THE HISTORY OF ST. JAMES AS PUBLISHED IN THE PARISH CENTENNIAL BOOK IN 1954.
“One Hundred Years Jacobs Prairie”
The history of Jacobs Prairie is closely bound up with the immigration of the German settlers to Stearns county. Of the claims these first pioneers made, those around St. James Parish are of the earliest. The easiest course to follow being that of the waterways, they came in 1854 to the prairie of open land and good Soil along the Sank river via the Mississippi. Most of them came at the urging of the Rev. Francis Pierz, who having come to do missionary work among the Indians, first made known the possibilities of Central Minnesota to the people of Austria and Germany. His notices went not only to the motherland, but were also read by German immigrants in other parts of the United States. Those first to arrive were for the most part from German settlements in Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Iowa.
Lured by Father Pierz’ description in the German Catholic newspaper, Der Wahrheitsfreund, of this “land flowing with milk and honey,” fifty families came to locate in what the missioner considered the best portions of his mission field, the prairie along the Sauk river. What is today Jacobs Prairie must have first been seen by these German settlers.
The first existing record of Father Pierz’ visiting these settlers is the first Holy Mass offered at St. Joseph, called Clinton in the early days, on October 22, 1854. It seems reasonable to assume that he would have also visited and said Mass for the people of Jacobs Prairie on this same occasion since it was only a few miles distant. The tradition at Jacobs Prairie seems to bear this out, since it is believed that he said Mass there on three different dates beginning with the fall of 1854. The first was held at the home of Michael Fuchs, the second at that of the Jacobs Brothers, Nicholas and Theodore, and the third at Chris Koeh’s place. The fourth Mass was offered at the farm of Michael Brixius.
Judging from the letters which Father Pierz wrote to the Ludwig-Missionsverein  during this period, there seems to be very good evidence that he offered Mass at Jacobs Prairie in 1854. In his letter to the secretary of the Missionsverein on November 14, 1854, he mentions that the previous summer he had been ministering to the German immigrants at Sank Rapids. By the next fall he tells that the Bishop of St. Paul had “strongly recommended that I care for the immigrant Germans along the Sank river who have come in such great number that they already fill four flourishing missions with four newly-built churches.”
It is strange that after these rather vague references in the first two years he should suddenly in a letter of June 25, 1856, speak of Jacobs Prairie as one of his old missions, while referring to Sauk Rapids and St. Cloud as his latest triumphs:
I have accumulated many fine and valuable tracts of land in my new mission fields of Sank Rapids and St. Cloud, where I have received, respectively, six and sixteen building lots in my name, which have a total value of more than $8,000. The day after I received the deeds for them I transferred my title of ownership to the Bishop’s name as mission property of the Church. Then, in order to remove any suspicion of a tendency toward speculation on my part, I immediately sent the document to St. Paul. In my other two missions I received gifts of property from the parishioners; at St. Augusta one hundred joch, and in St. Jacob ten acres of good land.
In this passage we first meet Jacobs Prairie explicitly mentioned by the pioneer priest. Sank Rapids is known to have preceded the prairie settlement, but this young stalk of the Church soon died out to return only in later years. St. Augusta was quite certainly the last of the four to be cared for by Pierz. Whether the pairing of St. Jacob with the newborn would jeopardize its right of being among the firstborn is doubtful, for it is difficult to argue from the acquisition of land for a church back to the place and time of the first Mass. In spite of the lack of documentary evidence, there has long existed a living tradition that the oldest parish of the St. Cloud diocese east of the Mississippi is at Belle Prairie, while Jacobs Prairie holds that honor, at least in respect to having the first Mass, for that section of the diocese west of the Father of Waters.
With the arrival of the Benedictines at St. Cloud in May, 1856, the church, so carefully fathered by Father Pierz, received a new impetus. For the next ninety-eight years St. James Parish, Jacobs Prairie, would be under their care. In giving a list of the missions and what he found there, the first Benedictine to care for the prairie church, Rev. Bruno Riss, O.S.B., stated it very simply: “At St. James, also, a log chapel 16×20 or 24 stood finished.” This is a short but glowing tribute to the concern of the people of those first two years. At St. Joseph the chapel with a residence was still in the process of being built. Of the two mission stations, St. James was to receive the preference for a while, because of the unfinished state of the buildings at St. Joseph and because of the Know Nothing bigotry the monks met there. As Father Bruno succinctly put it:
At St. Joseph there was a log church and pastoral residence under construction. But a few turbulent spirits agitated against the expected monks and went so far as to send a petition to the Bishop of St. Paul begging him not to inflict the monks upon them and not to permit them to come to St. Joseph. In consequence the misguided hot-heads had no services until August.[1O]
To settle such a state of affairs and to get the life of his young church off to a zealous beginning Bishop Cretin of St. Paul summoned Rev. Francis X. Weninger, the famous Jesuit missionary, to conduct missions in the parishes of his vast diocese. Towards the end of June, 1856, the Jesuit arrived in Stearns county and opened a mission at St. Cloud. Missions at Sank Rapids, St. Augusta, St. James, St. Joseph, and Richmond followed. Father Bruno, who assisted Father Weninger, reported that during their three day stay at St. James they took lodgings at the home of Michael Brixius. While there they discovered that Father Pierz had claimed 160 acres for the church at St. Jacob “and in the opinion of men of that day had invested heavily to secure the claim, however, with a result as discouraging as the one just recorded, the claim was jumped and deemed first-rate booty.”
