St. Joe's, Dickinson, Celebrates Centennial

Grosz, Marge. "St. Joe's, Dickinson, Celebrates Centennial." Dakota Catholic Action, November 2002, 12.

DICKINSON - During the late 1800s, a great number of Germans from Russia and Hungary flooded into the city of Dickinson. At that time the city had only one Catholic Church - St. Patrick's whose name reflected the congregation's primarily Irish makeup. The ethnic groups worshipped together until 1901 when Rev. Thomas L. Rabsteineck was assigned to Dickinson. The following year St. Joseph's Parish became a reality.

One hundred years to the day after Bishop John Stanley dedicated the church bells - October 20 - Bishop Paul Zipfel visited the parish to celebrate the centennial Mass. Concelebrants included Fr. Dennis Schafer, pastor, and 14 visiting priests.

The centennial Mass was followed by a dinner at Trinity High School, with Fr. Jerry Kautzman serving as emcee for the program. A video highlighting the parish history was presented by Fr. Ken Phillips, a former pastor at St. Joseph's, and remarks were given by Bishop Zipfel.


Realizing the need for a second church in Dickinson, Bishop Shanley visited the community on June 2, 1902, and signed the Articles of Incorporation for St. Joseph's, along with Fr. Rabsteineck. Lots 4 and 5 on Block 3 Broadway were purchased for $406.25. Bishop Shanley, Bishop of Fargo, (North Dakota at that time was all one diocese) laid the cornerstone for the new church November 19, 1902.

Less than a year later the church was completed at a cost of $33,000. The mayor of Dickinson, Dan Manning, proclaimed that October 21 - the day St. Joseph's was dedicated - be observed as a holiday by all the citizens in the city. Bishop Shanley again visited the community and consecrated the church's bells named Joseph and Monica - on October 20, and dedicated the new church the following day.

The German-speaking people also had a high priority for education and wanted their children educated in a Catholic school. St. Joseph School was the first Catholic school in Dickinson, opening in 1904 with classes conducted by lay teachers in the church basement. The following year the Sisters of St. Benedict from Minnesota took over as teachers at the school. An old opera house was remodeled to serve as a convent for the sisters, and classes were also held there.

In 1917 the "Aberle Era" began at St. Joseph's. Fr. George Aberle - he was made a monsignor in 1949 - arrived at St. Joseph's as an assistant to Fr. Otto Wolpers. He was appointed parish administrator the following year and became pastor on November 3, 1919, a position he held until his retirement in 1968.

Aberle sensed a hopelessness among his people when he became pastor. They had just come through World War I (a time when Germans were eyed with suspicion) and the flu epidemic of 1918. The Parish was also faced with a large debt on the church. Aberle challenged the parishioners to each borrow $50 or $100 personally to help pay off the mortgage. They responded and the mortgage was burned, another occasion for a grand celebration.

By 1924 the parish was in a position to build a school, which they did at a cost of $85,000. The sisters and students took occupancy of the new building on February 2, 1925.

As rural people retired and moved into Dickinson, Aberle saw the need for a home for the elderly. In the summer of 1944, the parish purchased the Paul Messer Hotel, two blocks east of the church, and remodeled it to become the St. Ann Home for the Aged, staffed by the Benedictine Sisters of Annunciation Priory. In 1947, the Woodrow Wilson School was purchased and became St. Benedict's Home for the Aged. Both of those homes are now closed, but they served their purpose for many years.

Aberle continued to be the "builder" with the construction of the new St. Joseph Church rectory in April of 1950 at a cost of $56,000. Later that fall, a new addition was begun on the church and the existing building was renovated. At that time the church was enlarged by 250 seats. Bishop Lambert Hoch dedicated the renovated church and blessed the new organ on October 22, 1952.

