Patti Armstrong writes for The National Catholic Register about beautiful churches built in North and South Dakota built in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries by German immigrants:
Many of the Catholic churches in North Dakota and South Dakota bespeak the legacy of Catholic German immigrants who worked hard and worshipped even harder.
Four of them in particular are notable because they tower above small prairie towns, too large for their shrinking communities, but too magnificent not to maintain.
The early settlers in the Dakota Territory erected beautiful churches similar to the ones they had left behind in Europe. They wanted places of worship to glorify God and to last for generations.
In the Diocese of Bismarck, North Dakota, are: St. Mary’s in Richardton, Sts. Peter and Paul in Strasburg and St. Mary’s in Hague. Their total populations are 548; 392; and 67 respectively, according to the 2014 census poll. Hoven, South Dakota, home to St. Anthony of Padua, has 407 residents.
The churches are relics of the pre-Vatican II era, where people worshipped alongside a multitude of angels and saints captured in stained-glass windows, statues and paintings. Although they still function as active parishes, the churches have also become tourist destinations. Motorists detour off highways, and busloads of pilgrims come to see this Old World beauty surviving in the New World.
Their operation and maintenance costs are not practical, but the Catholic Church is about faith, beauty, courage and sacrifice.
The comment about keeping churches open even when the costs are prohibitive reminded me of some churches in Kansas that are kept open, often by the laity, even though they aren't active parishes now. Last February I visited St. Martin of Tours in Piqua, Kansas (pictured above) and many years ago my parents and I took a tour of the German/Volga German churches around Hays, Kansas. The Cathedral of the Plains, St. Fidelis Catholic Church, in Victoria is still a parish church, but Holy Cross in Pfeifer is maintained by a charitable foundation and the church is open every day for visitors. St. Joseph Church in Liebenthal is still an active parish of the Diocese of Dodge City, as is St. Anthony's in Schoenchen, although on a limited basis.
The church of St. Francis (not of Assisi, but St. Francis de Hieronymo, a Jesuit saint) in St. Paul, Kansas is still an active parish in the Diocese of Wichita; the pastor is from Burma. It is a beautiful church and a tremendous part of the history of Catholics in Kansas. This site describes all that it had been when the Jesuits and then Passionists had organized first a mission and then a monastery and retreat house.
These churches were built by poor people, struggling to make their homesteads prosper, who wanted to see the same beauty in the New Country as they'd known in the Old when they went to Mass or to Confession, or a new baby's baptism, or a wedding--or a funeral. They wanted to give glory to God.Some of the artwork and decoration they scrimped and saved for was costly at the time but it is priceless today. These churches are monuments and memories of the German (or Irish or Italian or Polish) immigrants' faith and devotion. It may be inevitable that the population in the parishes declines to the point that they have to be moved or consolidated and certain churches closed, but it's wonderful when the laity help to maintain the closed churches, even though they may be empty (no Blessed Sacrament reserved in the Tabernacle).