Churches on the Prairie
A Story of Immigrant Priests, Builders and Homesteaders
By James Coomber and Sheldon Green
Published by the Institute for Regional Studies, NDSU, Fargo, ND, Includes bibliographical references and index, 1996, 102 pages,
Magnificent Churches on the Prairie is a story of pioneer
optimism, abiding faith and people who longed for the kind of community
they had left behind in Europe. At the turn of the century, Benedictine
missionaries and homesteading immigrants still living in earthen
dwellings collaborated to build awe-inspiring churches of stone
and stained glass.
Churches at Mandan, Devils Lake, Richardton, and Strasburg, North
Dakota, and at Hoven, South Dakota, are presented in detail. Outstanding
color photography richly illustrates their old-world style. The
writing features the history and architectural characteristics of
each church, including information that until now has been confined
in vaults or in the memories of parishioners.
This book outlines the North Dakota settlement period, the influence
of individuals like Father Vincent Wehrle and Milwaukee architect
Anton Dohmen, and the aspirations of people who came to the Dakotas
to begin new lives. In addressing what role the churches they built
may play in today's society, the book concludes with a lively discussion
of historic preservation.
Magnificent Churches on the Prairie grew out of a series
of lectures for the North Dakota Council on the Humanities. Co-author
James Coomber is a professor and chair of the English Department
at Concordia College. Sheldon Green, a former editor of North Dakota
Horizons magazine and one of the state's most accomplished photographers,
designed the book. He currently works in the Office of Communications
More than one hundred color photographs capture the magnificence
of these five churches. A welcome addition to any library and a
true collectors piece.
Book review published in North Dakota REC/RTC, April 1997
Photography for review by Jean L. Walton
At the turn of the century, when North Dakota was being settled,
dedicated homesteaders and Benedictine missionaries erected awe-inspiring
churches reminiscent of the elaborate churches and cathedrals in
their former homelands in Europe. Today, these churches--built of
brick, stone and stained glass--stand as testimony to the faith
and perseverance of these pioneer Christian builders.
A new book celebrates this historic church-building period in
our state's history, and the exquisite structures that resulted.
Magnificent Churches on the Prairie features the history,
architectural characteristics and more than 100 color photographs
of five of these churches--located at Mandan, Devils Lake, Richardton
and Strasburg, N.D., and at Hoven, S.D.
A true collector's piece for lovers of North Dakota history and
architecture, the book grew out of a series of lectures for the
North Dakota Council on the Humanities. It is co-authored by James
Coomber, professor and chair of the English department at Concordia
College, and Sheldon Green, an accomplished photographer and former
editor of North Dakota Horizons who now works in the Concordia
communications office. The softcover, 112-page book includes such
historical figures as Father Vincent Wehrle, who built Assumption
Abbey in Richardton and later became bishop of the Bismarck Diocese,
and the churches' designer, Milwaukee architect Anton Dohmen. The
book also discusses the topic of historical preservation and the
role of these churches in today's society.
An arch beside a walkway frames the twin
towers of St. Mary's Church, a Bavarian-Romanesque-style church
completed in 1909. The church is part of Assumption Abbey in
Richardton, home to a community of Benedictine monks and a popular
Arches in the Romanesque-style Sts. Peter
and Paul Church, Strasburg, lead the eye heavenward, where paintings
of biblical scenes deck the vaulted ceiling. The church, its
historical decor still intact, is on the National Register of
The hand-carved pulpit of Sts. Peter and
Paul Church features statuary depicting Christ and the four
gospel writers--Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. In the background,
right, stands one of the church's ornately carved altars, bedecked
with statuary and intricate painting.
From the cover of North Dakota REC/RTC,
Reprinted with permission of North Dakota REC/RTC Magazine.
Churches on the Prairie." North Dakota REC/RTC, April 1997, 18-19.
Review of the book by
D. Gaul Schmerguls