone itself was in conformity with the rest of the building. It was a massive slab of sandstone weighing half a ton and was donated by Columbus Stone Works. In a hollow in the center of the stone was placed a box containing the names of the state, county and city officials, trustees of the church, members of the congregation, invited guests, visitors, the officiating bishop, copies of local newspapers, and other odds and ends, according to a newspaper account of the day.
The morning the stone was to be laid, Mass was said in the North Seventh church and forty children were given their First Communion. After Mass, Bishop Carroll confirmed the children. Later that afternoon, a procession of carriages carried religious and civic officials from the original church to the new church. Over 1,000 people were present to witness the laying of the corner stone. Bishop Carroll gave an impassioned speech congratulating the people of the Gallatin Valley for completing such a massive building project.
On a cold day in May 1908, the last Mass was said in the North Seventh Avenue Church and the new church was dedicated. Despite the cold, many people lined the street to get a seat for the ceremonies. Priests and dignitaries came from several states to take part in the ceremony. A twenty-two voice choir sang at the Mass accompanied by organ and orchestra. Bishop Carroll came from Helena to offer the prayers of dedication and a Solemn High Mass at the new church.
Years later the original church was moved from North Seventh Ave. to Main Street. It is now a restaurant.
In 1910, Father Thompson was succeeded by Rev. August D. Leitham. Within two years Father Thompson had the rectory built. Today, the rectory is home to the church office.
In the span of fifty years, when the first church rested in a field on the outskirts of Bozeman, Holy Rosary had grown from a handful of parishioners to more than 1,000 congregants. The church, which seemed impossible to fill when it was built, was now filled for two Sunday Masses each week.
In 1942, about forty years after the dedication of Holy Rosary, it was deemed necessary to repair and redecorate the church. In 1948 Rev. Joseph A. Collette re-plastered the ceiling and added decorative travertine sidewalls of plaster. The chapel was converted into a crying room. Decorative painting was done in the sanctuary and on the ceiling of the church. In 1953 the basement of the church was expanded and finished to accommodate a Parish Center.
When Rev. Paul M. Mackin was Pastor in the late 1950s, the sanctuary was redone. The gothic main and side altars were removed, and in place of the main altar was constructed a large wooden canopy. Beneath the canopy, on the back wall, was hung a crucifix. As the dictates of Vatican II began to slowly change the face of the world church, the altar was brought forward in the sanctuary and the altar rail was removed.
In 1977, Rev. Ernest Burns came to Holy Rosary. Father Burns set the wheels in motion for a redecoration of the church and to remove the old school building. The convent was remodeled into classrooms and meeting rooms for religious education.
Although Father Burns planned most of the remodeling, it was Rev. Samuel C. Beausoleil who was left with the task of completing the plans when he was named pastor in 1980.
From 1980 to 1982, Holy Rosary Church underwent much renovation. Under Father Burns’ direction, the following actions were taken: a new heating plant, renovation of the Parish Center, building an atrium to provide an interior entrance to the church, redecoration of the church, and renovation of the rectory. The re-dedication of Holy Rosary Church was held on May 23, 1982.
Since the re-dedication, Holy Rosary Church has undergone few physical changes. However, the people of Holy Rosary have changed and grown quite a lot. Today, there are almost 900 families registered in the Parish. One Saturday and three Sunday Masses are needed each weekend to accommodate the growing congregation. The Religious Education Center is full of eager elementary school-aged children on Sundays, while the parents congregate in the Parish Center to share their faith. The Parish has begun to rent space in the Emerson Cultural Center and the First Interstate Bank to accommodate the Youth Groups, Adult Religious Education, and meetings.
Although the Parish has changed much since 1879, the faith of the congregation has not. It was not uncommon to see members of our early Parish Family climbing under fences and through the mud for Mass. Today it is not uncommon for the Bozeman community to see Holy Rosary Parish members hauling canned goods to the food bank or walking through snowy Montana weather for Sunday morning Mass. As our Parish moves forward into the future, whether that brings us a new church or more remodels, the faith of the Parish lives on.