From the outside, it is easy to see the church needs shingles and some paint, but inside everything is intact. The pews are in perfect shape, and the floors need little more than to be swept.
Ohanneson, Elizabeth. "Strasburg Native is Doing her Part to Restore the Blessed Trinity Church." Prairie Pioneer, 25 November 1993, sec. B.
Elizabeth Ohanneson of San Francisco, California along with her nephew, Michael Hayes of Vernon, Connecticut are doing their part to preserve a bit of history.
The daughter of Ignatz and Christine Reinbold of Strasburg, Ohanneson was recently in town to assess the damage to the church she owns, Blessed Trinity, which is located eight miles west of Strasburg.
Hayes and Ohanneson at the front of the Blessed Trinity Church west of Strasburg. The two are trying to raise money to restore the church, or it will have to be destroyed. For those who donate money, a brick-paver will be made with their name on it, and the brick-pavers will be used as a walkway to the church.
Buying a church
After learning the Catholic church she attended as a child was going to be destroyed, Ohanneson bought it in 1972. "I couldn't stand the thought of them tearing down this beautiful church," she said. "My family has received all of their sacraments here, and many of my relatives are buried in the cemetery." Ohanneson contacted the bishop and asked if she could buy it.
The church, which cost $6,000 to build in the early 1900's, was sold to Ohanneson for $2,500. She estimates she has spent $7,000 for some minor repairs and three paint jobs. "But now it needs some major repairs to the roof and walls," she said.
Built almost 80 years ago, the church has withstood the elements of North Dakota. Since she has owned it, the church has been in two tornadoes, and struck by lightning several times.
During one storm, lightning struck a cross on the bell tower, causing the cross to fall through the roof, leaving a big hole. "And the first tornado to come through tore off part of the chimney, and it went through the roof and landed in the sacristy," explained Ohanneson's father, who was seven years old when they began building the church in 1914.
He recalls going to his first year of catechism classes the same year the church rafters were being built. "I climbed up to the top of the scaffolding," said Reinbold. "When the priest came back from dinner and saw me up there, he just waved me down," recalled Reinbold. "But did he ever give it to me when I got back to class," he laughed.
Reinbold has served on the church board of directors, and his grandfather, also named Ignatz Reinbold, was one of the founders of the Blessed Trinity Church.
Elizabeth Ohanneson of San Francisco poses with her parents, Ignatz and Christine Reinbold of Strasburg. Standing left to right are Christine, Ohanneson's nephew, Michael Hayes of Vernon, Connecticut, Ohanneson and Ignatz.
An obvious reason for restoring the church is the family history and memories in it, but Ohanneson recently found out a famous German painter is responsible for the 15 beautiful paintings that grace the ceiling and walls of Blessed Trinity.
In 1892, Berthold Imhoff of Karlsruhe Germany, immigrated to the United States. He traveled this country and Canada painting murals in churches and other buildings.
Born in 1868, Imhoff began painting at the young age of seven. He was placed in the best art schools in Karlsruhe, and later in Halla and Dusseldorf. At the age of 16, Imhoff won a Berlin Art Academy Award for his painting, "Glory of Emperor Frederick." Offered $3,000 for the painting, Imhoff turned it down.
Imhoff never sold any of his paintings. He lived off the commissions he earned from the murals he painted in churches, banks and private homes. Most of the church commission money was usually donated back to the church.
The high altar in the Blessed Trinity Church resembles many of the altars in other Catholic churches. The statues, other than needing some paint, are still in excellent shape.
For his generosity and excellent work in churches in North America, Pope Pius XI made Imhoff a Knight of the Order of St. Gregory the Great in 1937. But Imhoff's generosity didn't stop at churches. He also gave paintings to charities for raffle and donated several works to the Red Cross.
Imhoff is said to have produced his paintings by copying pictures from magazines or famous paintings, and has even painted a copy of the "Mona Lisa." But one thing Imhoff did that was uniquely his own was to start every painting with three coats of paint, regardless if it was a chapel wall or a canvas for a detailed charcoal drawing.
