Mission & History


We are a joyful and welcoming Catholic community centered in the Eucharist–forming disciples who know, follow and go forth to share Jesus Christ.


All baptized members of the Church are called to deepen their faith and reach out to others, generously sharing their experience of the Gospel with joy.  In 2016, St. Mary of the Lake began exploring new ways for parish staff, parish leaders, council and committee members, and parishioners to fulfill that call to be better disciples and evangelists.

Parish leadership chose the Be My Witness program to guide our efforts.  Be My Witness draws its inspiration from The Joy of the Gospel, the 2013 Apostolic Exhortation by Pope Francis. The process works by building an ever-widening circle of commitment in two powerful ways.  Phase One invites parish staff, leaders and members of the parish councils and committees to lead the change; Phase Two engages and forms parishioners as missionary disciples, using the small faith sharing group model.

The Parish Leadership Council (PLC) began Phase One with a parish assessment in the fall of 2016.  A set of parishioners were surveyed on various topics over a period of five months in the fall of 2016 and spring of 2017. At the end of February 2018, 20 leaders from the PLC, staff and parish committees met to review the survey results and form a consensus on parish priorities to guide St. Mary of the Lake to achieve its mission.

The vision of our parish seeks to accomplish the following four goals at this time:

  • Create a culture of discipleship
  • Cultivate new ways to engage parishioners
  • Grow small group ministry
  • Unify as committees, lay leaders and staff to joyfully move St. Mary’s closer to our mission

Creating an evangelizing parish and forming parishioners to be disciples of Jesus Christ is the mission of the Church.  The implementation of the Be My Witness initiative has encouraged parish leaders and parishioners to be more open to using their personal gifts to build a vibrant and welcoming culture in the parish and beyond – an environment in which evangelization and discipleship are the focus of every parish activity.

Parish History:

In 1877, Bishop Thomas Grace, at the urging of 200 French Canadian settlers, assigned Father Joseph Goiffon, a pioneer priest, to minister to the Catholics of White Bear Lake. Father Goiffon, weather permitting, celebrated a Mass every Sunday at William Markoe’s cottage.

When Bishop Grace instructed him to build a church, Father Goiffon summoned his loyal parishioners to build a 30′ x 60′ church. Parishioners used fieldstones, cobblestones, and evergreens from the area and constructed the original altar from packing box lumber. St. Mary of the Lake Church was built in a few months’ time and cost $1,800. Our original church was located at the south end of our current Parish Life Center campus and was dedicated by Bishop Grace on August 15, 1881, the date on which the Church now celebrates the Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary, our parish feast day.

To better serve its growing population, the church nave was cut in two in 1893 and lengthened by 20 feet. By 1897 more than 700 parishioners gathered weekly. St. Mary’s church was the largest in town, seating 360 members at one Mass.

Our parishioners desired proper spiritual upbringing for their children and wanted a Catholic school, so Father Patrick Hart obtained the services of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet. On September 8, 1914, St. Mary’s School opened its doors to two hundred students. Classes were held in the eight-room, two-story school.

Mrs. Mary Hill, wife of James J. Hill, the great pioneer railroader, spent summers at the Hill experimental farm in North Oaks. Mrs. Hill, her children and grandchildren, attended Mass at St. Mary’s each Sunday. After her death in 1921, her three daughters (Rachel Hill Boeckmann, Gertrude Hill Galvin, and Charlotte Hill Slade) decided to honor their mother by donating the funds to build a new church. It was a replica of the church their mother worshipped at in St. Paul, also named St. Mary’s. The beautiful, new St. Mary of the Lake Church was dedicated on Sunday morning, November 27, 1926.

St. Mary’s history is replete with wonderful priests, sisters, and lay people who have guided us to where we are today. Preceding Father Talbot were 19 dedicated pastors. Over the years, our growing community has needed more space; construction projects included the convent (1925), school addition (1951), rectory (1954), parish center addition (1969), church renovation (1988), and our Parish Life Center (2004).

Our most recent addition doubled the available space in the parish center/school building, allowing space for our many ministries as well as our growing faith community. Our beautiful Parish Life Center is architecturally linked to the church through several design elements and honors our community with the color palette taken from White Bear Lake itself.

We have grown from a small parish of 250 people to over 2,100 households. St. Mary’s parishioners strive to fulfill our mission to live as evangelizing disciples of Jesus Christ.