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Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota

Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota

Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota (LSS) is the largest private, nonprofit human service organization in Minnesota. It offers a comprehensive array of support services tailored to the unique needs of individuals, families and communities.

  • Services for children, youth and families: are designed to help ensure that children and families have safe, stable homes and the opportunity to thrive in community.
  • Services for older adults: are designed to support the well-being of older adults and ensure they have choices in services and the opportunity to participate in community life.
  • Services for people with disabilities: are designed to ensure that people with disabilities have access to services, have meaningful relationships with others, and have the opportunity to contribute to community life.

LSS Mission statement:

Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota expresses the love of Christ for all people through service that inspires hope, changes lives, and builds community.

LSS Vision Statement:

All people have the opportunity to live and work in community with dignity, safety, and hope.

The present organization of LSS resulted from a series of mergers of predecessor organizations, which in part paralleled the mergers of Lutheran church bodies.

Historical background

The 1860s were a time of beginning and great activity in founding Lutheran institutions of all varieties including congregations, colleges, hospitals, orphanages and inner mission societies in Minnesota.  All of this activity was the result of the great northern European emigration to America.

The era of German and Scandinavian migration peaked from the 1850s to 1900 in the Midwest.  With fertile land for farming, Minnesota became a popular resettlement site.  Spiritual, social and health needs grew rapidly as more newcomers arrived in greater numbers.

Movements in Germany and the Scandinavian countries contributed to the great interest in educational and “works of mercy” endeavors in Minnesota.  Small groups of clergy and laity began to develop institutional responses.  Generally, there was no official church body involvement in these institutional expressions.  The institutions, initially, tended to serve a specific nationalistic group.

Swedish Lutheran Church - Norelius 1st School 1862
Swedish Lutheran Church – Norelius 1st School 1862

Swedish settlements in the Cannon River Valley and the Mississippi River Watershed became the seedbed for Lutheran congregations, giving rise to the Augustana Lutheran synod. It was here that the Swedish born Pastor Eric Norelius founded the congregation of Vasa in 1855; ten years later, with the charitable act of caring for orphans, the legacy that has become Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota was established.

The inner mission efforts in Germany particularly, influenced efforts in Minnesota and other parts of the country.   Dr. William A. Passavant, Zelienople, Pennsylvania, was strongly affected by the works in Germany of Johann Hinrich Wichren and Rev. Theodore Fliedner.  Wichren had developed inner mission programs and Fliedner was establishing works of mercy.  Following a trip to Germany, Dr. Passavant brought these concepts back to the United States.  Much of what happened in Minnesota is the direct result of that visit. In 1905, the Lutheran Inner Mission Society in Minneapolis was born.

Over 150 years, Minnesota has developed a rich tradition of extending care to the neighbor.  The summary below captures the industrious spirit of Minnesotans working together to improve lives for others.

Predecessor Organizations

Lutheran Welfare Society

The Lutheran Inner Mission Society (est. 1905) and The Colony of Mercy (est. 1919) merged to become the Inner Mission Society in 1922. By 1927, it changed its name to The Lutheran Welfare Society. In 1949, it also incorporated the Lutheran Girls Home (est. 1912). Predicated on the foundation of interested Lutherans banding together to provide services to those in need, it engaged primarily in care for women and children and mission-based training and work.

Board of Christian Service

Vasa Children’s Home was established in Vasa near Red Wing in 1865 when Rev. Eric Norelius took in four orphaned children and arranged care for them

Inga and Eric Norelius 1855
Inga and Eric Norelius 1855

in the basement of Vasa Lutheran Church.   In 1876 the Minnesota Augustana Conference assumed ownership and control of Vasa, the first orphanage in Minnesota.  A new building was erected in 1877 to accommodate more children in need, only to be destroyed by tornado two years later.  Vasa was rebuilt only to be destroyed again 22 years later, this time by fire.  Again, the building was rebuilt and served children in need until the current home was erected in 1927 in Red Wing. In later years, as children needing parents were placed for adoption and in foster care homes, Vasa shifted to serve children with developmental disabilities.

Bethany Children’s Home was established in Duluth in 1916.  In 1920, Bethany Home was destroyed by fire and a new building was constructed in 1923.  In later years, Bethany served children needing out-of-home placement.

In 1923, the Minnesota Conference established the Board of Christian Service, Social Services Department; all charitable institutions were put under the jurisdiction of the newly-created board.

Lake Park-Wild Rice Children’s Home

Lake Park (est. 1895) and Wild Rice (est. 1898) were two children’s homes founded near the turn of the twentieth century. When Wild Rice Children’s Home was destroyed by fire in 1931, it joined operation with Lake Park. New facilities were built in Fergus Falls in 1950, when it ceased to be a home for orphaned children and provided residential treatment for out-of-home placements for boys.

Lutheran Children’s Friend Society

In 1900, the Lutheran Children’s Friend Society of Minnesota was organized in St. Matthews parish in Winona, Minnesota, supported by congregations of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.  For several years, the Society remained in Winona, until it moved its headquarters to St. Paul in 1903. A building was finally purchased in 1923 to house a children’s receiving home and for staff offices.

