St. Joseph – Joetown to locals – may sit in the shadows of its larger neighbor St. Cloud, but the central Minnesota community is home to impressive attractions and food. It’s easy to spend a day or two in the area exploring everything from religious artifacts to nature trails.
A few minutes’ drive from downtown St. Joseph, St. John’s University in Collegeville is likely the area’s top tourism draw. Home to the world-famous St. John Bible, as well as one of the world’s largest stained-glass window displays, the small college offers visitors a scenic campus to walk about and explore.
Located in a bible gallery, the Saint John’s Bible took about a decade to complete. A team of calligraphers and theologians from around the world worked on the project, which was commissioned in the late 1990s to help the local monastery observe the millennium. Parts of the bible are shared with people around the world as part of a traveling exhibit. The bible is among several other versions on display in the gallery. You can find bibles in several other languages, including Gaelic. Along with the bibles, the exhibit includes religious-themed art.
St. John’s Abbey Church
Only one thing could probably challenge the Saint John’s Bible as a major tourist attraction – Saint John’s Abbey Church. Completed in the early 1960s, the church is home to a beautiful display of stained-glass windows. Considered among the most amazing displays in the world, architect Marcel Breuer used a trapezoidal design as an acknowledgment of the concrete used to construct the massive building. Standing 65 feet tall, the stained-glass window includes a honeycomb design.
Inside, more than 1,500 people can attend services, with space for a 300-member choir. The church’s beauty extends to the altar, with a mix of natural and artificial lighting to create a mystical appearance. It’s easy to spend hours inside the church, just admiring its elegance.
Saint John’s has an outstanding art scene, including a pottery shop. You can take lessons or enjoy tea and snacks while watching artists at work. I’m always envious of people who can create exquisite art pieces.
The football program has long been one of the most successful in NCAA Division III. Led by the late John Gagliardi, the Johnnies won four national championships. Gagliardi, who passed away in 2018, amassed 489 wins – the most ever by a college football coach – while coaching at the school for 60 seasons.
Saint Benedict in St. Joseph, a sister school to St. John’s, provides an immaculate campus for walking and taking in the sites. The monastery reminded Lisa and me of a Spanish mission.
Downtown St. Joseph
While religious-based attractions abound in the area, St. Joseph is home to a unique downtown district. Unlike most main streets, you won’t find the city library or city hall here. Instead, a local coffee shop, crafts store and locally-sourced grocery market highlight the area.
Local Blend creates some of the best-tasting coffee I’ve had. Toss in a locally-baked muffin and it makes for a delicious breakfast. You can also order entrees such as toast and fruit.
The Minnesota Street Market is a food and art co-op offering products from area vendors. Here, you’ll find locally-raised vegetables and fruits, Minnesota-produced goods and artwork by local artists. People who shop here tend to buy an annual membership, which helps the market meet its expenses.
Speaking of artists, we had the honor of meeting an old-fashioned printing press fan at Bruno Press. Mary Bruno creates calendars, cards, posters and more inside a former two-car garage. Using hand-operated printing presses, including a Heidelberg, Bruno carries on the business started by her late father. It seems that father and daughter shared the same love for art and print.
St. Joseph is along the Lake Wobegon Trail, a former rail line transformed into a walking and bicycling trail in Minnesota. Running from St. Cloud to north of Sauk Centre, St. Joseph is home to one the trailheads, along with a visitors center.
Foodies will love spending a day in St. Joseph. From breakfast and a coffee break at Local Blend to dinner at Bello Cucina, the town of about 7,100 offers impressive cuisine to sample. Don’t let the sandwich sizes at Bo Diddley’s mislead you. When the staff suggests trying a third-sized sandwich, listen to them. Even if you feel hungry enough to eat a full sandwich. The sandwiches are truly tasty. Order a side of soup and you definitely will not walk out of there hungry.
Dinner at Bello Cucina makes you feel like you’re in Italy. With a décor featuring wines and dark woods that challenges any four-or five-star restaurant in larger cities, the menu is just as good. With traditional dishes such as spaghetti and ravioli, Bello Cucina also has an impressive chicken parmigiana.
Beer enthusiasts will enjoy sampling a flight or two at Bad Habit Brewing Company. The local brewery produces about five barrels regularly. Describing themselves as a family-friendly brewery, it’s common to see families with children there. Besides the seven or eight beers they have tap, Bad Habit also has a variety of sodas for children and non-beer drinkers.
From St. John’s stunning stained-glass window to downtown’s unique attractions, a visit to St. Joseph may leave you picking up a Joetown T-shirt to remember a fun experience.