125 years of faith

Al Gustin

This past June, the small community of St. Anthony, south of Mandan, celebrated the 125th anniversary of its church. It left me with plenty to think about. Our family was part of the St. Anthony Catholic Parish as I was growing up, and we have been members since moving back to the farm 30 years ago.

As part of the anniversary observance, I was asked to produce a video documenting the history of the parish. I learned a lot as I read the writings of the early priests, looked at architects’ drawings and studied the ledgers and journals that had been kept. What I tried to capture in my video was the strength of faith those settlers had, and their willingness to sacrifice for that faith.

The first church in St. Anthony, built in 1897, was destroyed by fire in 1930. The Great Depression and drought, followed by wartime shortages, prevented completion of a new church until 1949.

In one ledger are the names of 170 men and women who contributed materials and labor in just one year toward construction of the new church. The entry for Nicolaus Bender, for example, shows he contributed 28 man-days of labor and hauled 20 loads of lumber, stone and cement. In total that year, 651 man-days were contributed, with 1,800 sacks of cement, 80 loads of stone and 425 yards of gravel hauled.

In a commentary in June 1997, I wrote about St. Anthony’s centennial observation and the story of its beginnings, similar, no doubt, to the stories of other rural churches. I wrote, “One has to be impressed by their depth of faith. Here they were in a strange land, facing huge obstacles, trying simply to survive, to make farmland out of prairie, to build houses of sod and rock. And they built churches. And they attended those churches. With horse and buggy, bobsled and sleigh, they came to church, despite poor or nonexistent roads, despite life-threatening winter weather. Their faith was such an important part of their lives. It sustained them in very difficult times.”

Hopefully, our faith and the example of our pioneer forefathers will sustain us.

Al Gustin is a retired farm broadcaster, active rancher and a member of Mor-Gran-Sou Electric Cooperative.