On the eve of the Feast of the Assumption as the two priests were finishing up the mission at Richmond, news came to Father Bruno from Prior Demetrius de Marogna the superior of the Benedictine community at St. Cloud, that he was immediately to take up residence at St. Joseph and from there care for the parishes at St. Jacob and Richmond. Both men returned to St. Joseph that very night and celebrated the Assumption, 1856, at Father Bruno’s new parish. The tragedy which followed their arrival in St. Joseph and the two years of suffering the immigrants were about to undergo can only fittingly be described by the pastor who led them through the plague.
The 15th (sic) of August, on which day P. Weninger preached a sermon in St. Joseph, was the beginning of a two years after-mission sent by Divine Providence. During the discourse of the missionary a heavy darkness suddenly set in, accompanied, as we thought, by a tremendous hailstorm, the clatter of which drowned the voice of the preacher. But it was something worse than hail stones, for when we left the church our eyes beheld nothing but greedy grasshoppers, which had darkened the sun and in their descent had struck so heavily upon the roof of the chapel.
This small, voracious, yet invincible monster had in a short time devastated all that grows and blooms upon the face of the earth. Within about two or three days the fields presented the appearance of having been newly plowed. Then an indescribable misery entered the homes of the poor settlers of Stearns county. The entire harvest was a dead loss for those settlers who had their abodes in the region during the previous year; those who had settled during the year of the famine had no crop to lose, as they had not planted any.
The first terrible winter was at hand. The few victuals that remained were soon consumed, prices rose enormously, because the nearest market was at St. Paul, and it required a full week to make a trip with an ox-team. Still hope did not die. What would man be without hope? Spring came; seed wheat stood at two dollars a bushel, but it was bought and sowed. But the new brood of grasshoppers suffered nothing to grow, except peas. Everything else became their prey. They found their way into the houses and destroyed what clothing they could reach. In the church not a thread of cloth could remain exposed, everything was locked up in presses. Even the priest at the altar was not secure from their attacks; before Mass the hoppers had to be swept off the altar. The priest had to dress hastily, place the altar cloths upon the altar and be careful to keep the Sacred Host covered with the paten, and at the elevation had to leave the pall upon the chalice. During the Mass the altar-boys were kept busy driving away the insolent insects with whips from the vestments of the priest.
During the winter of 1856-57 the Rev. Alexius Roetzer, O.S.B., occasionally helped out at St. James. Together the two Benedictines watched and helped their flock who had based their hopes for survival on the harvest of the coming year. But in the second year of the plague the hoppers were as hungry as they had been in the first. Cattle died from scarcity of food and blood poisoning caused by the bites of the grasshoppers. They were so numerous that one worker hung his coat on a fence post while plowing a field; and when he returned to pick it up at noon, nothing remained but buttons. In May, 1857, a decisive step was taken to get rid of the pests. The four pastors of the county, Fathers Bruno, Cornelius, Clement, and Alexius, proposed to their congregations that they vow an annual procession on the feast of St. Ulric, July 4, and on that of St. Magnus, September 6, since these two saints were venerated in southern Germany as the special patrons of those afflicted as the settlers were. They made the vow, and as Father Bruno put it:
And behold, God heard us who were weak and helpless against such small insects. In the early days of June the young brood was ready for work; a brisk northwest wind set in and carried a whole cloud of the little fiends with it to other climes. Some weeks later we read in the papers that a multitude of hoppers had settled at Buffalo, N.Y., and that great numbers had fallen into Lake Erie. One week later a southwest breeze carried off the rest from our territory and we learnt that they subsequently afflicted the northeastern parts of Dakota and our neighbor Canada. We were saved.
