Fr. John Dunphy became Ascension’s second thirty-year pastor with his appointment on January 24, 1925, by Archbishop Austin Dowling. Known as being loving, stern, feared, and respected, Fr. Dunphy led Ascension to the “glory days” as a bedrock of the large northside area.
Fr. Dunphy believed in good Catholic education, and immediately began work on a new school. The new school building opened in 1928. The parish continued to flourish in the 1920s and 1930s despite the Great Depression. Many moved to the area to be near the vibrant church, school and club. According to former trustee Edward Gearty, “times were tough, jobs and money were scarce, and the worshipping community provided the structures to make more bearable the harsher demands of life.”
At the peak of the Dunphy era, Ascension served 1,800 families and had 1,200 students enrolled in the school, led by 25 teachers. Four assistant pastors served the parish under Fr. Dunphy. All but one teacher was a Sister of Saint Joseph, principal Sister Aquin led the school for twenty years with a firm but gentle and loving hand.
Dunphy was an enthusiastic sports fan, and Ascension Club became a mecca for many athletic teams. “Gus” Gustafson, renowned Ascension swim coach from 1940-1980, filled the trophy case with individual and team medals. Even the Minneapolis (now Los Angeles) Lakers practiced at the Club! The space was also rented by a variety of organizations outside the parish, and many an assistant pastor was kept busy with youth groups, scouts, missions, and parishioner activities including the Holy Name Society, the Rosary Society and the Men’s Club.
On March 17, 1947, Fr. John Dunphy was given the title of monsignor. In 1950, the year of the golden jubilee of his ordination, Monsignor Dunphy completed a handsome new convent for the sisters, who previously had been crowded into the parish’s two wood frame convents.
Monsignor Dunphy was ecumenical long before it became popular. He had friends of many faiths, and often spoke at civic celebrations with Rev. Reuben Youngdahl, pastor of Mount Olivet Lutheran Church, and Rabbi Albert Minda of Temple Israel.
Monsignor John Dunphy died on November 11, 1963, at the age of 89. He was pastor emeritus of a strong and vital Minneapolis parish empire. In his epilogue, Monsignor Dunphy wrote “…May there be a guarantee that Old Ascension, under God, shall never cease to bring Light and Warmth and Comfort to seeking souls…”
Fr. Patrick William Coates
Fr. Patrick William Coates started his tenure as Ascension’s pastor two weeks after his ordination on June 1, 1940. He ended up serving at Ascension for fifty years! Fr. Dunphy put Fr. Coates in charge of the Club, and he became involved with many of the youth groups, including the Catholic Action club, the Young People’s Sodality, swim teams, and bowling groups. He also started a summer program for Northside kids which, at its peak in the 1960s, had more than 500 participants.
He served as a Navy chaplain in World War II on the USS Newberry and watched from the ship as the Marines raised the flag on Mount Suribachi at Iwo Jima in 1944. He served on the USS Bremerton during the Korean War from 1950-1954 and was decorated with the Navy Reserve medal.