Magnificent Churches on the Prairie: A Story of Immigrant Priests, Builders and Homesteaders

Book review by D. Gaul Schmerguls, Sioux City, Iowa

Coomber, James and Sheldon Green. Magnificent Churches on the Prairie: A Story of Immigrants Priests, Builders, and Homesteaders. 1996.

This book highlights the work of a Milwaukee church designer, Anton Dohnen, who in the early part of the 20th century did work re magnificent Catholic Churches in the central Dakotas. Especially interesting is his account of St. Anthony's Church in Hoven, South Dakota, often called "The Cathedral of the Prairies" even though it is not a cathedral strictly speaking--it was just built with the magnificence which is sometimes put into a cathedral. As I read the account I surely wished that I could at once go to Hoven and see the church, which apparently has not been 'modernized' to such an extent as to lose the character which inspired the builders. The account of how some of these great Dakota churches have been done over so as to destroy their original appearance is so sad, but the people and priests at Hoven did not succumb to the fever which swept thru land in the sixties and seventies. It is also of interest that some of the destruction which was done to historic churches in that era is now being undone and the churches are being restored to their original magnificence. The book is a book to treasure, and one is grateful to the authors despite their seeming to be somewhat unfamiliar with Catholicism and its tenets and practices. Anyone interested in church architecture and living in or planning to visit North or South Dakota should glory in this book.

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