Two interesting incidents which Father Bruno records as having happened during the plague took place at Jacobs Prairie. The first is the story of the miraculous crop which came to a farmer with faith:
The spring of ’57 came; the young brood of grasshoppers crept to the surface, but the old man ordered his sons to sow wheat and oats. The boys said, ‘Father, this is in vain; the hoppers will not let anything grow. Let us have the seed.’ But the old man insisted, ‘No, boys, we will do our part and plant as usual. But let me tell you this; if God gives us a harvest we shall give one third to God and the Church; the second third shall be the part for the poor, while for ourselves we will reserve the balance. Now if the good God wishes to accept our gift He will permit it to grow.’ And so it happened. It seemed as though the hoppers could not find this farm. The yield was about one half the usual crop, while other farmers had no crop whatever. Agreeable to his promise he delivered to me two thirds of the entire yield for distribution.
The second incident Father Bruno records as happening during the plague at St. James was the saving of one of the monks’ lives by the only chicken and egg left in Stearns county. Father Bruno gives a first hand account of it as follows:
The hoppers left us in 1857. Still fourteen months of misery was the general lot until the time of the next harvest. Father Clement, although a powerful man, succumbed under the pressure of this calamity. He was seized by typhoid, as physicians call it, but it was probably the result of endurance and starvation. For several weeks he was completely unconscious of his surroundings, etc. Light, but nutritious diet was prescribed for him, but we had no bread in the house, moreover no means to obtain it. The hens enjoyed the grasshopper banquet and perished in great numbers. The physician prescribed chicken soup and eggs. I canvassed the farms of the vicinity and finally succeeded in finding at St. James, one old hen and one egg. For the hen I paid $1, for the egg $.25, and after this I had no more materials for chicken soup . . . . God helped me in the emergency and my patient recovered.
The German settlers did not shirk in fulfilling their vow. The votive processions on July 4 and September 6 were made as impressive as possible. It was arranged that the congregations of St. Cloud and St. Augusta should proceed on the road to St. Joseph until they reached the crossing of the Sauk river, at which point they were to be met by the people of St. Joseph, St. James, and Richmond. Here they offered solemn thanksgiving services under the sky. This was on July 4. Jacobs Prairie was designated for the September 6 pilgrimage.
In the years that followed the processions lost their importance and the people began to forget about their vow, but Divine Providence caught them up short in the 1870’s when the hoppers returned in greater force than ever. The people increased their prayers; and in thanksgiving for their final deliverance from the plague, erected “Mary Help of Christians Chapel” a half mile east of Cold Spring.
Grasshoppers and scarcity of food failed to stop the normal growth of the parish in its early years. New settlers were moving in at regular intervals. The early records of the parish yield such names as George Brunner, Michael Kellner and Simon Thull, who had settled west of the church property (section one of Wakefield Township) in what was called the Bavarian Settlement. To the southwest, toward what was later to be called Cold Spring, Marcus Maurin, Nicholas Jacoby, Peter Kaiser, Michael Witzman, John Theis, and John Waelter made claims. In the southeast section of the parish were Nicholas Kirsch, Michael Hansen, Peter Hansen, Michael Boos, Valentine Garding, Mathias Ahles, Pierre Thomey, and others. These and such families as Nicholas and Theodore Jacobs, Michael Brixius, Mathias Hansen, George Leither, Mathias Feien, George Scherer, Joseph Jonas, and Michael Fuchs were the early builders of the parish.
On August 5, 1856, the first recorded baptism was held at Jacobs Prairie. It was Anna Maria Brunner, the daughter of George Brunner and Mary Uleman. She had been born the previous day in a covered wagon in the Bavarian settlement, since no houses had yet been erected there. This first child of the settlement later became the wife of Christian Dreis, who was the village marshal of Cold Spring for over forty years.
No sooner had the first trouble with the grasshoppers ended than there were new crises to be met. In 1858 the first log church was destroyed by fire, but another one was soon erected in its place under the guidance of the Rev. Clement Staub, O.S.B., who had taken over the parish in May, 1857. The new pastor ministered not only to the souls of the faithful, but to their bodies as well. In those early days when physicians were rare in the rural areas, it was a blessing if the priest could take care of the whole man. Father Clement has been described as follows:
One of those who will be long remembered for his untiring and unselfish efforts to alleviate the sufferings of those who looked to him for spiritual health was Father Clement, a physician to souls, who broadened out his sphere of usefulness and ministered to the physical ills of his flock so successfully that patients flocked to him from miles around to take advantage of his practical knowledge. This holy man still further blessed the world in that it was he who having come upon the spot while deer hunting, first suggested the present magnificent site of St. John’s University as a proper place for such an institution.
