North Dakota's Historian-Priest
Omdahl, Lloyd. "North Dakota's Historian-Priest." Grand Forks Herald, 12 December 2005, sec. 7A.
Rev. William C. Sherman is co-editor of the book, Plains Folk:
North Dakota's Ethnic History (library.ndsu.edu/grhc/order/nd_sd/sherman.html).
North Dakota probably is the most unresearched, unpublished-about
the Union. Shelves labeled "local" in North Dakota bookstores
out with books from Minnesota, South Dakota and Montana. While we
some general interest books, there is a dearth of published research.
But don't blame the Rev. William Sherman, who was honored by the
Dakota State Historical Society in November with its Heritage Profile
Honor Award. Several decades of research on the ethnic history of
Dakota have earned him the reputation of the state's foremost expert
It is true that others have "post-holed" certain groups
- for example, Robert P. Wilkins, people of the British Isles; Warren
Henke, the Germans; Timothy Kloberdanz, the Eastern Europeans; P.
V. Thorson, the Scandinavians, and Theodore Pedeliski, the Slavic
peoples. Together with Sherman, they produced the seminal study
of North Dakota ethnic groups published in 1988 as "Plains
Folk: North Dakota's Ethnic History" by the Institute for
Regional Studies at North Dakota State University.
Sherman not only has expanded his knowledge in these areas, but
taken up studies of Asians, Italians, Armenians, Lebanese, Greeks,
Syrians, Hollanders, French, Belgians, African-Americans, Jews,
and Mexicans in North Dakota. He also has profiled the nature of
people, colonies, businessmen and larger cities as they related
settlement and leadership.
He recently published "African-Americans in North Dakota"
Syrian-Lebanese in North Dakota" and is now working on two
projects. He wants to do an early history of the Japanese and Chinese
the state and, at age 79, a long-term project - a collection on
German-Russian houses in North Dakota.
Thus far, he has 15,000 photos of houses - 10,000 found in the
States and another 5,000 from European sources.
Between publications, Sherman has slipped in a number of other
wrote "Scattered Steeples," a history of the Fargo Catholic
Diocese, and a
brief biography of Valerian Paczek, a Polish priest who distinguished
himself in the World War II Warsaw uprising before coming to serve
parishes in eastern North Dakota.
To collect accounts from second- and third-generation North Dakotans,
Sherman crossed ethnic barriers by joining German-Russian organizations,
Ukrainian club, the Red River Danes, Sons of Norway and the Lake
Swedes. (He claims to have met the Scandinavian blood requirements
these clubs by chewing "snoose" for 20 years.) He also
subscribes to a
Not bad for a self-proclaimed Irishman!
As for priestly duties, Father Sherman has served North Dakota
Verona, Enderlin, the NDSU Newman Center and St. Michael's Church
Forks. All the while, he was teaching sociology at NDSU in Fargo.
why he now lives between his two loves - secluded with his research
Hillsboro, where few residents are aware of his presence.
In his studies, he has not overlooked the people who came to North
and left. Many of the Danes, Finns and Swedes left because they
handle wide-open spaces that lacked visual highlights, to use Sherman's
The Germans from Russia stayed because North Dakota was not too
Ukraine. Besides, they couldn't go back. For Norwegians - most of
stayed - being scattered across the plains was somewhat like the
along the fjords. They needed space and found it in North Dakota.
A wide variety of ethnics came just to get title to 160 acres of
under the Homestead Act. As soon as they secured their claim, as
60 per cent left, selling the land at a profit.
Out of his studies of the ethnic groups and their behavior, Sherman
scoped the "personality of North Dakota," which he shares
across the state
through speeches and presentations to ethnic groups, churches and
organizations. His dossier of historical work must have made his
wonder more than once whether they had a priest who was also a historian
or an historian who was also a priest.
At any rate, North Dakota benefits greatly from his diligent collection
and publication of information about the people who founded the
Reprinted with permission of the Grand Forks Herald.