St. Ann’s Catholic Church, Fillmore, North Dakota Historic Church: Church Still in Good Shape After 22 Years Without Congregation

Baker, Marvin. "St. Ann’s Catholic Church, Fillmore, North Dakota Historic Church: Church Still in Good Shape After 22 Years Without Congregation." Minot Daily News, 17 October 2005.

St. Ann’s Catholic Church in Fillmore is now closed, but it remains as a solid foundation on the prairie, built by native stone in Benson County in the 1940s.
There’s a magnificent building setting empty amongst a tall group of evergreen trees about halfway between Balta and Baker that stands as a reminder of a time when every small town in North Dakota was vibrant.

The building is the former St. Ann’s Catholic Church in Fillmore and unfortunately, settlers in western Benson County moved on, leaving an entire string of communities along a line in Pierce, Benson, and Ramsey counties without sustainable population bases.

Fillmore, where the church was built in 1949 from native stone by the late Edroy Paterson of Rugby, is listed on the North Dakota map but doesn’t show a population. It is southeast of Rugby about 30 miles and about 40 miles northwest of Minnewaukan, the Benson County seat.

The church is in remarkable shape for having been without a congregation for the past 22 years. Its lawn is a bit suspect, but the structure is sound and looks clean from the outside. The front door is slightly weathered and since it is locked, it is unclear what the inside looks like. However, the windows and the bell tower are still intact.

Mary Ebach, a history buff living in Rugby, suggested the church be preserved and that the story of Paterson’s workmanship also be recorded so it remains a part of North Dakota history.

“I find it fascinating—the man who built it,” Ebach said. “Who in Rugby knows this man did this?”

Ebach said it’s unfortunate that a beautiful church on the prairie would be vacant, but also understands the shift in population to larger communities, which has left Fillmore without an official population and without people, there can’t be a congregation.

“I think it has historical value,” Ebach said. “You can’t just go buy some lumber and have a building. This takes a lot of time to gather the stone and get it ready for construction.”

Ebach said it would be great to have St. Ann’s on the museum grounds in Rugby, or perhaps in Minnewaukan, but because it is a stone structure, it can’t be moved. Thus it will remain in this community that straddles the Benson/Pierce County line unless it is preserved or until it deteriorates.

Ebach, who has visited the church, would like to find out more about it in hopes that official preservation could be arranged some day.

The only additional information Ebach knows about the church is that the Rev. F.X. Miller was the parish pastor when the church was closed.

A check with the Diocese of Fargo indicates the church was closed in 1983 because there were no longer enough people to maintain a congregation.

Tanya Watterud, who serves a as public affairs representative for the diocese, said that St. Ann’s was actually a mission of the Knox parish and began in 1942. Patterson built the stone church in 1949, Watterud said.

According to Ebach, the Fillmore church is only part of the story. She said the wrought iron crosses that were used to mark the graves of those buried in St. Ann’s Cemetery are another story. Ebach said the crosses were once a fine art in parts of North Dakota and Prairie Public Television did a wonderful job portraying the crosses during its Germans from Russia TV series.

Ebach said new isn’t necessarily better and believes that translations of religion can be lost when a church such as St. Ann’s is abandoned.

“To me, you have to preserve history, even if it’s in writing,” Ebach said. “If you compare a church built in 1820 and one today, it doesn’t mean the church of today is better. Maybe the religion has been lost.”

(Marvin Baker is a staff writer. His “On the Road” feature appears Mondays in The Minot Daily News)

Reprinted with permission of the Minot Daily News.

Permission to use any images from the GRHC website may be requested by contacting Michael M. Miller