Many Minnesota natives will remember learning about the French fur traders and settlers who came to the Saint Paul area in the 1800s. Some might recall learning that it was fur traders who helped build the original log chapel in Saint Paul in 1841. But perhaps few know that the city of Saint Paul was actually named after the chapel of Saint Paul, which officially changed it from the original name of the settlement, Pig’s Eye.
The Cathedral has a long history with the people of Saint Paul, including some families who are still involved in the community today. One of the families instrumental in making sure the city was not forever known as Pig’s Eye is the Labine family. Joseph Labissoniere and his son Isaac helped build the original 18-by-25-foot chapel. Joseph was a French fur trader who took on the role of superintendent for the chapel, where Father Lucien Galtier celebrated the first mass on All Saints Day in 1841; it became a cathedral in 1851 after a visit by Bishop Mathias Loras.
Galtier avidly promoted the name Saint Paul to go with the nearby community of Saint Peter. The Pig’s Eye settlement had originally been named after Pierre “Pig’s Eye” Parrant who owned a tavern on the settlement and had an injured eye that looked pig-like. Luckily, the name Saint Paul stuck.
Mark Labine, who lives in Arden Hills, says he heard some stories from his own grandfather about Joseph Labissoniere, Labine’s great-great-great-great grandfather, which sparked a passion for finding out more about his family history and the Cathedral. “A lot of these traders came to Fort Snelling, and a community grew there because there was military protection. We have a fairly good idea of what the first chapel looked like, but there is still some mystery behind it,” says Labine, who is the president of the French-American Heritage Foundation and is writing a book about the history of the chapel.
On November 1, the Cathedral will hold a special service at 5:15 p.m. with Archbishop Bernard Hebda to commemorate the church’s 175th anniversary. A reception featuring a multimedia presentation of photos and artifacts from the cathedral will follow the mass.
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