Father Clement remained until March, 1860, when he was replaced by the Rev. Eberhard Gahr, O.S.B. who stayed until the end of that year.
With the coming of the Civil War there was some change in the life at Jacobs Prairie. Especially affected were those whose fathers and sons departed for the scenes of battle. In quick order fourteen of their number had joined some regiment or other. Among those who served were Anton Labunde, Henry Kirsch, Mathias Hansen, Peter Meinz, Peter Gilley, Dominic Gilley, Nicholas Hansen, Sr., Nicholas Hansen, Jr., Michael Boos, Peter Thomey, Christopher Neis, John Bauer, Nicholas Kirsch, and another Nicholas Hansen. Two of these men were among the earliest settlers of St. James; namely, Nicholas Hansen, Sr., and Peter Meinz. The former came to Stearns county in 1855 and settled on eighty acres. At the outbreak of the war he went to Rockville and enlisted in Company G of the Ninth Minnesota Volunteer Infantry. He was wounded in action but returned after four years of service, bought another ‘eighty’ where he stayed until his death in 1910. Peter Meinz, the other pioneer, at the age of twenty-three came to the United States in 1854. Working hard and long, he finally acquired 418 acres of land, which he left to join the Fourth Minnesota Regiment, Company G on October 14, 1861. After fighting Indians in the Northwest and Confederates in the South was released at Savannah, GA in December 22, 1864, he returned to his farming which he kept up until retiring to St. Cloud in December, 1899. There he died on April 18, 1901. The Rev. Pius Meinz, O.S.B., of St. John’s Abbey, and Sister Celina Meinz, O.S.B., of St. Benedict’s Convent, are his children.
In December, 1860, the Rev. Pius Bayer, O.S.B., was assigned to take over the growing parish as a non-resident pastor, as his predecessors had also been. He served the parish from Richmond where he had on the same date been appointed the first resident pastor. The people were still recovering from the hard times caused by the grasshopper plague. Through all this the Church had been a source of hope and consolation to the pioneers, but they had been unable to develop it beyond its original state as far as the material plant was concerned. The people had barely enough to keep their families going, and they were in no position to build or enlarge at St. James. The passing of the famine did not bring much immediate relief either. Having fought it out with nature, they were now about to fight it out with the Indian.
The famed Sioux Indian uprising which began in August, 1862, the month following the appointment of the new pastor, the Rev. Magnus Mayr, O.S.B., left the whole region in a state of unrest for over a year. The first news of the event, the massacre in the Minnesota Valley, which touched off the flame, reached Stearns county on the evening of August 20 in a letter from E. A. C. Hatch, at Fort Ridgley, addressed to Superintendent Thompson of St. Cloud. Steps were taken immediately for protection against the Sioux and the Chippewa Indian tribes. In the Jacobs Prairie vicinity two main blockades were erected at St. Joseph and Richmond, the latter being the best fortified. Beyond Fair Haven, Richmond, and St. Joseph it was reported that there was not a single house with an inhabitant. Some of the Jacobs Prairiers hurried to Richmond, others to St. Joseph, a few to St. Cloud, and others as far away as St. Paul to stay with their relatives.
Concerning those who went to St. Joseph, Father Bruno states:
The men capable of standing under arms patrolled the vicinity during the night with orders to fire a shot as soon as an Indian was noticed. The church bell was then to give the alarm and the townsfolk were to place themselves in defense. Occasionally a timid or imaginative militia man mistook a stump for an Indian, a sharp report sounded through the quiet night and who might describe the agony and shrieks of the terrified women and children. My pen is inadequate.
At Richmond, Father Magnus Mayr, O.S.B., who had been serving Jacobs Prairie from there, was in charge. He had put the church at the disposal of his congregation, and there they gathered for protection. Father Magnus, “a civil engineer and a zealous priest,” as he was called by Father Bruno, had the surrounding prairie plowed under and seven feet high earthworks erected. Loopholes were put in the ramparts at intervals; and “two wooden pump shafts were metamorphosed into field pieces, having been well hooped by the blacksmith.”
Food grew scarce. The harvest was in the field ready to be taken in, but no one dared to leave the barricade at Richmond. Not only were the people hungry; the cows bellowed for food. Some of the women and girls were trained to cast bullets. The men, under armed cover, went from one field to the other for the harvest. When the first weeks of the scare had passed, Father Bruno, ever the minute man, now in charge, decided to release his families from their captivity. Then one evening a dozen families arrived with the news of a slaughter not five miles from Richmond. “A great panic seized the encampment. No one dared entertain the idea of leaving the fortification.”L25] A party of Sioux braves ventured within Richmond territory and there was a short skirmish, but they never attacked in force.