The Twin City Mission work or the Chaplaincy work in institutions was started by the Society.   In 1925, the Twin City Mission Society was separated from the Lutheran Children’s Friend Society and eventually became Lutheran Chaplaincy Services.

Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota

Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota traces its history to 1865 when Vasa Lutheran Church near Red Wing opened its doors to care for four orphaned

Vasa Children's Home: Phase 2
Vasa Children’s Home: Phase 2


Pastor Eric Norelius brought the children to Vasa and arranged care for them in a refurbished church basement. This later became Vasa Children’s Home, Minnesota’s first and oldest orphanage.

Pastor Norelius saw children in need and came up with a community response that inspired hope and changed their lives and the life of the community.

Today, Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota holds these values at the core of its vision and mission. These values guide the efforts of LSS and empower us to overcome any challenge and, in doing so, achieve results that endure.

Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota began operations on January 1, 1963; it was established as a merger of the Lutheran Welfare Society, the Board of Christian Service, and Lake Park-Wild Rice Children’s Home at Fergus Falls.  On January 1, 1969, Lutheran Children’s Friend Society and Lutheran Chaplaincy Services merged with Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota.  This merger brought all Lutheran organized child welfare, family counseling, chaplaincy and residential treatment programs into one corporate, coordinated service effort in Minnesota.  The organization is now affiliated with the six Minnesota synods of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).

Through the years, Minnesotans have continued to advocate for our most vulnerable citizens — children, people with disabilities, and the elderly — to ensure they have the opportunity to live and work in community with safety, dignity and hope.

Historic Milestones

1865    Vasa Children’s Home, Red Wing

1895    Lake Park Children’s Home, Lake Park

1898    Wild Rice Children’s Home, Twin Valley

1900    Lutheran Children’s Friends Society

1905    Lutheran Inner Mission Society

1906    Luther House opens in Minneapolis to house young, rural women coming to the Twin Cities for employment.

1913    First Lutheran Kindergarten and Day Care, Minneapolis

1916    Bethany Children’s Home, Duluth

1923    Board of Christian Service

1927    Lutheran Inner Mission Society becomes Lutheran Welfare Society.

1931    Lake Park and Wild Rice orphanages merge.

1945    Lutheran Welfare Society opens first District Office in Fergus Falls.

1948-53 LSS resettles 3,000 refugees from Europe.

1950-57 Lake Park-Wild Rice begins serving troubled boys in a residential treatment setting.

1954    Vasa Children’s Home begins serving children and youth with developmental disabilities in residential care.

1958    LSS opens new Minneapolis Office at 24th and Park Avenue.

1963    Board of Christian Service and Lutheran Welfare Society merge to become Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota.1969Lutheran Children’s Friend Society merges into Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota, bringing all Lutheran child welfare services under LSS.

1973    Older Americans Act is passed.  Senior Nutrition services begin.

1974    Lutheran Home for Unwed Mothers opens in Minneapolis.

1975    Fall of Saigon.  LSS of Minnesota begins serving thousands of Southeast Asian refugees.

1976    First LSS residential home opens in Bloomington to serve adults with developmental disabilities.

1980    Street outreach launches to serve homeless youth in the Twin Cities.

1984    Housing information service opens in Minneapolis to serve newly-emerging homeless families.

1987    LSS launches financial counseling to help Minnesotans struggling with credit card debt1991The Safe House program opening in 1991 and is a direct outgrowth of LSS street outreach and counseling services to youth, which began in the early 1980s.  The Safe House serves over 100 homeless youth each year.

1996    Phillips Park Initiative, of which LSS is a founding member, gets approval from the City of Minneapolis to redevelop a four-block area near 2400 Park Avenue in Minneapolis.

1997    LSS initiates a three-year recovery effort to help residents affected by the Red River Valley Flood Disaster.  Camp Noah is created to help children recover.

2000    First LSS transitional housing service opens for homeless youth in Saint Paul.2001Second transitional housing service opens for homeless youth in Duluth.

2003    Camp Knutson renovation is completed, creating a world-class camp for kids with special needs.
First transitional housing for homeless teen mothers opens in Saint Paul. Severe state budget cuts results in program closures for kids and losses in funding for persons with disabilities, frail elderly, homeless youth and crisis nurseries.

2008    LSS successfully completes a $27 million capital campaign to open the Center for Changing Lives in Minneapolis. The Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs selects LSS as a partner in a nation-leading initiative to provide human services statewide to military members and their families.

2010    LSS is selected by Empowerment Services Incorporated, a longtime service provider for individuals with developmental disabilities in Rice County, to assume operations of its 10 homes and in-home services in the county.

2012    Two of Minnesota’s leading adoption services, Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota and Children’s Home Society, come together to combine complementary adoption services, high standards of quality and strength as a national adoption provider under a new management agreement.

2014   LSS’ affiliation with the Children’s Home Society goes deeper with consolidated financial results and adoption operations.

