One Hundred Years JACOBS PRAIRIE
When a true evaluation is made of the growth of the Catholic Church in the United States, it will be to enclaves like the settlements in the Sank river valley that serious students will turn. It will be there that Catholic communities, deep in faith and family culture, free on the land, will stand forth as permanent carriers of the life of Christ in modern society. Studded like gems around their parish churches, whose steeples raise the Cross across the sky of central Minnesota, these Catholic families bear witness to the power of grace in our times.
Such a parish is that of Jacobs Prairie. When the first permanent settlements of Minnesota began in earnest in the early 1850’s, German Catholic immigrants were in the forefront. They followed the waterways of the upper midwest out into tile rich, wooded farm lands of the Sank valley. Among their early blessings, the first Holy Masses and spiritual care of the venerable Indian missionary, Father Francis Xavier Pierz, stand forth. He not only cared, as he could, for those who had arrived, but he even invited more to come. Moreover, he took steps to encourage Bishop Joseph Cretin to bring addition priests into the region to supply stable spiritual care. Sons of St. Benedict, from the new and vigorous American branch of the Church’s oldest religious order, answered this call. These pioneer Benedictines of the West began at once to repeat in the new world those age-old missionizing and educational methods of worship and work which had once Christianized Europe. They built their stable monastic family of St. John’s, began the first Minnesota Catholic seminary and college at Collegeville, while at the same time working to preserve the faith of the Catholic immigrants in new parish families throughout the entire region.
St. James Parish was among their first parish efforts, and has been served by Benedictines from St. John’s continually since that time. The faith of the people of Jacobs Prairie, their love and obedience to the Holy Father, their Bishops and Pastors, as well as their deep reverence and observance of the full liturgical life of the Church, will ever remain a source of grateful thanksgiving to God. Though not among the largest or more heralded parishes in the American Church history, the spiritual graces and virtues which have spread out from the Prairie cannot but loom large in eternal values which never fade. In God’s providence there may be other centennials at Jacobs Prairie. If future sons and daughters of St. James continue the courageous spirit of their founders, God’s glory will surely shine forth in all things. For a glance back across the first hundred years of the life of the Church at Jacobs Prairie confirms anew the words of our Lord that His Church will prevail until the end of time.
Colman J. Barry, O.S.B.
St. John’s Abbey