Last Mass at St. Boniface Brings Tears, Memories for Parishioners

Burke, Allan. "Last Mass at St. Boniface Brings Tears, Memories for Parishioners." Emmons County Record, 11 Januray 2007, 10-12.

There were tears, reminiscing and cooperation after the final Mass was held at 8 a.m. Sunday, Dec. 31, 2006, at St. Boniface Catholic Church, rural Kintyre.

After 101 years, the church has closed, and church property is being dispersed.

Ironically, the parish was down to 19 families and 35 members, roughly the number who helped organize the church in 1905.

The Very Reverend Donald Leiphon, who serves St. Philip Neri Catholic Church in Napoleon and served St. Boniface until its closing, said the ancestors of today’s parishioners felt it was important to have a rural church within a radius so that they could get to Mass with their horses, buggies and sleighs.

In his homily at the last Mass, Father Leiphon encouraged parishioners to continue to have the kind of deep faith that their ancestors passed on to them.

"Be as active as you have been at St. Boniface in whatever parish you join," Father Leiphon said.

He noted that the St. Boniface parish was very active, and the community served by the church is faith-filled.

"It's rather ironic that I was there to serve because I grew up in a rural area and went to a parish that was about the same size, St. Benedict’s of Crary, N.D.," Father Leiphon said. "St. Benedict’s closed in 2005."

Father Leiphon attended college at Assumption Abbey at Richardton with Abbot Brian Wangler, who grew up in St. Boniface parish and now heads the abbey.

"It was an honor to be the final pastor at St. Boniface," he said. "If the parish had continued to be the size it was years ago, I would have enjoyed living there in the countryside."

Deacon Gary Schumacher of Napoleon assisted Father Leiphon as the deacon at the last Mass. About a foot of snow fell on Saturday, and the roads were treacherous Sunday morning.

"I would have never been able to make it to St. Boniface that day if Gary had not taken me with his four-wheel-drive pickup," Father Leiphon said. "What took us about a half hour with a four-wheel-drive would have taken the parish ancestors an hour and a half by sleigh. Most of the parishioners made it to Mass, which again points out their faithfulness."

Father Leiphon listed the last names of the founders and also the priests who have served the church.

Mass Servers were Mark Weigel (son of Dennis and Jackie Weigel), Chasity Fettig (daughter of Larry and Doreen Fettig) and Kelsey Weigel (daughter of Terry and Cheryl Weigel). Bonnie Weigel was the Lector. George Weigel, Allan Weigel and Bonnie Weigel were in the processional at the end of the Mass. Four candles and the Ciborium with the Blessed Sacrament within were taken to St. Philip Neri Catholic Church in Napoleon.

Tony Wangler played the organ for Mass, just as he has for 17 years, and sang with Margaret Wald. They also led the parish songs. The songs during the Sunday Mass included "Lovely Infant" (prelude), "Joy to the World" (opening song), "Kyrie Eleison" (sung in Latin by Tony and
Margaret), "Oh, Come All Ye Faithful" (offertory), "Angels We Have Heard on High" (Communion), "Infant Holy, Infant Lowly" (second Communion song), "Away in the Manger" (third Communion song), "Auf, Auf, Auf" (German song sung by Tony and Margaret; Auf is 'rejoice' in English), "Stille Nacht" (closing hymn; one verse in German and three verses of "Silent Night" in English).


Wangler, whose great uncle (Anton Wangler), was one of the church’s founders, said the church’s closing was a sad, but inevitable situation.

"We all knew it was going to happen," Wangler said.

He sang in the choir for several years before succeeding Pius Kuhn, who became ill, as organist. He taught himself how to play the organ, after becoming interested in the instrument while a choir member. He didn’t have a good organ at home, but he figured out how to read music, although he still plays mostly "by ear."

Wangler said he enjoyed singing with Margaret Wald (he jokes that she was his sidekick), and their voices blended well. He is taking off a few months from music to relax.

"Although I enjoyed it very much, it’s not that easy to play the organ and sing every Sunday, and I did not miss many Sundays," Wangler said.

He said he will help out at St. Philip Neri sometime after Easter and will help at funerals, as needed.

"I just don’t want to commit to playing and singing every Sunday," Wangler said.

Dispersion of property

Sacred and other items from St. Boniface will be taken to St. Katherine’s Catholic Church in Braddock and St. Philip Neri Catholic Church in Napoleon.

St. Katherine’s will have the three altars (high altar and two side altars), the Stations of the Cross, all of the Sacramental items -- chalices and altar cloths, two large statues of the Blessed
Virgin Mary and the Sacred Heart of Jesus, two angel statues, two statues that hold candelabra and the Baptismal Font with a statue of John the Baptist baptizing the Lord Jesus.

At St. Philip Neri are four large candle holders, which are now around the altar.

The organ was given to long-time organist Tony Wangler.

An auction of church items for parish members only was held Sunday, Jan. 7, 2006, and the pews were divided among the parishioners.

"The closing process Monday went so smoothly because St. Boniface parishioners are such cooperative people," Father Leiphon said.

Shrine to be built

In the spring, work will begin on a shrine at the St. Boniface Cemetery, which is behind the church. The beautiful image of the Pieta (Mary holding Christ in her arms) from the back of the church was re-done recently, and it will be a prominent feature of the shrine. Also in the shrine will be the statue of St. Boniface from the High Altar.

