After having served as an army chaplain during WW2, Father Mark Otto formed a new parish in the east part of Minnetonka. He named the church in honor of St. Therese of Lisieux, the Little Flower of Jesus. Initially, there were fewer than 50 families and Masses were celebrated in the auditorium of the area Groveland school. Soon afterward, a basement church and rectory were built in 1947 on the current convent sight.
Disliking living underground, the Pastor, Father Francis Shea, had a new rectory built in 1951 to serve as the priest’s home with socials and meetings held in the basement. This building acts as our convent, the Sisters’ home today.
Early Years (1957-1968)
By 1957, 23 acres of grassy land had been purchased and the parish had grown to 80 families. Many parishioners had concerns about the education of their children. With much discussion, followed by a successful capital campaign, Father Shea and community leaders launched the school and gymnasium construction.
Just two weeks before the opening of the readied building in September 1958, Father Shea was informed that the sisters he had counted on to staff STS were no longer available. The parishioners had created a beautiful new dwelling but were sadly without teachers to educate their children. Enterprisingly, the church transferred its pews, and created a worship space in the new school basement.
The Servite Sisters from Ladysmith, WI were persuaded to come to Deephaven and accepted teaching positions here. St. Therese School was officially opened in the fall of 1959 with just 3 grades - 1st, 2nd, and 3rd with 40 children in each.
With each new year, an extra grade was added up to 8th grade. The CCD programs (Faith Formation) were formed and a Montessori and dance school rented space that provided income for the school.
Growth Era (1969-1996)
By 1968, celebrating Masses in the school basement became overcrowded. As the parish flourished to 500 families, plans for a new church building were underway. At the same time, the Servite Sisters could no longer staff STS. In 1969, Pastor, Father Jerome Janski, hired the first lay principal, Mr. Louis Doering. And, the delightful Franciscan Sisters from Kerala, India came to serve the community, as they do most lovingly to this day.
Another capital campaign effort produced significant developments. The Church of St. Therese celebrated its first Mass in a beautiful new structure at midnight on Christmas Eve in 1970. As the parish family grew, so did the school.
Kindergarten classes opened in 1975. An option for young families followed with a preschool opening its doors shortly thereafter.
At Its Peak (1997-2002)
In 1997, Pastor, Father John Bauer envisioned a place to gather for fellowship and parish functions. With campaign funding available, in 2001, a lovely community room was added on to the main building and the church rectory was converted into parish offices and meeting rooms.
St. Therese was at the height of its growth with 400 children in grades PreK through 8th and 700 Faith Formation students. Father Marty Shallbetter took over as Pastor in 2001 and looked to continue the enhancements made to this vibrant parish community and its many ministries.
The capital campaign effort of the early 2000’s asked parishioners to fund an ambitious expansion. A prayer room, locker rooms, a multipurpose room/cafeteria, plus, a separate wing for middle schoolers with a science lab, classrooms and a commons area were all completed in 2002. With the onset of an athletics program, the gymnasium was refloored. The simple service kitchen was altered to support a hot lunch program.
Unforeseen Times (2002-2017)
Parishioners had raised over a third of the funds to finance the expansions, however, it was necessary for the parish to secure loans for the first time in its history. St. Therese took on a substantial debt to pay off those renovations.
St. Therese School was hardly unique in its struggle to remain relevant. Many parochial schools faced declining enrollment, budget issues, and staffing restraints. Rather than closing its doors, STS found innovative ways to persevere.
Renting space to Deephaven Academy, they occupied the basement classrooms for several years. St. Joseph’s in Hopkins relocated its daycare operation to St. Therese in 2007. St. John the Baptist in Excelsior and STS 8th graders started traveling to Washington DC together and combined their athletics program in 2012. Deephaven Woods, a senior living facility was built in 2014 on land contributed by the parish. Intergenerational relationships have developed between the youngest students and senior residents.
While sacrifices were made by administrators, teachers, and parents, the students continued to receive an exceptional education grounded in faith. The students continued to meet or exceed grade level expectations in math and reading standardized tests. Graduates were more than prepared for high school AP, IB, and honors courses. The spirit of St. Therese, patron saint, upheld the community through these challenging times.
60th Anniversary (2019)
The future of STS is bright. In 2016, Father Leonard Andrie, became pastor and led the recent Confidence in Jesus Capital Campaign to retire the 15-year debt. With pledge commitments exceeding the campaign goal and substantial payments applied, STS is poised to see a debt-free future soon.
With a renewed energy, St. Therese School and the parish community is thriving. Full and half day preschool is once again available. The Outdoor Learning Center, completed in 2017, enhances the educational experience for all students. Enrollment has increased at phenomenal proportions.
As we celebrate our school’s 60th anniversary, we praise the foresight of our founding parishioners and pastors. The time, talent, and treasure has produced a cherished place. God is good and continues to graciously bless this community.