The Centennial of St. Andrew’s
Catholic Church, Zeeland, North Dakota and The Spiritual Heritage
of St. John’s Catholic Church, Rural McIntosh County, North
Book review by Edna Boardman, Bismarck, North Dakota
When I opened this book and paged past the Table of Contents, I
was greeted by a full-color portrait of Pope Benedict XVI and an
inscription announcing his Apostolic Blessing on the priest and
parishioners of St. Andrews Parish, Zeeland, ND, on the occasion
of their 100th Anniversary. I knew then that this was no ordinary
The story of how the Catholic Church was established in the North
Dakota counties of Emmons, Logan, and McIntosh is bound with the
story of the pioneers who first came to this area from South Russia
beginning in 1884. During the years that followed, large numbers
of people of this faith took up homestead land. Priests originally
assigned as missionaries to serve Indian people in the Fort Yates
area traveled the long distance to serve them. Life was difficult
for the people trying to establish farms, and one wonders how they
stuck it out. Fires swept the prairie, droughts limited the harvests
in some years, and diseases multiplied the graves.
For worship, the people met at first in their homes, then built
a church they called St. John’s. It was a box of a building
with a cross on top, but the cover picture shows that several hundred
people put on their Sunday best clothes and gathered for its blessing
on May 12, 1889.
The church in the area grew. The authors who put put the book together
weave the official aspects of the church, which were sometimes uncomfortable
to process, with the personal and spiritual, which gave them strong
support. There is material about worship itself as well as about
the buildings and people. The pattern of dioceses changed to accommodate
the increasing numbers, and new churches were built in the counties
so people had a church nearby. Their own priests were welcomed by
Then priests and nuns who came from within the German Russian community
enter the picture, and the ministry of the group extends to the
establishment of St. Alexius Hospital in Bismarck. The book records
anniversaries, celebrations, and changes such as new popes and the
Vatican II Council, which affected the life of these rural churches
in distant North Dakota.
A chapter titled "Fruit," which incorporates personal
statements and interviews, gives a picture of a vibrant spiritual
and social life in this parish. A school was built in 1929 near
the original St. John’s, and in it were "catechism lessons
and German classes, but also meetings, dances, name’s day
parties, and other functions." A horse barn sheltered the teams
while people attended events. Lives were marked by First Holy Communion,
Confirmation, Feast Days, and other church events. One woman remembers,
"Being at St. John's was like one big family."
As time went on, changes in the larger community touched these
counties. English replaced German, and motorized transportation
took people places other than church. Things became more organized.
A beautiful new church was built by Maranatha Custom Churches of
Jamestown, which would have been a Protestant organization, and
everyone worked together.
This is a very thoughtfully put together book. The author has provided
readers with excellent indexing, so if anyone with roots in this
parish wants to know the names of priests or nuns who served or
if their family is mentioned, this information is easy to find.
A generous section of color pictures at the end of the book shows
a still-lively church community, though reduced in numbers as is
all of rural North Dakota. In one, a priest leads a discussion of
life in former times. I thought of the musicals Brigadoon and Camelot,
in which there is "one brief, shining, moment" that no
longer exists, but which leaves wonderful memories. Church communities
like St. John’s and St. Andrew's may not be exactly as they
once were, but all of us who were once part of one know that their
work and spirit continue in many ways in those they sent forth.