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A century of faith at Little Flower

By Staff | Aug 13, 2010

The beginnings of Catholicism in the Rugby area included small enclaves of homesteaders of diverse culture and backgrounds as well as a growing number of Germans from Russia.

By the turn of the 20th Century, it was apparent the Catholic faith was ensconced in the region and priests were sent to provide spiritual needs and eventually the first churches began sprouting.

Some of these early settlers, including many from Syria in Asia Minor, moved on and the future of Catholic workship rested primarily in the hands of German immigrants from southern Russia.

By 1905 St. Cyrinus Church was built in Rugby and run by French priests from Willow City. Other priests followed, but had a difficult time relating to the growing population of immigrants from the German-Russian region.

By 1910, a Catholic parish was established by Bishop O’Reilly, and now 100 years later Little Flower Parish continues to provide a source of strength and inspiration for its 585 families.

A celebration of that rich history will culminate on Sunday, Aug. 22 with an outdoor mass at Rugby’s Ellery Park officiated by Bishop Samuel Aquila and a potluck dinner, activities and musical entertainment to follow.

“I think it’s an opportunity to reflect on where we’ve been and where we’re going,’ said Fr. Tom Graner, Little Flower pastor, of the centennial observance.

Indeed, there is much to remember about the parish and its development over the years. Little Flower Church

Perhaps the biggest was the building of the present day Little Flower Church.

The need for a new church to meet the growing needs of the parish became apparent by the late 1920s. It was Father Gilbert, a benedictine monk at St. John’s Abbey, who is credited with the architectural design, bringing together the beauty and simplicity of Roman arch and the style of Spanish Mission Churches found primarily in the southwest.

Fr. Schoenberger’s arrival at Little Flower provided the opportunity for Fr. Gilbert’s plans to come to life. Once the property was purchased, ground was broken in 1928. Residents watched every day as the brick walls and tile roof took shape.

Unfortunately, changes forced the price tag to rise and the parish was in a financial bind to cover the costs. The bonding company, McDonald Co, of Chicago, initially agreed to bond only $25,000 instead of the $40,000 which was needed to complete construction.

As the story goes, Fr. Schoenberger took to prayer and appealed especially to St. Therese, the Little Flower. Her recent canonization came the same year as Schoenberger’s arrival to Rugby. He promised to dedicate the new church in her honor if she would help him. After a novena of prayer services and masses, the McDonald Co. would reconsider and agree to bond the $40,000.

Faithful to his promise, Schoenberger applied to Bishop O’Reilly for the change of the name of the church and parish. It was granted.

Minor updates were made to the church over the years, but in 1982, an extensive renovation was conducted. It included a newly remodeled sanctuary. The baldachino (canopy over the altar) was cleaned, repaired and redecorated. Pews were refinished and new carpeting installed. The ceiling at both the church and rectory were insulated. Texture and repainting of the ceiling tiles was also completed. The former unused side altars were transformed into new single reconciliation rooms. The old double confessionals on the sides were removed and converted into shrine areas. Brick throughout the church was etched and cleaned as well.

A year ago another extensive renovation project began. It was part of a “Capital Campaign’ to raise funds for the needed improvements and repairs. The successful campaign raised funds to complete such projects as structural repairs to the roof, new kneelers, air conditioning and painting and window restoration.

Another significant addition was the parish’s decision to establish a school. Construction began in 1942 and the building completed for a total cost of $26,200. It opened on Sept. 14, 1943 and first year enrollment was 156 with a faculty of five sisters from Franciscan Convent at Hankinson.

Although its enrollment has declined over the years, Little Flower School continues to provide a valuable education experience for children in grades K-6, combining today’s academic requirements with the rich teachings of the Catholic faith.

Of course the parish is not tied solely to a building or a school, Graner said.

It’s about the parishioners – past and present – as well as the priests and other religious leaders who helped to shape Little Flower’s history. It’s their participation that has enabled the church to grow, endure changes and plan for the future.

The parish council and pastoral council have important roles in the parish as well as the religious education program, the Knights of Columbus, Christian Mothers and Catholic Daughters. There are other committees which also serve many areas within the church.

Over the years a number of priests have served the church, coming from different corners of the world, including Poland, Ghana, Phillipines, Croatia and Nigeria to name a few countries.

Over the years vocations of the priesthood from Rugby were: Fr. John Axtman, Fr. Joseph Axtman; Fr. Christian Duchscher; Fr. Vincent Tuchscherer. Next July, Neil Pfeifer is scheduled to be ordained. In addition, there were two deacons, Ed Eberle and Arlen Blessum.

Centennial organizers are hopeful for a large turnout of current and former parishioners to be part of the celebration on Sunday, Aug. 22. In addition, the parish has extended invitations to a number of special guests, including former priests and Franciscan sisters.

The events begin at 1 p.m. with the blessing of the Little Flower Cemetery on the east edge of town followed by a procession to the church. At the church, there will be a benediction on the front steps at 1:45 p.m. followed by a procession to Ellery Park.

Mass will be celebrated at 2:30 p.m. with Bishop Aquila.

“With the anticipated crowd, we didn’t think there would be enough room in the church,’ Graner said. “The park setting seemed to be a good idea. There is plenty of shade and it’s a relaxing environment.”

In case of inclement weather, the centennial mass would be moved to the church.

Following the mass, there will be games for all ages, lasting throughout the afternoon. A pulled pork supper will begin at 6:30 p.m. A free-will offering will be taken. The day’s events will end with music and a dance until 8 p.m.

In addition, a soon-to-be released parish photo directory and cook book are tied with the parish centennial. This fall the annual St. Therese Days will be held and tied together with the centennial.

Some information obtained from “Beyond the Red River, 100 years of the Fargo Catholic Diocese; and Little Flower Church 75 Years of Progress and Growth.

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