Sts. Peter & Paul Catholic Church Features
in Presentations in Bismarck, Strasburg
Burke, Allen. "Sts. Peter & Paul Catholic Church Features in Presentations in Bismarck, Strasburg." Emmons County Record, 25 July 1995, 1, 4.
Sts. Peter & Paul Catholic Church of Strasburg was one of
five churches in the Dakotas featuring in a program presented July
15 at the Germans from Russia Heritage Society convention at the
Radisson Inn, Bismarck, and July 17 at the church in Strasburg.
Presenters of “Those Magnificent Churches: A Crowing Achievement
of German Russian Immigrants” were Dr. James Coomber and Sheldon
Green of Concordia College, Moorhead, Minn. The program was sponsored
by Concordia College and the North Dakota Humanities Council.
At Strasburg, the program was hosted by the Das Schwarzmeer Stammhalter
Verein Chapter of the Germans from Russia.
The churches were selected because they shared a common architect,
Anton Dohmen, a Bavarian who immigrated to Milwaukee, Wis., in 1892.
Dohmen designed many Catholic churches in the Midwest as well as
Lutheran churches and churches for other denominations.
In addition to the Strasburg church, Dohmen designed St. Mary’s
at Assumption Abbey in Richardton, St. Joseph’s in Mandan,
St. Joseph’s in Devils Lake and St. Anthony’s in Hoven.
“Part of what makes these magnificent churches so special
is that they were built by German-Russian immigrants who were living
in sod houses at the time,” Coomber said. “That strikes
us as a miracle.”
He said the churches signify the immigrants’ desire for a
better world in America.
Coomber said Bishop Martin Marty, the first Catholic Bishop in
Dakota Territory, was concerned that homesteading immigrants would
lose their faith since there were no priests in the areas of the
territory being settled in the late 1800s by German from Russia.
Richardton Abbey at Richardton, N.D., was established by Fr. Vincent
Wehrle to assist in the ministry to immigrants as well as Native
Americans. Coomber said the original monks homesteaded to get land
to help fund the monastery. “They expected the land to produce
income,” he said.
Coomber said the thinking in that period of history was that the
Dakotas would become as populated as Pennsylvania, with 8-10 million
residents. He said the abbey was built with that in mind.
When the Catholic Germans from Russia began to arrive in the Dakotas,
their devotion to their religion was evident in the numbers who
became priests and nuns. “They become the best hope for the
Catholic Church in what was then described as the ‘New World’
of the West,” Coomber explained.
Coomber speculated that Fr. Wehrle and Architect Dohmen may have
come into contact because Dohmen’s ad in an 1899 Catholic
publication from Milwaukee was a center of German Catholicism, it
had much influence on German settlements in the Dakota.
Wehrle and Dohmen began a business relationship that lasted for
many years and that was marked by interesting exchanges in correspondence
in which Wehrle frequently pleaded poverty to bring Dohmen’s
prices down. Coomber said it is believed that Dohmen made very little,
if any profit on his design of the Dakota churches.
The first Wehrle-Dohmen project was St. Joseph’s in Devils
Lake, which was started in 1906 and completed in1910. The church
was close enough to being finished that Christmas Eve services were
held in the church in 1908.
“In all five churches, Dohmen applied a Romanesque style,”
Coomber said, “that featured circular windows, semi-circles,
rounded arches and churches shaped like crosses.”
Dohmen designed small, medium and large churches with the Richardton
and Hoven churches being considered large and Strasburg, Mandan
and Devils Lake, small.
Coomber said it must have been comforting to the immigrants to
have familiar European architecture in their midst. “With
a dignified church, it was no longer the wild plains,” he
According to Coomber, Dohmen sent one or two craftsmen (along with
drawings for each phase of construction) to assist with the initial
construction of each church. The craftsmen trained monks, priests
and volunteers to build the churches, and much of the volunteer
labor came from farmers in the community.
“Dohmen visited Richardton, but he probably never saw the
other churches, even though he designed every detail of them from
his office in Milwaukee,” Coomber said.
Wehrle will be remembered, among other things, for motivating immigrants
to build their churches.
Coomber said significant features of the Strasburg church are the
10 angels in the chancery, two side altars, a step-up pulpit, crossed-vault
arches in the ceiling and beautiful paintings on the ceiling. He
said the ceiling arches date back to the 12th Century when that
type of arch was used for greater strength.