The church’s two bells (one large, one small) will be placed next to the shrine.

Work on the shrine is expected to be completed in late spring or early summer.

The fate of the church and rectory will be decided within the next year. Both are available to be purchased and moved.

Bishop Aquila visits

Bishop Samuel Aquila of the Fargo Diocese and his personal secretary, Father Brian Moen, made a final pastoral visit to St. Boniface on December 10.

Bishop Aquila presided, with the assistance of Father Leiphon at the regular 8 a.m. Mass, and he stayed for an evening supper with the parish at the Wentz Cafe in Napoleon. He spent the evening visiting with the parishioners.

In his homily, Bishop Aquila discussed the ancestors of the parish and establishing the parish 101 years ago.

He mentioned the Benedictine Monks of Assumption Abbey at Richardton who came to serve the people in the early days.

Bishop Aquila also delivered the homily at the church’s centennial.


In 1904, 17 heads of households got together to build the church at a cost of $1,200. The building was not big compared with today’s standards, but one wonders how much those pioneers had to sacrifice to build the church.

The first Mass was held on February 19, 1906, celebrated by Rev. Bonaventure Hansen. Priests from St. Mary’s Catholic Church of Bismarck would travel by train to Napoleon, then 12 miles by team, once a month to celebrate Mass and administer the sacraments. These priests would
travel all over the south-central portion of North Dakota. They were very dedicated to their flock. Bishop John Shanley dedicated the church on May 16, 1905.

In 1908, St. Boniface Parish became a mission of St. Philip Neri, Napoleon.

The present church was built in 1916 at a cost of $5,000, and the former church became a school. The parish became a mission to St. Anthony Catholic Church of rural Napoleon in 1918. Construction for the rectory began in 1924, and so St. Boniface parish had a resident priest.

St. Clare's Catholic Church of Burnstad became a mission during the years 1936-40 and then again in 1942-50. St. Patrick’s Catholic Church, Wishek, became a mission during the years 1936-40 and 1959-90. Sacraments were a very important event in the life of the church. There were 880 recorded baptisms, 221 couples were married at St. Boniface and 95 deaths were recorded.

It is unknown how many received the sacraments of first holy communion and confirmation. Those records were documented infrequently. Many children from St. Patrick’s Parish came to St. Boniface to receive these sacraments.

Three men from St. Boniface Parish who went on to become priests are Abbot Brian Wangler, Rev. Andrew Roehrich and Rev. Alan Kuss. One woman entered the convent and became Sister Armella Roehrich. She is deceased.

St. Boniface cannot be discussed without mentioning Rev. John Bacevicius, known to all as Father John, because his last name was so hard to pronounce. Fr. John spent 47 of his 90 years on earth at St. Boniface.

He was a World War II refugee from Lithuania and eventually ended up at St. Boniface in 1953 as an assistant to Rev. Lawrence Widmann, who also spent a number of years at St. Boniface. Upon Rev. Widmann’s retirement due to illness, Fr. John was named pastor in 1954. Father John served the parishioners of St. Boniface and St. Patrick’s faithfully, with compassion and a sense of humor. The parishioners loved Father John and were deeply saddened when he passed away in March of 2000. He was laid to rest beside Rev. Widmann in the St. Boniface Cemetery.

Consideration was given to closing the church after Father John’s death, but it was decided to keep going, although it was understood by the parishioners that the church would have to close in a few years. After Father John’s death, St. Boniface became a mission of St. Patrick’s Catholic Church of Wishek until 2002 when the church became a mission of St. Philip Neri.

St. Boniface parishioners are grateful to have had Rev. Kevin Willis, Rev. David Syverson and the Very Rev. Donald Leiphon serve their needs. St. Boniface Centennial Books are still available. The cost is $28 plus $4.05 shipping.

(Editor’s Note: Our thanks to Father Donald Leiphon, Cheryl Weigel, Jackie Weigel and Tony Wangler. Most of the pictures were provided by Jackie and Cheryl. Historical information came from the Emmons County Record’s coverage of the St. Boniface Centennial, some of which was provided by parish members.)

The pews were filled at the Midnight Mass held on Christmas Eve, the Sunday before the final Mass was held.
Pictured after the final Mass are Father Donald Leiphon, center, Deacon Gary Schumacher, back row, right, and, left to right, Mass Servers Mark Weigel, Chasity Fettig and Kelsey Weigel.
Gift Bearers Kaitlyn and Sarah Weigel pose with Kelda Rerick after the Christmas Eve Midnight Mass. Kaitlyn and Sarah are daughters of Allan and Connie Weigel, and the family lives on a farm south of Kintyre
At the last Mass are, left to right, Mass Server Mark Weigel, Deacon Gary Schumacher, song leader Margaret Wald and organist and song leader Tony Wangler.
The last couple to be married at St. Boniface are Kelda and Jeff Rerick. Their wedding day was June 10, 2006. Kelda is the daughter of Dennis and Jackie Weigel of Kintyre.
Father Donald Leiphon delivers his last Homily at St. Boniface.
St. Boniface is a classic country church.
The Pieta has been repainted and will be in the shrine that will be built this sprng. The church’s statue of St. Boniface will also be part of the shrine.
Father John Bacevicius served St. Boniface for 47 years. He died in 2000 at the age of 90 and was the parish’s last resident priest.

Reprinted with permission of the Emmons County Record.

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