| Farewell, Fulda: St. Anselm’s Catholic Church Celebrates Final
Burgard, Peggy. "Farewell, Fulda: St. Anselm’s Catholic Church Celebrates Final Mass." Pierce County Tribune, 16 July 2005, 9.
Since 1901, many generations of the same families have
attended St. Anselm’s Catholic Church in Fulda.
Not only were many of the area residents baptized here but they
were also confirmed, married, and had their funerals all in the
small prairie church that preserved through the years in spite of
many hard times with disasters.
With bittersweet emotion, a congregation of approximately 275 past
and present members gathered together one last time for the final
mass, which was held on Saturday, July 9, with Bishop Samuel Aquila
of the Fargo Diocese officiating. Mgsr. Joseph Senger, Fr. Kevin
Boucher, Fr. Francis Arthur, Deacon Arlen Blessum and several other
guest priests from surrounding areas were among those in attendance.
Parishioner, Nicholas Schmaltz also gave a touching account of some
of the special highlights in the churches’ history and reminisced
about many of its past memories.
|Bishop Samuel Aquila of
the Fargo Diocese celebrated the mass. Mgsr. Joseph Senger and
priests from Rugby's Little Flower Church, Fr. Kevin Boucher
and Fr. Francis Arthur, and Deacon Arlen Blessum were among
those in attendance.
||A view from the outside of the church.
St. Anselm's was a parish since 1901.
Even though nowdays it is not unusual to hear of a rural prairie
church closing, it is always a very emotional experience for the
families that have worked so hard to keep it thriving through the
years. Even though the building itself is still in good condition
structurally, St. Anselm’s membership has slowly dwindled
through the years from its original 500 members, many of them Germans
from Russia to fewer than 18 families, leaving no other option than
to close its doors. These original settlers found strength in worshipping
together and made the church the center of their lives, both spiritually
The wooden pews that have been so caringly polished by dedicated
parishioners, will now sit empty gathering dust and the walls will
echo with only silent reminders of the voices that sang the heartfelt
hymns for so many decades.
Many past members of the church took a moment to reflect back on
some of the memories that they recall from past decades.
For as far back as they both can remember, St. Anselm’s Church
has been one of the main focuses in the lives of Anni and John Burckard.
They can remember attending country school together and each of
their families riding to church in a sled pulled by horses when
they were small children. Long before their own marriage ceremony
was held in the church, they were both baptized, received their
first communion and confirmed in the church as were many of their
relatives. Since then, nine of their own children were also baptized
there and the couple would celebrate their 25th, 40th and 50th anniversaries
all in the same chapel.
Nick Schall said that he and his wife Ann Marie, have so many memories
of the church that they loved, it is hard to even put them all in
writing. He can recall as a young man of twenty-three years old,
working on the cement crew on the new church building after the
original church burned down, mixing mortar for fifty-five cents
per hour. Being such a hard-worker, he was soon offered a raise
of ten-cents per hour if he would haul wheelbarrows of cement while
the floor was being laid. As time went on, not unlike other families
in the congregation, he and his family were more than willing to
donate their time and volunteer at countless church functions for
no wage at all. Schall said that he and his twin brother, Pete,
were the first boys to be baptized, back in 1924. Schall and his
wife continued their membership until 1978 when they moved away
from the family farm to Rugby. His heart is filled with bittersweet
emotion when he thinks that the church where he and his wife and
their children created so many memories has to close its doors.
Margret and Barney Bischoff were also both baptized and married
in the church. Their thirteen children were also all baptized and
confirmed there and several of them were also married there. This
year they will celebrate 62 years of marriage and they say that
for the most of all those years, many of their happiest times were
spent within the walls of the St. Anselm’s Church. In fact,
prior to the church’s 75th anniversary celebration, they complied
their own history book, complete with a collage of pictures that
included every one of the past priests that served the congregation.
Their entire family returned to attend the last mass and spent many
days visiting and reminiscing of past years.
Pete Hoffart remembers his parents telling him about their wedding
ceremony being held in the parish house since it was too cold to
heat up the entire church. He and his wife, Katie, will both miss
the church they attended for 56 years and where their 25, 40 and
50th wedding anniversary celebrations were held.
Pete was also one of the young men on the cement crew that helped
to build the new church. He can still recall the humidity and the
heat of nearly 100 degrees, but how everyone worked together until
it was completed. The couple likes to remember all of the happy
times of so many fall suppers and the memories of their children
being baptized and raised there. They can recall walking miles to
the church to attend summer school each June.
Agatha and Pete Mattern also spent countless hours at the church.
Agatha played the organ for over 20 years, right up until the final
mass. Since they had no organ in their home, she would spend hours
practicing during the week and still plays at the church in Balta.