It was only after this move that Company G of the 25th Wisconsin Regiment arrived at Richmond. Surprisingly their appearance caused more local disturbance than all the Indians put together. “The settlers soon lost their tranquillity and for some mysterious reason patrols of troops sent out to scout never came back alive. Finally even the Captain was slain, though not a trace was to be found of the Indians. One morning the refugees awoke to find that the soldiers had departed.”
All this terror filled the hearts of the people for only a month, but it seemed like years to them. After the battle of Wood Lake, September 23, 1862, Little Crow and his Sioux warriors left Minnesota and by October everything was normal in Jacobs Prairie. They had weathered another storm. Father Bruno stayed with them after the scare as their pastor, and served them from Richmond until 1863. He was followed by the Rev. Matthew Stueremberg, O.S.B., who remained for two years, until March, 1865.
As early as 1864, during the pastorate of Father Matthew discussions were held concerning the possibility of replacing the original log church with a more elaborate edifice. In that year the log church of 1858 was replaced by a frame structure, thirty by sixty feet. This same building project saw the erection of a frame parsonage in anticipation of a resident pastor, a desire not fulfilled until August 8, 1873. For the next nine years it was used only intermittently by the pastor. Besides this, however, it also served as a home for the teachers and their families while they were serving the local district school.
Father Matthew did not have the privilege of using this new frame church in which all took such pride, for the next March the Rev. Anschar Frauendorfer, O.S.B., took over the responsibilities as pastor at Richmond with Jacobs Prairie as his mission. Here he stayed for the next six years until 1871. The parish, however, was no longer in its infancy. The year after Father Anschar’s arrival the first new parish was divided from the thriving prairie parish of St. James by the Most Rev. Rupert Seidenbusch, O.S.B., Bishop of the Vicariate of Northern Minnesota. It was the old St. Nicholas which was the first daughter of St. James to build a little frame chapel of its own. Richmond was growing, too, and these two busy parishes were a difficult assignment for one man. Father Anschar’s burden was relieved in 1871 when the Rev. Joseph Vill, O.S.B., started serving St. James from the abbey at Collegeville. In August, 1873, it was seen that under this arrangement enough attention was not given to the needs of what was now, according to the parish record, a reputable parish. Thus the Rev. Vincent Schiffrer, O.S.B., was appointed as first resident pastor of Jacobs Prairie on August 8, 1873.
Father Vincent’s was a busy little parish, and to take care of the expansion be built an addition to the church in 1875. But 1875-76 held other things in store. More grasshoppers returned. The people, well on the way to prosperity, had too soon forgotten their vows and processions. This return of the hoppers soon revived their fervor, since it was far worse than the earlier affliction.
In answer to their prayers the grasshoppers were at last lifted from their fields never to return.
Grasshopper plagues were not the only troubles that Father Vincent had. Everything was progressing well in Jacobs Prairie when the event that changed its future occurred. Michael Sargel built a brewery in Cold Spring. The brewery itself was all right, and Father Vincent, of good Krainer stock, would have been the last to condemn its products. The point at issue was that it wasn’t built at Jacobs Prairie.
In 1856 everything had looked well for the Prairie, but even then business men were saying that in the end a settlement at Cold Spring would develop faster. “The Prairie was good farm land but it was out of the path of big events. Cold Spring, on the other hand, was located on the Sauk River, and the mineral springs from which it took its name were a sure business opportunity from the start. The first warning of the changeover had come in 1862 with the opening of a store in Cold Spring.
Jacobs Prairie was sure to lose its position when in 1865 a flour mill was built on the Sauk River. Why the Benedictine Fathers decided to take up residence at St. James instead of at Cold Spring in 1873 is not definitely known. Perhaps the small number of Catholics in the growing city could have accounted for it. No doubt, however, the older missionary monks felt a special duty toward their firstborn. The firstborn, however, soon gravitated toward the source of great expectations, and the Benedictines followed them to Cold Spring.
According to the Rev. Ronald Roloff, O.S.B., in his articles on the St. John’s parishes, it seems that there was some tension over the matter.
It would appear that Father Vincent opposed the move to Cold Spring even after the inevitable became clear. The brewery, which was to put the seal upon Cold Spring’s predilection, was built in 1874, the very year that Father Vincent took up residence on the Prairie. Yet it was three years before a church was built in Cold Spring and four before the pastor moved there; and the end of Father Vincent’s tenure as pastor curiously coincided with the removal to Cold Spring. Perhaps this is merely coincidental; but it was not unlikely that Father Vincent preferred to remain with the quiet and solidly Catholic people of St. James rather than venture into the worldly atmosphere of the Sauk River town.
