|Monsignor Joseph Senger shows off needlework
he received from an orphanage in Ukraine.
Long-Time Dream Fulfilled: Monsignor Senger Wants
Youth to Know About Their Culture, Heritage
Cantlon, Cleo. "Long-Time Dream Fulfilled: Monsignor Senger Wants Youth to Know About Their Culture, Heritage." Minot Daily News, 21 December 2002, sec. 1C.
Monsignor Joseph Senger has always wanted to be a priest. He recognized
that calling when he was in grade school at Orrin and he convinced
his parents, farmers at Orrin raising eight children, to support
him through school.
He gave up an important position in Rome to return to being a parish
priest in North Dakota towns like Bottineau, Milnor, Knox, Grand
Forks and the Velva-Karlsruhe parish.
After more than 40 years actively leading parishes, Senger retired
and received the title of monsignor.
Finally there was time and opportunity in 2001 to fulfill a long-time
dream, a return to Ukraine and the German Catholic villages there
that his family had left a century earlier.
"I wanted to let our younger generations know about their
culture and heritage," the priest said. "For instance,
many of our people say their parents came from Odessa, but they
really lived in small villages."
He said when the Germans settled the area, they were encouraged
to stay in villages of their religious heritage, Catholic, Lutheran
or Mennonite, to help them feel more established in the new area.
Senger, who lives in Minot and continues to preach in area churches,
used his heritage, the tour and memories of his boyhood in Orrin
to fill another dream, filming a video about his life, "Personal
Reflections with Monsignor Joseph Senger."
The 50-minute video, released this fall by the Germans from Russia
Cultural Preservation Foundation, is available at Minot Catholic
churches or through the Germans From Russia Heritage Collection,
North Dakota State University Libraries, Box 5599, Fargo, ND 58105.
It costs $25 plus $4 handling.
In the beautifully-filmed video, Senger shows his home area at
Orrin as well as the lush Black Sea region in Ukraine with wonderful
stands of grain, ripe cherries and gardens, and the majestic old
"The people live in the village and go out to the fields to
work," he said. "Even though the villages are just two
or three miles apart, each one had a big church, enough for a thousand
people. Of course, families were large."
Today, after decades of Communist rule, most churches are used
for governmental purposes, such as machinery storage, rather than
religious services. Senger was delighted to be able to say Mass
in one of the churches.
"Most people in Ukraine now are not Christian, indifferent
to religion," he said.
Because most male German descendants either were drafted or sent
to labor camps during World War II, he said the women were left
to nurture the elements of culture that remained.
That culture, as translated to the arid plains of North Dakota,
was Senger's childhood experience. His "Reflections" video
also shows the the beautiful church at Orrin that was the center
of his family's life here. He talks about the foods, childhood games,
and family traditions he enjoyed before his religious education
at Richardton and in Minnesota.
Ordained in 1954, the young German-speaking priest was sent to serve
as secretary and driver for Cardinal Meunch in occupied Germany
for 3 1/2 years after World War II. When the cardinal went on to
Rome, the young North Dakotan went with him.
"I was there for another year and a half," Senger said,
"but I didn't like that as much. In Germany I was a military
chaplain, so I was holding two services a week and serving people.
Being a secretary in Rome was exciting but not fulfilling."
In 1960 he returned to his home state.
Senger's time in Europe involved a large amount of charitable work,
an interest he continues. He had an opportunity to visit a Russian
orphanage at Landau, one of the old German villages, which he has
helped support for many years.
"We Germans from Russia are people with a very dramatic history,
a century of a closed society in Russia, then 100 years in America.
We cherish our heritage and our roots, and culture and religion
are closely associated," Senger said. "I hope this video
preserves knowledge of those things."
Senger has a granite headstone for the plot where he expects to
be buried, but he has another dream, acquiring one of the wrought-iron
crosses extensively used by Germans from Russia to mark their graves
in America. It is one more symbol of Senger's devotion to the heritage
he hopes to keep alive.
Reprinted with permission of the Minot Daily News.