Even though he was one of the oldest living parishioners left when
the church closed, as a young child, Peter said that he can remember
Fr. Maurus Engel delivering the sermon in both German and English
and how much stricter many of the church rules were back then. The
priest would even make annual visits to the area farms and bless
the homes, buildings, and crops. As children, the couple can remember
riding to church in sleds pulled by the horses that waited patiently
in the barn near the church for the mass to end.
Mass celebrated in homes
Prior to 1901, settlers in the Fulda area, which is located approximately
10 miles west and six and one half miles south of Rugby, celebrated
mass in their homes. On a beautiful spring day during that year,
after celebrating mass in his home, Vincent Volk, along with a small
group of men accompanied the priest to a knoll about one-half mile
away and picked out a site for a future church. Volk donated the
eight acres of land where the church still stands.
The first church was built for $1600, money that was contributed
by about sixty families. The Voeller brothers, Rochus, Ferdinand
and Ignatz (who was also the architect) were the carpenters and
their labor along with the labor of many other church members was
Two years after that, a house was built beside the church, where
Father Joseph Thuille, the first resident priest would reside. In
1903, a new addition, which cost $300, was added to the church as
new families moved into the flourishing area.
As the congregation began to grow, the church was able to purchase
three alters, a pulpit, and a belfry. In 1908, transepts and a sanctuary
were built on the west end and a vestibule with steeple on the east
end, costing a $3,000, which was a very large sum of money to raise.
Several different priests would serve the Fulda congregation through
those first years. Fr. Maurus Engel served the parish the longest,
from 1924-1954. Another one of the earliest priests, Reverend George
Trunk, died at the age of 102 in 1972, and was thought to be the
oldest active priest in the United States at that time. Known for
being a very ambitious man, Father Trunk painted the walls inside
the rectory and scenery in oils in three rooms and hallways, both
upstairs and down.
|Approximately 275 attend
the final mass at St. Anselm's Catholic Church in Fulda earlier
Mother nature was not always so kind to the farmers and there were
many years that they were forced to endure poor crops, drought,
and grasshoppers. Even though they had little money themselves,
parishioners gave what little extra that they could spare at each
collection in order to maintain their beloved church. The year 1936
proved to be one of the coldest and one of the hottest on record.
January and February brought temperatures of -50 degrees and summer
temperatures often exceeded 100 degrees. The hottest recorded temperature
that year was 119 degrees and there were no air-conditioners at
that time to cool down the faithful church-goers. The dry and hot
windy days often made farmers reluctant to continue seeding because
the crops would blow out as soon as they were put in. In 1939, there
was so much snow that it made Sunday church attendance impossible
for much of the winter. Plows would go through Fridays, but by Saturday
night, all the roads would be blocked again. Several babies also
died that year due to the harsh conditions.
The church also had a few unwanted guests through the years.
During June of 1942, the men of the parish donated their labor
in reshingling the leaking roof of the church. The piles of shingles
on the south side of the building made a good hiding place for a
family of skunks. After over a week, the mother skunk and her family
of eight young skunks had been either trapped or shot, after almost
unbearable conditions for teachers and students.
In 1943, the parish priest, Fr. Maurus, walked into the church
and discovered that the triple candlestick was still burning. The
cloth and rug underneath it was ash and the floor-boards had all
caught fire. Had he not discovered it in the nick of time, it would
have been impossible to save the church due to the exceeding high
winds on that day. But, just three years later the congregation
would not be so lucky.
Fire destroys church in 1946
Sadly, on Ash Wednesday, 1946, the church burned to the ground.
A determined congregation laid the cornerstone for a new church
six months later and after countless hours of hard labor, mass would
be celebrated on New Year’s Day. Many years of financial hardship
would follow and with the declining numbers of attendance and families
moving out of the area, in 2005 the church was given the option
of remaining a chapel for five years. This will allow the chapel
to be used for special occasions such as funerals, wedding and anniversary
Many years of the more recent history are not as complete as some
of the older history, which is detailed in a book complied by several
members that was passed out to parishioners at that last mass. The
pages were gathered and edited by Rev. Donald Leiphon from material
provided by Nick Schall Jr. and family, Peter Mattern and family,
Theresa B. Lange and official church records.
There are no words to describe some of the emotions that many members
experienced during the closing mass of the church. Many of them
are the descendents of the people whose names are etched on the
beautiful windows that they donated many generations ago. The church
serves as a reminder of their endless hours of labor and their gravestones
stand in the cemetery next to the church.
It has truly been a labor of love and as the doors are closed the
members say that they feel that they were truly blessed to have
had the opportunity to have been parishioners of the St. Anselm’s
Reprinted with permission of the Pierce County Tribune.