The Rev. Leo Winter, O.S.B., became the second resident pastor of St. James in 1877. He at once set about building a small chapel on a hill about a half mile east of Cold Spring, dedicated to Mary Help of Christians. Father Leo built it as an act of thanksgiving to God for the lifting of the grasshopper plague. It no doubt also served as an opening wedge for the movement into Cold Spring. The people of St. Nicholas were also able to make use of it. The pastor was to say Mass here every Saturday and a procession was to be held every year on August 15. Father Leo remained at the Prairie barely long enough to accomplish the move. Having arrived in May, 1877, he moved his residence to Cold Spring in the following January. Once more St. James was orphaned, and there were no services held there between January and October, 1878.
For the next twenty-seven years the little church on the prairie was to be cared for by Benedictine Fathers from the Abbey. Among those who served it were Fathers Bernard (later Abbot) Locnikar, Alphonse Kuisle, Ludger Ehrens, Stanislaus Preiser, Eugene Bode, Boniface Moll, Anthony Capser, Bernard (later Bishop and Vicar Apostolic of the Bahama Islands) Kevenhoerster, Leonard Kapsner, Anselm Ortmann, Lawrence Steinkogler, Agatho Gehret, and Bonaventure Hansen.
June 27, 1894, was another fateful day for the congregation. This time the visitation was in the form of a cyclone which destroyed the church entirely and did severe damage to some of the surrounding farms. The St. Cloud Times Weekly of July 6, 1894, records an on-the-spot account. It reads as if written the day following the event.
A furious cyclone swept through Stearns County last night at sunset. Through the Richmond, Cold Spring, Jacobs Prairie and St. John’s district. Leaving devastation in its great path. Houses, granaries, and barns are downed by the storm.
One man fatally and one seriously injured and one missing. Cattle and horses were killed and injured in great numbers. St. John’s Abbey is also struck by the destructive cyclone. All the buildings around the institution damaged.
The cyclone struck at 8:30 at Cold Spring. The chapel was completely wrecked. It was blown from the wall and one corner seemed to have plowed the ground about a foot and a half in depth. About two rods away of (sic) the chapel the walls were scattered among the trees. The lower part of the altar could not be found. Parts of the chapel were strewn down the hill and across the road.
St. James Church at Jacobs Prairie was blown down. The school remains. Winkels’ farm, all buildings were taken and Mr. Winkel is seriously hurt, and son John fatally. It is reported that the Danzl boy that stayed at Winkels’ is missing. The crops appear unhurt except for the corn.
Other damages were Webers’ excepting house (all buildings on the place where Edward Kollman now lives). Thielens’ new barn was moved five feet (where Raymond Froehle lives now). The Witzman granary and windmill destroyed (where Joseph Witzman lives now). Barthels’ barn (where Roman Hansen lives now) blown away, cattle in barn unhurt. The granary gone at Winkels’ place (now Matt A. Schreifels). John Schreifels’, some building gone (where Nicholas Huberty now lives).
The paper fails to mention the remarkable incident that occurred at the time of the cyclone. The members of the parish in those days, however, rejoiced in telling of this event with deep attachment and respect for the patron of the parish. The statue of St. James which Stood on the high altar was hurled from its pedestal but was not damaged. It was later replaced on the altar of the new church and regarded almost with the awe due a miraculous image. It appeared that the Lord had taken as good care of St. James as He had of the Blessed Virgin at Cold Spring.[3l] On this point the parishes were even.
Under an entry of June 29, the St. Cloud paper, in the same issue quoted above, summarizes the events which followed the storm. Assurance is given that the first report was a little too pessimistic, at least as far as the injured were concerned.
The injured men of Jacobs Prairie will recover. Danzl the missing man found. Winkel and his son John who were first reported as not expected to live will recover. The Danzl boy was found in the forenoon yesterday, he had his face and neck besmeared with blood and could hardly talk. He asked people where Winkels’ house was. He could not find it, and gave no account of himself whatever.
Considerably over two thousand bushels of wheat were brought into town yesterday by teams which had gone out to aid the afflicted farmers. The road from town to St. James was lined all day. Some hauling wheat, the others loaded with people from town and neighboring places. All the farmers will
No time was lost either in rebuilding the parish church. The Very Rev. Pancratius Maehren, O.S.B., at that time prior of St. John’s, rebuilt the church that same year. It was a frame structure with brick veneer, thirty-five by sixty-five feet. On December 2, Father Anthony Capser, O.S.B., held the first services and on the following October 17, when all had been completed, it was dedicated by the Rt. Rev. Peter Engel, O.S.B., fourth Abbot of St. John’s. The structure cost about $2,400.