2016   LSS launched Neighbor to Neighbor Companions, a new private-pay service that helps older adults continue to live safely in their homes.

2017   The Center for Changing Lives Duluth opened its doors, adding four units to our Renaissance Transitional Housing service and 10 apartments for youth experiencing homelessness.

Source: Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota.

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29 Replies to “Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota”

  1. Is there any way to find adoption records from the 1940’s? My mother came from a large family and a number of the children were adopted out. I know she was put into a “foster” home, which was my grandparents place. However, it took years for my grandmother to finally agree to sign the adoption papers so her adoption wasn’t finalized until she was a teenager.

  2. I was born and adopted in 1958 through LSS. About ten years ago, I contacted LSS to try and get some info about my biological parents. I was told that there was a fire, and my adoption documents were lost in that fire. There has got to be another avenue I can pursue.

  3. What was the original mission statement of Lutheran Social Services at the time it was incorporated ? Something like ‘Lutherans who have helping Lutherans who don’t ?’ When looking at the actual mission tasks of the historical service, it seems the Service was always “outward looking,” and almost never “inward looking” to only it’s own. Did I just make up this mission statement ? Or I’m of a thought that I’m remembering the slogan of Thrivent Financial, where “Lutherans who have might” make a great deal of sense.

  4. Hi
    I have been looking for my brother who was adopted in 1961 or 1962, born at ST Mary’s hospital, I was told no paper trace, Everyone is lying about what happen, to my brother?
    I know those Nuns were terrible to my MOM, they made her give him up,She had to live with this her whole life cruel and this is a CHRISTIAN HOSPITAL !

  5. I also have a comment on Lutheran Home for Girls. I was there from September-December of 1968. It was called Lutheran Home for Girls and was across the street from the Lutheran Social Services Bldg. My Case worker was Marcia Conrad.

    • Hi Melinda,

      Unfortunately, we don’t have that kind of information. You might try with the local Department of Social Services/Department of Children and Families; they may still have such records.

  6. I was adopted on October 20, 1954 at the Lutheran Welfare Society at 2110 First Avenue South, Minneapolis 4, Minnesota. Does anyone know how I can find my biological birth mother or any records. My parents that adopted me have passed away. I have the original adoption paper from Lutheran Welfare Society with the adoption Supervisor name on it with notarized stamp dated October 20, 1954. I would like to know if I have some brothers and sisters also. Maybe there is an attorney or someone that does this kind of work and could find out all this information for me? I was born on 8-18-54. Hope someone can help? Grant

    • Hi Grant,

      Unfortunately, we don’t have any information that might assist you. You may try contacting your state’s Bar Association to find an attorney who can help. Good luck!

    • I can’t say how Grant, but wanted you to know I met my daughter I was forced to place in adoption 19 1/2 yrs later. So don’t give up hope. Place ads…that’s how I found my daughter. God bless you and guide you to what you seek. prayers, Melinda

    • Grant, I hope you have found some info by now about your birth family. I was adopted in 1956. Lutheran Welfare is now Luth. Social Services. In 1969 and 1994 I went to LSS requesting post adoption info. At least you can get medical history and they offered at the time to help me find my birth mother for a reasonable fee. This consists of confidentially contacting her and asking if she would be willing to write or meet with you. Be prepared for possibility of her not wanting to meet you, but I would think you could get more info on siblings, etc. Keep searching on internet for how to find adoptive parents. Don’t give up!

  7. Two uncles, Harold and Paul Link, were placed at what was called the Swedish Orphanage at Vasa. They were sent there on December 9, 1909. One went back to his mother and the other stayed till age 18. Are there records available? I am interested in when Harold went back to his mother and under what circumstances, as her other 5 children, including Paul, were never returned to her.

    • Thank you for the comment. Unfortunately, I am not in a position to answer your question. My suggestion is to contact the Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota and ask their for their assistance. Warm regards, Jack Hansan

  8. There was unwed mothers home in 1920s and 30s on lowry street northeast in mpls. Lutheran missionaries from Sweden worked there. They occasionally published a newsletter in Swedish. Any suggestions or history?

    • Sorry, I cannot help you locate the name of the Lutheran orphanage. I suggest you write an ask the St. Paul Lutheran Social Services office for information. Regards, Jack Hansan

    • is this the one across from Como Park? If so, I was there for almost a year in the mid 40’s. It was called the Lutheran Children’s Receiving Home and was run by the Lutheran’s. They seem to want to forget about it. It burned in 1961, and I have a picture of it at that time. I have a friend who thought LSS has a picture of it in their office.

  9. Right – this article is not quite right. I lived at the unwed mothers’ home in 1973 which was BEFORE 1974 (this article says it opened in 1974).

    • Thank you for the comment. The information I posted was given to me by the Lutheran Service of Minnesota. While I am happy to change the date, I recommend you write the LSS of MN and tell them. Thanks, Jack Hansan

  10. Your article says the Lutheran Home for Girls opened in 1974. I lived there in 1967 9-1-67 through 11-19-1967 through Lutheran Social Services. It appears it has been wiped from existance.

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