Centennial Celebrations: Area Churches, Town Exploring Their Heritage in Joint Effort

Hewlett, Donna. "Centenial Celebrations: Area Churches, Town Exploring Their Heritage in Joint Effort." Minot Daily News, 30 April 2005, sec. 1C.

Around the world in 1905, the First Russian Revolution erupted, Norway separated from Sweden and Albert Einstein published his Theory of Relativity.

In North Dakota, in 1905, two Catholic churches were being built in Velva and Karlsruhe to accommodate increasing congregations. Immigrants were coming into the area and they brought their faiths and customs with them.

Filled with hope, these immigrants optimistically laid down roots on the undulating plains and carved out communities built on faith. With faith as their focal points, they built a sense of the familiar in an unfamiliar place. Throughout the succeeding generations, this rough hewn land gave way to strong communities and renewed cooperation.

James Vetter, left, the Rev. Dan Mrnarevic, center, and Betty Regstad are part of a St. Cecilia Centennial Committee participating in the city of Velva’s 100th birthday.

This year, the sister Catholic churches of St. Cecilia and Sts. Peter and Paul are celebrating their centennials and exploring the heritage of church and community.

Velva church history

A newer St. Cecilia Catholic Church in Velva replaced a church that had been used from 1905 to 1957.

The first Mass offered in Velva by the Rev. J.J. Raith was recorded in the spring of 1902. The construction of the church, under Raith’s stewardship, was completed in the fall of 1905. Raith continued to serve the mission in Velva until 1912. There were 75 parishioners during that time. The Rev. James Buechler followed Raith and served from 1912 through 1924. The Rev. Woeste then served the needs of the mission from 1924 through 1925.

In 1925, a rectory was purchased and Velva became a parish. The first resident priest was the Rev. John Duffy. Subsequently, the Revs., Bernard Higgins, Gerald O’Donaghue, Karl Hobelsberger, Ulric Proeller, Joseph Campbell, Joseph Senger and many more priests devoted their talents and energies to the church and the congregation.

Karlsruhe church history

Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic Church in Karlsruhe has been the only church in the small town since its inception.

In 1902 about 45 families moved into the Karlsruhe area. Persecution of German Russians in Russia under Nicholos Romanov’s reign set about the mass exodus of Germans from Russia. Initially, Mass was held in various homes. Buehler came from Harvey to celebrate the first Mass in the village. In 1905, land was donated in Karlsruhe by Magdelyn Mack to build the first Catholic church in the community.

Each family who owned land donated $10 for the materials to build the church. Area farmers donated their labor and the church was completed at a cost of $2,000.

The Rev. Ambrose Johanns was the first pastor to organize the Karlsruhe parish in 1908. The original church was moved in 1915. The Rev. Augustine Fox erected the present-day church in 1927, with a seating capacity of 500 people. The Revs., Richard Fuetsscher, Aloysius Zimmerman and Senger were among all the admired pastors who spent time in Karlsruhe.

During the 1940s and 1950s, the peak congregation numbered about 1,000 and two Masses were meld to accommodate everyone. The Masses were said in English and in German. Everyone went to church in those days, according to lifelong resident, Eva Feller.

Sister churches

Since 2000, The Rev. Dan Mrnarevic has been presiding over both St. Cecilia and Sts. Peter and Paul churches. The churches and the communities are still grounded in faith and cooperation.

In Velva, there are 400 members and a lot of young people, according to Mrnarevic. The total population in Velva is about 1,000. Over the past couple of years, the congregation has been growing and close to 40 baptisms have been performed.

“We have a good, vibrant, forward-thinking community,” said Mrnarevic.

“There has always been a good working relationship with the church and community. It’s improved over the past 25 years,” said Mrnarevic in regard to the church in Velva. “Churches all together are working more closely with their communities.”

Initially, in Velva, Mrnarevic said that there were so few Catholics that they had to overcome some cultural and language barriers in the first generation. However, people learned to rely on each other and overcome differences to survive. Education, time, generations and goodwill helped build a solid community.

Since the 1970s, with the introduction of Vatican II, ecumenicism was emphasized and “this emphasis made cooperation easier,” according to Betty Regstad, a member of St. Cecilia.

In regard to present-day relationships between community and church, Regstad said, “The spirit is there. As Christians, we have more that unites us than divides us.”

James Vetter, a member of St. Cecilia, said, “It’s blended like the melting pot did for our country.”

Sts. Peter and Paul Church has always been the center of the community in Karlsruhe. It has been the only church in the small town since its inception. The influx of Germans who fled from Russia provided a tight-knit community from the very beginning with the church as the central focus. The total population in Karlsruhe is about 120 and there are about 120 parishioners.

Eva Feller and Betty Kraft sort through old photos as they make their selections to go into a centennial book to commemorate 100 years of Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic Church in Karlsruhe. Copies of the book will be available for purchase at centennial events.

“When small towns were starting, the church was the center. Social life and business centered around the church,” said Milt Knarreborg, a member of Sts. Peter and Paul Church.

A committee from Sts. Peter and Paul Church is putting together a book to commemorate their church and community heritage.

“I was impressed how well documented everything was and how active everything was. Everything revolved around the church,” said Mrnarevic.

The sister churches of St. Cecilia and Sts. Peter and Paul will celebrate their centennials on July 10 with a Mass by the Most Rev. Samuel Aguila, bishop of the Fargo Diocese. The Masses will be at 10:30 a.m. in Velva and at 4 p.m. in Karlsruhe.

The same spirit that united the pioneers in Velva and Karlsruhe still remains as congregations pull together in support of church and community.

“I’m amazed at the generosity of the people,” said Mrnarevic. “The people love their church and they are willing to volunteer.” They give their time and talents just as they have done for generations.

“We all chip in. They love to do something for their church. They feel ownership in the church,” said Mrnarevic. “It’s our church.”

Reprinted with permission of the Minot Daily News.

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