During the pastorate of the Rev. Bernard Kevenhoerster, O.S.B., in 1898 a transept and “spacious” sanctuary with two sacristies, as well as a full basement were added. The parishioners were zealous, however, and the complete bill, $1,618.75, was paid in full by the time the work was completed. The following year the Rev. Leonard Kapsner, O.S.B., had the entire interior of the church redecorated in a simple but neat style. He also put a carpet in the sanctuary, donated by William A. Boerger, who was then teaching at Jacobs Prairie and later to be the Stearns County Superintendent of Schools.
The turn of the century saw the purchase of a new pulpit and the greatest celebration the parish had witnessed in its first fifty years, namely the First Solemn Mass of the Rev. James Hansen, O.S.B., the first native son of the parish to be raised to the priesthood. Everyone was on hand for the great occasion. Ten of his confreres joined in the festivities and Abbot Peter preached the sermon. At the end of the notice in the publication book of the
parish the sentiments of all were recorded with deep Catholic feeling: “TE DEUM LAUDAMU S.”
The Rev. Agatho Gehret, O.S.B., was appointed pastor in July, 1901. He made his home in the one room building adjoining the church, and took his meals with the teacher. During his pastorate of three years, six stained-glass windows were placed in the church, and some vestments were purchased. During the Jubilee year of the parish (fifty years since the first Mass), the Rev. Bonaventure Hansen, O.S.B., attended to the needs of St. James. The celebration of the Golden Anniversary was postponed to the next year to coincide with Father Pius Meinz’ First Solemn Mass. But the celebration was changed to St. Cloud, because the newly-ordained’s mother was living there. The Prairie, however, did not let the milestone pass without a fitting celebration on July 25, 1905.
The successor to Father Bonaventure, the Rev. Robert Wewers, O.S.B., came in August, 1905. He commuted to the parish from St. John’s for all the services as all the pastors were to do until April, 1930. When Father Robert arrived on the first day, he found that the ten year old church still lacked a complete set of stainedglass windows. Within the period of his five years at the parish he saw the completion of the setting-in of the windows. It was also during this time that more vestments were bought as well as statues of the Sacred Heart and the Blessed Virgin which were placed on the side altars. To complete the artistic furnishings of the Prairie church he purchased a small composition Christmas crib.
Even after the formation of the Cold Spring church, the people seemed determined to continue their parish life. They were supported in their endeavors by the pastors, although after the cyclone Abbot Peter had been reluctant to rebuild at St. James. Father Robert and his flock seemed determined to prove in 1908 that Jacobs Prairie was still a spot to be reckoned with. In that year the Most Rev. James Trobec, Bishop of St. Cloud, granted permission for the parish to be incorporated and a new parsonage built. The residence building was erected at the cost of $1,800, but it was not for Father Robert to make use of it. Two months before receiving a new assignment he brought his pastorate to a climax on June 26, 1910, with the First Mass celebration of the Rev. Polycarp Hansen, O.S.B. It was another great day for the parish, the greatest since his older brother, Father James, had been the happy celebrant nine years before. The labor and care with which the monks had worked to create a Catholic culture and community was now bearing fruit.
Between August and November, 1910, the parish was served by various priests from St. John’s. Abbot Peter then assigned the Rev. Julius Locnikar, O.S.B., to care for the parish. He did not live in the residence; since he served as assistant at Cold Spring during the week, he found it more convenient to stay there. He continued this policy even after he took on the additional burden
of the Rockville mission in 1912.
In the Fall of 1911 a grand bazaar was held on the church grounds of St. James to help cancel the $800 debt which remained on the parish house. When the last debris was cleared away, it was found that St. James was free of the financial burden. During the next ten years under Father Julius’ care there were several improvements made. A steam heating plant was installed in the church. The church was redecorated; a chime of three bells was placed in the tower; two side altars were constructed and the high altar was renovated, as were all the statues. A new set of stations was erected, and a number of new statues were purchased, among them a sepulchre and resurrection group. Some copes were obtained for the parish, in Europe, and by 1919 there was a new organ. It was during Father Julius’ pastorate also that the iron fence was placed around the cemetery, and in 1918 the basement was cleaned, painted, and prepared as a meeting place for the various parish societies. To Father Julius goes the credit of organizing the Jacobs Prairie Harmonia Band under the leadership of John Huss. The staging of the home talent plays also began about this time.
