Catholic Faith has Been Final Word in Strasburg

Conrad, Marc. "Catholic Faith has Been Final Word in Strasburg." Bismarck Tribune, 1 February 1987, sec. C1.

Even more solid than the brick walls of Strasburg’s Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic Church is the faith of its parishioners.

The spiritual and social life of Strasburg revolves around this church, which has been ultimate authority since the town was founded in 1888.

“If you needed rain for the crops, you went to church and prayed for rain,” says Al Kramer, a retired Strasburg businessman. “If it rained in a few days, well, then you figured it helped. Anything you needed—it had to come from God.”

And the parish priest has always played a prominent role in the community, Kramer says. “People thought of their priest as the communicator between God and the people.”

The five German-Russian immigrants who started the town were so devoted to the church that they fell on their knees when a Catholic missionary from Fort Yates visited the in 1889.

Respect for the parish priest was reinforced by parents. “People can’t talk back to a priest,” Kramer says. “People who talked back to a priest got slapped—he was the ultimate authority.”

Kramer says people—especially senior citizens feel trapped between their respect for the parish priest and respect for their ancestors’ church, which the current pastor, the Rev. Jerome Kautzman, wants to modernize in keeping with Vatican II.

The possibility of not having a priest inhibits older members from telling Kautzman how they feel about remodeling the church, Kramer says.

“They believe if we don’t get along with this priest, the bishop could say ‘OK boys, you didn’t like what you had - now you’ve got nothing.”

And these people feel if they don’t have a priest in their final hour they could go to hell, Kramer says.

But Kramer, who is vehemently opposed to changes in the church, says their fears are groundless.

“Strasburg has never been without a priest for any length of time during my lifetime,” he says. “And even if this one leaves, they’ll send another one. The parish is too big to just close the doors.”

Reprinted with permission of The Bismarck Tribune.

Wendelin Wickenheiser, 91, helped build the church 70 years ago.
Parishioners say the ornate pulpit may be removed.
Details like Stations of the Cross are rumored to go.
Some Catholics fear losing a place in the cemetery if they speak up.

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