In his paintings, Imhoff's mastery is very evident. He is known for the eyes in his portraits, which seem to follow the viewer. A painting he did of the Last Supper in floor tiles appears to change direction as one walks by. "The Fall of New Amsterdam 1664" is one of Imhoff's works and features a cannon which seems to change its target.
Imhoff died in 1939 at the age of 72. His collection is currently on display at the Barr Colony Museum in Lloydminster. After learning of the history behind the paintings in the Blessed Trinity Church, Ohanneson said she is even more determined to preserve it.
As a child growing up, Ohanneson remembers attending the church that wasn't too far from the family farm. "But what I remember most was the German priest, Monseigneur John Selder, who was a great speaker," she said. "He spoke very loudly and would walk back and forth during his sermons. He believed in giving you the word on purgatory and hell," she laughed.
The inside of the Blessed Trinity Church features beautiful statues and paintings by famous German artist Berthold Imhoff. Considering the church has not been used for regular services in over 30 years and has had no regular maintenance, it is in great shape.
In 1948 Ohanneson entered the eighth grade at St. Benedict's Grade School in Strasburg. She graduated from high school in 1953.
Ohanneson is currently president of Ohanneson Worldwide, an export freight forwarding company in San Francisco that she started in 1967.
Looking at the church from the outside, with the tall grass and thistles around it, one can easily see the work that needs to be done. The roof is in dire need of shingles, and a couple of coats of paint would surely help. But one is not prepared to walk inside and find this wonderful church, that appears to only need some sweeping and dusting.
The beautiful hardwood maple floors and doors are in excellent shape. The pews could be set in any church today with as little work as running a cloth across them.
The statues, other than needing some paint, are still incredible. The Stations of the Cross are detailed and exquisite. And of course Imhoff's paintings are amazing in themselves, appearing almost life-like.
One of the two holy water fountains that grace the doorway of the Blessed Trinity Church west of Strasburg.
There are some areas in the church where it is evident the ceiling or wall needs repairs, but with some new shingles and work to fix the leaks, the church could easily be used again. In fact, Ohanneson married Vinay Kumar in Blessed Trinity just five years ago. "My mother and sister, Polly, along with family friends, helped clean the church for the wedding," explained Ohanneson. "It was amazing how wonderful it looked." The wedding ribbons are now faded but still hang from the church pews, just as they did on Ohanneson and Kumar's wedding day in 1988.
While Ohanneson is in California, Reinbold tries to check on the church occasionally. He recalled the time some visitors stopped at the church, and after discovering the door was locked, they peeked through the window. "They looked in and saw a bunch of raccoons running around," said Reinbold.
One of the side altars at the front of the Blessed Trinity Church. The painting above the altar was done by famous painter, Berthold Imhoff of Germany. In this picture, it is obvious that the wall and ceiling are in need of repair. Ohanneson and her nephew, Michael Hayes, are hoping to raise enough money to restore the church.
Cost of repairs
Ohanneson and Hayes have checked into the cost of repairing the church, and have been disappointed by the figures, with estimates as high as $25,000. But Hayes said he will continue to seek other estimates.
Ohanneson, like many of her family members, received her first sacrament in the baptismal fountain of the Blessed Trinity Church.
A "Blessed Trinity Restoration Fund" was established at the Strasburg State Bank approximately six years ago. "But there's not that much in there, and it wouldn't come close to what is needed to repair the church," said Ohanneson.
Though it will be difficult to get the funds, Ohanneson said she
is not giving up on the
church. "Blessed Trinity is a beautiful church, and it would be a shame to see it destroyed," she said. "And hopefully we'll come up with the money."
As a fund-raiser, Hayes is planning to have brick-pavers made with the names of those who contribute a certain dollar amount. The brick-pavers will be used as a walkway and steps into the church. Anyone interested in helping with the restoration of Blessed Trinity can contact Ohanneson at P.O. Box 2112, San Francisco, California 94126 or Hayes at P.O. Box 26, Ellington, Connecticut 06029. Local residents, Ignatz and Christine Reinbold, can also assist anyone wanting more information on the project. Their address is P.O. Box 284, Strasburg, North Dakota 58573, and their phone number is 701-336-7514.
Reprinted with permission of the Prairie Pioneer.