Msgr. Aberle also spearheaded the drive for a Catholic high school in Dickinson. A joint effort of the three parishes in the city at the time, Trinity High School became a reality in 1960, with the first classes of 9th grade students (162) beginning classes there in 1961. The school was staffed by the School Sisters of Notre Dame and lay teachers. Bishop Hilary Hacker dedicated Trinity High School in 1965 with all four high school grades in attendance.

Pastors and Associates

The "Aberle Era" was the longest tenure by a pastor at St. Joseph's - 50 years, or half of its existence. Many priests have served St. Joseph's over the past 100 years.

Pastors have included: Rev. Thomas Rabsteineck - 1901-1910; Rev. C. Groetchel - 1910-1912; Rev. W. Schulte, OMI - 1912-1916; Rev. F.W. Hake - 1916-1918; Rev. Otto Wolpers - April 1918-Oct. 1918; Rev. George P. Aberle - 1918-1968; Rev. Edwin Volk - 1968-1982; Rev. Thomas Knopik - 1982-1985; Rev. Michael Krank - 1985-1990; Rev. C. Robert Kavaney - 1990-1998; Rev. Kenneth Phillips - 1998-2002; and Rev. Dennis Schafer - July 2002-present.

Associate pastors included: Rev. Ph. Hartman, Msgr. George P. Aberle, Msgr. Bede Dahmus, Rev. John Wingering, Msgr. A.J. Galowitsch, Revs. Hugo Backes, Paul Kolling, OSB, John Kuhn, George Splonskowski, OSB, Sylvester Treinen, Eugene Haspert, Jacob Schumacher, Charles Backes, Chester Auglys, Michael Krank, Donald Hagerott, Jerome Kautzman, Andrew Rassier, James Reardon, Edwin Wehner, Kenneth Schaefer, Donald Becwar, Eugene Wehner, John O'Leary and Dennis Schafer.

The parish also has three deacons serving the congregation: Deacons Ralph Stockert, Morris Martin and Terry Quintus.

Parish Vocations

With its strong German heritage and emphasis on Catholic education, the parish has been a "hot bed" for vocations over the years. The following men from the parish were ordained to the priesthood: Revs. Florian Krank, Michael Krank, Eugene Frank, Frank Trenkenschuh, OSC, Norman Dukart and Jeff Heidt. Terry Quintus was ordained to the diaconate in September of this year.

Women from St. Joseph who entered religious life include: Srs. Rolanda Hecker, Bertranda Bleth, Arcadia Olheiser, Paulette Laufer, Edburga Thomas, Edwalda Fischer, Harlindis Fischer, Clementina Fischer, Theodosia Laufer, Gemina Koffler, Salveria Metz, Norma Scharf, M. Christina Metz, Eugene Braun, Edith Ehresmann, Jeanne d'Arc Kilwein, Gertrude Berger, Margaret Kuntz, David Olheiser, David Schmidt; Srs. Clarice Carroll, Bertranda Dukart, Tarcisia Dolajak, Hortense Krank, Pauline Ehlis, Johanna Brodman, "Phileta" Barbara Ann Landis, Andrew Huschka, Johnita Meyer, Joseph Dukart, Conchita Frank, Joan Nuss, Florentia Frank, Frances Marie Nuss, Angeline Berger, Piona Frank, "Madeliva" Clementine Krank, Perpetua Steiner, Faith Wanner, Linda Wanner, Mary Jane Berger, Susan Berger and Patricia Caroll.

Today, as the parish of St. Joseph begins its second century, the congregation consists of more than 650 households. It is no longer considered the "German parish" in town but welcomes members from all ethnic backgrounds. It is a parish that believes in a strong work ethic combined with a strong faith that continues to see its members through good and tough times.

Monsignor George Aberle
Church of St. Joseph, Dickinson, ND
Father Jerry Kautzman emceed the banquet at Trinity High School
The church was filled to overflowing for the Mass. Left to right: Deacon Ralph Stockert, Bishop Paul Zipfel, and Father Dennis Schafer, pastor

Reprinted with permission of the Dakota Catholic Action.

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