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January 25: Memorial to Father Jerome

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Mathias Hunt was born in Germany in 1848. He immigrated to America as a teenager, entered the Benedictine monastery in Indiana soon after, and became a priest by 1872. Best known as Father Jerome, he moved to Dakota Territory in 1877 and began working as a missionary at the Standing Rock Reservation. Eventually, in 1883, he traveled to the Mission of St. Michael’s on the Fort Totten Reservation.

When he arrived in Fort Totten, Father Jerome took charge of a boys’ school that had been cared for previously by the Grey Nuns of Montreal. Nuns continued to care for the girls’ school, until it burned down. At that point, Father Jerome provided his own house for their school as well as for the nuns’ home until a new school could be built.

Father Jerome also translated hymns and biblical text into Native American languages. Some copies of these translations are now housed at the State Historical Society of North Dakota.

Father Jerome’s work must be seen within the context of the assimilation efforts imposed on Native Americans. It was a regular practice back then, yet the many interesting and complicated stories about Father Jerome indicate he was an interesting character who gained the affection of those he worked with, including Native Americans.

Father Jerome died on the first of January in 1924 at age 75. On this date, the Benson County Farmer reported on a movement to establish a permanent memorial over Father Jerome’s. The article noted that Father Jerome was averse to dancing, so out of respect for his belief, an idea of holding dances to raise money for the monument would likely be shelved.

Regardless of that obstacle, the necessary funds were still raised! Three years later, in September 1927, newspapers published articles in Father Jerome’s honor as his memorial was realized. Reportedly more than a thousand people, both Native Americans and white settlers, attended the memorial events, which included a high Mass at the old mission preached by Father Ambrose in the Sioux language; a picnic; and visits to the monument, situated on Burtness highway, about three miles from Fort Totten.

Dakota Datebook by Sarah Walker

Sources:

  • Benson County Farmers Press, Friday, January 25, 1924, p1
  • Beulah Independent, September 15, 1927, p2 (autobiography)
  • Beulah Independent, September 22, 1927, p6

Dakota Datebook is made in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, and funded by Humanities North Dakota, a nonprofit, independent state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the program do not necessarily reflect those of Humanities North Dakota or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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