During this historic renovation Fr. Collins’ vault was unearthed and marked with black granite and gold leafed Celtic cross. His burial site was blessed by the Most Reverend Paul A. Zipfel, former bishop of the Diocese of Bismarck, during the Dedication Mass. Fr. Collins burial site can be viewed by entering the east church door and turning to the right.
Fr. Collins, like many of his parishioners, was in immigrant to this country. He was born in Ireland in 1841. His father passed away when he was three, compelling his mother to sell their small farm and immigrate to Cleveland, Ohio a few years later. In Cleveland, Father Collins attended the first Catholic school in the city. Fr. Collins was one of the first seminarians to come from the Cleveland Diocese.
Fr. Collins' work for the church took him many places in many roles. He was a missionary in West Virginia, chaplain of the Home Guards of Cleveland at the onset of the Civil War, and chaplain (with the rank of Captain) of the Second Regiment, Dakota Territorial National Guard in Elk Point, South Dakota. He spent six years in Fargo before arriving in Mandan in 1894.
In Mandan, Fr. Collins had a great impact on his parish and the community. It was said that he was universally loved and respected by all who came in contact with him regardless of religion and was a power for good in Morton County. He was energetic, outspoken, and a man of exemplary life. His mission through life was "Peace on Earth, Good Will to Men."
Fr. Collins died unexpectedly at the age of 68 on September 13, 1909 from pneumonia aggravated by heart trouble. He had recently celebrated his fortieth anniversary of priesthood on September 8, 1909. His funeral was the largest ever held in Mandan. Rev. Thomas Egan of Fargo admonished the people of Mandan to always remember the loyal and heroic services of Fr. Collins. The Reverend E. Garaghty of Jamestown remarked that rhe beautiful church would stand as a lasting memento to Fr. Collins' untiring zeal and generous nature.
As a parish, we continue to express our gratitude and thanks for such a wonderful gift, through such an extraordinary leader and for all of our priests who have served the parishioners of the Church of Saint Joseph.