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The Flying Priest


On this day in 1940, The Bismarck Tribune announced that Father Robert Victor Long was celebrating his 25th anniversary of becoming a Catholic priest. Father Long was born in 1888 in Wisconsin. His family moved to Jud, ND when he was 13. He was ordained in 1915 and was assigned to St. James Catholic Church in Jamestown. A year later he was assigned to Transfiguration Catholic Church in Edgeley.

However, he served more than the people of Edgeley. He was also the mission priest to Ashley, Ellendale, Fullerton, Forbes, Gackle, Jud, Kulm, Monango, and Nortonville. That meant he was responsible for all Catholics in a 2,500 square mile territory. He served a larger area than any other priest in the Fargo diocese. When he first arrived in Edgeley he traveled to his parishes by walking, riding a horse, or driving a Model-T.

Father Long decided that the easiest way to travel around this large territory was by airplane. In 1934 he purchased a Curtiss Wright Jr. airplane from Carl Wilke. Mr. Wilke, who was one of the first people to own an airplane in LaMoure County, also taught Father Long how to fly. However, four years later, in 1938, Father Long sold the airplane and went back to driving a car.

In 1940 his territory contained about 900 Catholics. He appears to have been well esteemed by his community. In 1935, for his twentieth anniversary of being a priest, members from all of his churches pitched in to buy him a $100 watch. This was a valuable and expensive gift to receive during the Great Depression.

In 1937 he purchased a bell for his Edgeley Church. The bell is inscribed with the Latin phrase Vox Dominit in Virtute, which means “the voice of the Lord in power.” Father Long attended to this widespread flock until retirement in 1950. He died soon afterwards. 

Father Long was not the first or last priest to use an airplane to evangelize. In 1964 the National Association of Priest Pilots was founded. The association promotes the use of private airplanes for apostolic work and promotes aviation in the cause of the Catholic Church. 

Dakota Datebook by Trista Raezer-Stursa


Author Unknown, “News of North Dakota,” The Hope Pioneer, Hope, ND. June 13, 1935, pg. 6.

Author Unknown. “Father Long Will Mark Anniversary,” The Bismarck Tribune, Bismarck, ND. May 29, 1940, pg. 3.

Edgeley, North Dakota. My Town – My People: 1887-1962, The Kulm Messenger: Kulm, ND, 1962.

National Association of Priest Pilots https://priestpilots.org/ 

Transfiguration Catholic Church, Edgeley, ND https://www.edgeley.com/?SEC=8D84F54B-25EA-43D6-B962-1EFE5AE8D85B 

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