In the Strasburg church, for example, the ceiling (and arches)
is suspended by steel rods connected to roof beams. “There
is a tremendous space between the ceiling and roof,” Coomber
Construction of Sts. Peter & Paul began in 1909, and the building
cost $45,000. The first Mass was a Midnight Mass for Christmas in
After Wehrle became the first Bishop of Bismarck in 1910, he came
to bless the cornerstone of the new Strasburg church. The church
was consecrated on June 28, 1916 and was the second consecrated
church in the Diocese. The first and only other consecrated church
in the Bismarck Diocese is St. Mary’s at Richardton.
He said the Strasburg paintings were done in 1927-28 by Berthoff
Imhoff, a European nobleman who immigrated to Philadelphia, Pa.,
and later moved his family to Saskatchewan. “Imhoff was anti-social
and wanted to be alone,” Coomber said. “He traveled
around the country, stopping at churches and offering to do paintings
and statues.” Imhoff died in 1939.
Stained glass windows in the Strasburg and Richardton churches
were created by an artist from Milwaukee who wanted to match the
strong colors and quality of European stained glass.
Coomber said five churches were altered in varying degrees by Vatican
II in the 1960s. Since Vatican II required that priests face the
congregation during mass, new altars were installed. In some cases,
the ornate back altars. He said the Strasburg church is one of the
few that has preserved much of the original appearance of the interior.
He said the side altars were removed form the Mandan church for
After the Strasburg program, guests were treated to kuchen, bars
and refreshments prepared by the Germans from Russia Chapter.
Reprinted with permission of the Emmons County Record.
Dressed in traditionak
relics of yesteryear, Sts. Peter & Paul’s Church
in Strasburg is always a popular visitors spot for tours featuring
Germans from Russia sites.
Dr. James Coomber
of Concordia College provided a history of the Germans from
Russia immigrants and five of the Catholic churches they built
to a large crowd Monday evening, July 17 in the basement of
Sts. Peter and Paul’s Church in Strasburg. The Hague
Cemetery was part of a tour of Germans from Russia sites set
up by NDSU Libraries.
Wald, secretary of the Strasburg area chapter of the Germans
from Russia, is pictured July 17 in St. Mary’s Catholic
Church in Hague. Katie provided the NDSU Libraries group with
an interesting history of the beautiful, ornate and historic
church. St. Mary’s is the oldest continuously operating
German-Russian Catholic Parish in North Dakota.
Wald of Strasburg and Jay “Surrey” Gage of the
NDSU Libraries, pose beside a beautiful sculptured wrought
iron cross at the old St. Mary’s Cemetery at Hague.
People on the NDSU Libraries tour of Germans from
Russia sites in the area are pictured at St. Mary’s
Cemetery, Hague. Left to right are Dave Geck, Prairie Public
Television videographer and editor, Fargo; Bob Dambach, program
director and manager, Prairie Public Television, Fargo; retired
teachers Art and Lois Freier of Wofford Heights, Cali.; Eric
Schmaltz, a descendent of the Emmons County Schmaltz family
and a St. Olaf College student who is an NDSU Libraries volunteer
for Prof. Michael Miller; Betty Maier of Linton, a Germans
from Russia Heritage Collection volunteer; Robert Schaible
of Bismarck, master of ceremonies and publicity committee
member for the GRHS convention; Carol Just Halverson, St.
Louis Park, Minn., a story teller about Germans from Russia
heritage and native of south central North Dakota; Bob and
Margaret Freeman of Redondo, Cali., where Margaret is coordinator
of the Gluckstal Colonies Research Assn. and Bob is retired
form UNISYS; Larry Cox of Fargo, director of product marketing
for the mutual group; Chris Maier of Linton, who is assisting
with a history project; Ann Braaten, curator of the Emily
P. Reynolds Costume Collection at NDSU; Charlotte Cox, development
director, NDSU Libraries; John W. Beecher, NDSU Director of
Libraries; Katie Wald of Strasburg, a volunteer for the German
from Russia Heritage Collection and author of books about
Hague; Jay Gage, curator of the Kempf Family Weavers Exhibition;
Stefan (a native of the village of Mannheim near Odessa, Ukraine)
and Ruth Klotzel, Landsmannschaft der Deutschen aus Russland,
Stugart, Germany, where Ruth heads the social services programs;
Felix Wald, who farmed near Hague with his wife, Katie, and
now lives in Strasburg, and Michael M. Miller, a Strasburg
native who is the Germans from Russia Bibliographer, NDSU
Reprinted with permission of the Emmons County record