The peace of the Prairie was somewhat disturbed with the onset of World War I; but the trouble did not come so close to home as it had during the Civil War and the Indian uprisings. St. James, however, did have her men who gustily sang “The Yanks Are Coming” across the plains of France. August Winkel, Michael Mueller, Albert Kresbach, Victor Taufen, Peter M. Theisen, and John H. Theisen were among those who went to settle the strife in the land their ancestors had left.
The third division of the parish of St. James had come in 1911, when Bishop James Trobec, of St. Cloud, had placed fifty families under the jurisdiction of the newly founded Rockville parish. This reduced the mother parish of Wakefield township and vicinity to about fortyfive families, where it has remained for the most part to the present day. Concerning the state of affairs after this division, Father Julius commented:
The parish was never very large. It has always existed under adverse conditions . . . . Evidently there are enough churches in this section of the country, and no new parishes will be founded to the detriment of the ‘Jacobs Prairiers’.
Life remained quite normal on the Prairie for the next fifteen years. The Rev. Celestine Kapsuer, O.S.B., began coming to St. James from Cold Spring, where he had been appointed assistant pastor in September, 1921. But the work in Cold Spring was increasing so that just two years later he was relieved by the Rev. Paul Neussendorfer, O.S.B., who made his weekly trips from the abbey at Collegeville. Father Paul continued his work until September, 1926, when Father Hilary Doerfler, O.S.B., took over his job. The Reverends Odilo Kohler, O.S.B., and Sebastian Sis, O.S.B., followed Father Hilary as pastors in 1928 and 1929, respectively.
The pioneer parish on the Prairie had not seen the end of its troubles as yet. Disaster once more struck the small church on March 31, 1930. On this day the church, which had served the parish since the cyclone of 1894, was completely destroyed by fire of unknown origin. A great burden was thus placed upon the members of the parish. Were they to rebuild their church? The people responded with the faith and determination which had become synonymous with the name of Jacobs Prairie. During the early part of April they received permission from the Most Rev. Joseph F. Busch, Bishop of St. Cloud, to go ahead with their proposed plans. Father Sebastian, wishing to be on the scene during the construction, took up residence on the Prairie in the same month. In the work that followed the parishioners gave not only their money to the extent of $13,000, plus $10,000 of insurance, but their labor as well. During that spring and summer they erected the strikingly beautiful church which today serves the parish. It was built with stones and boulders, seamfaced granite, taken from the region, as Catholics had done for centuries in Europe. On July 28, 1931, Abbot Alcuin Deutsch, O.S.B., dedicated the new building. By the time Father Sebastian left in September, 1932, the parish with its resident pastor had regained its full prestige and self-respect. Not only was Jacobs Prairie the mother parish of St. Nicholas, Cold Spring, and Rockville, but it now had a stone church of its own which ranked with any in the Northwest for beauty of line and use of materials.
No sooner had Father Sebastian left than the Rev. Eugene Woerdehoff, O.S.B., came to take up residence in his place. He remained for a comparatively quiet seven years. In January, 1939, the Rev. Wendelin Luetmer, O.S.B., took over the reins. During the ten months of his pastorate he supervised John Pueringer, John DeWenter, and Edmund DeWenter in the repointing of the walls of the church and the waterproofing of the roof on the nine year old building. Father Wendelin also modernized the parish house by installing running water and a septic tank. Toward the end of that year Father Robert Wewers returned to his old parish to guide its people during his last days. After a few years death claimed him, and in January, 1943, the Rev. Meinrad Seifermann, O.S.B., became resident pastor. It was Father Meinrad who erected the cross on the church tower and installed an oil burner to heat the building. The parish joined with the aging monk in the celebration of the Golden Jubilee of his ordination in the summer of 1949. He retired to the abbey the following year because of ill health and died there in 1952.
The Rev. Anthony Ronellenfitsch, O.S.B., replaced Father Meinrad in 1950 and began to make preparations for the approaching centennial. Under his guidance the land in the cemetery was leveled, grass was planted, and the oil burner was restored to working condition. He also began the redecoration of the interior of the church. In 1952 he was replaced because of his declining health by the Rev. Michael Marx, O.S.B., Father Michael served the parish from St. John’s where he taught Dogmatic theology in the St. John’s Seminary. The Rev. Matthew Kiess, O.S.B., was named to the parish in the summer of 1953. It was left to Father Matthew to make the final arrangements for the celebration of the centennial and to guide the oldest parish of the St. Cloud diocese, this side of the Mississippi, through its one hundreth year.