of Father Anthony Kopp
Book review by Father Jonathan Fischer, O.S.B., St. Paul, Minnesota
Kopp, Father Anthony. Memoir’s of Father Anthony Kopp. North Dakota State University Libraries, Germans from Russia Heritage Collection, Fargo, North Dakota, 1999.
I was recently asked to put down a few thoughts and comments,
a book review if you will, of "Memoirs" by Fr. Anthony Kopp as edited
by Mrs. Jolenta Fischer Masterson. I have to admit I have not done
anything like this since my college days. But this is a fine book
with which to get back into it again.
I found Fr. Kopp's autobiography a truly fascinating work. In
spite of the obvious and frequently run-on sentences and dangling
prepositions, (as the editor, Mrs. Masterson puts it, "he thought
in German and wrote in English") Fr. Anthony weaves a beautiful
web of ideas about his own life and times. It takes only a few pages
of reading to get accustomed to this stilted, though amusing style
of writing. Then one sort of gets swept up in the intriguing pictures
he paints. Basically, the book unfolds into four general areas:
1) the life of his family and more immediate ancestors in and around
Krasna, Bessarabia in South Russia, 2) their emigration from there
to and getting settled in Midwest United States, 3) his education
in its various stages, and 4) his life as a parish priest in North
Throughout the various sections of the book Fr. Anthony generously
relates many very interesting details which help me get a better
view of the scene being discussed. After reading the Bessarabian
section of the book, I felt I had a much better understanding of
how these people lived their lives, how they had arrived in the
Black Sea area in the first place and why they now felt they had
to leave. The character sketches of his parents, John and Caroline,
were very well done and helped me understand why they acted as they
Fr. Kopp's description of his family's trip to America and their
getting situated in North Dakota was most revealing. They made up
their minds and, without comment, remained focused on their goal,
"Neither looking to the right nor the left but always straight ahead."
Of course, we all know that these early pioneers had tough sledding,
but Fr. Anthony fleshes out the picture with interesting and revealing
details. For example, he not only mentions sod houses but describes
how they cut and laid the sod and how they formed the roofs of sod.
He graphically describes how crucial was the availability of water
as well as other basic supplies. The difficulty of the life was
underscored by his relating how some of their people actually gave
up the struggle in one place and went on to another area or even
threw in the towel altogether and returned to Bessarabia.
He also details the effort of having to 'homestead' on this vast
prairie, how families had to live isolated and apart from each other
instead of in a friendly 'Dorf', or village, as was the case in
the old country. As a result there would always be great rejoicing
over the arrival of visitors, especially in winter time. His depiction
of turn-of-the-century transportation modes is also fascinating.
Instead of S.U.V.'s and snowmobiles they had ox carts and stone
Another outstanding aspect of the early settlers portrayed by
Fr. Kopp, especially regarding his own family, was their staunch
Catholic faith. Many important decisions in their pioneer life were
based on the availability of worship opportunities. For this reason
moves to certain areas were made or not made, debts were incurred
and sacrifices made to build churches, and bishops petitioned to
For personal reasons I found the author's coverage of the various
types of farm work most interesting. His description of the long
abandoned harvesting technique of 'heading' reminded me of one of
my first farm jobs as a young boy. I too had to drive the "header
box" and worry about its proper positioning alongside the header
The long up and down saga of Fr. Anthony's education is also of
great interest. I was especially intrigued by his description of
seminary life at that time, both at St. Mary's (i.e., at Assumption
Abbey in Richardton, ND) and in St. Paul, MN. His rather blasť 'boys-will-be-boys'
type attitude towards some of their less than regular extra curricular
activities, both in the earlier years and in the seminary, showed
that Fr. Anthony was not beyond having a little fun.
The final arena of his life and of his book, Fr. Kopp's work as
a parish priest, showed us a life that was anything but easy. A
glance at the chronology of his appointments reveals, even without
reading his rather agonizing account, that the first quarter of
his priesthood was the most difficult. He started with illness and
then within seven years was assigned to no less than three different
parishes, each with missions.
As a priest, I am quite struck by what some of those early pastors
had to go through. But one certainly does not have to be a priest
to really appreciate this outstanding book which includes many fine
photographs. It provides both entertainment and some marvelous insights
into a period of our German-Russian past which explains a great
deal about our present.
Congratulations to everyone who was involved in its production,
especially its editor, Jolenta Fischer Masterson (my sister)! and
Michael M. Miller, without whose energy, resources and know-how
this book would very likely not have come to be.