A 20-year fight to save a shuttered Catholic church on the northern Minnesota prairie came to a fiery end last month when the Diocese of Crookston ordered its former St. Anthony of Padua Church burned to the ground.

The empty church was formally closed in 2000 as the number of Catholics in Red Lake County fell from 3,288 in 1952 to 1,800 in 2010. The bishop in Crookston told parishioners there to attend church in one of two nearby towns. 

A handful of people with deep family ties to Terrebonne hoped to save the building. Dan Derosier and his family raised funds for the building's preservation, using $36,600 in donations to twice paint the church and fix a bathtub-size hole in the roof when an F2 tornado hit it and toppled the chimney.

Derosier and others who hoped to save the church looked to other examples around Minnesota of groups that restored and saved churches that had lost their original use. Some of the best-known examples, like St. Rose of Lima in Kenyon or St. Bridget's in Greaney, are still standing thanks to volunteers and donated funds.

A growing list of problems at the former St. Anthony of Padua -- including a sloping floor, mold and leaning walls -- doomed the building in the eyes of the Crookston Diocese, however, which told Derosier to stop fundraising and make way for the building's destruction. More parisioners voted to tear down the building than to save it, the Rev. Bill DeCrans told the Star Tribune last year. A flurry of last-minute appeals kept the building standing until last month. 

Terrebonne, once a thriving farm community that supported a flour mill and cheese factory, long ago dwindled to just a couple of homes. A cemetery behind the church will remain. A call to the diocese late on Friday was not immediately returned.

Photo: The former St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church in Terrebonne, Minn., was burned to the ground in the last week of April.