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Magnificent 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, softcover


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 at Concordia.

More than one hundred color photographs capture the magnificence of these five churches. A welcome addition to any library and a true collector’s 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 retreat center.
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 Historic Places.
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, April 1997

Reprinted with permission of North Dakota REC/RTC Magazine.

Related Articles:

"Magnificent Churches on the Prairie." North Dakota REC/RTC, April 1997, 18-19.

Review of the book by D. Gaul Schmerguls


Magnificent Churches on the Prairie

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