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Home on the Range for Boys


It was on this date in 1959 that a Catholic priest named Elwood Cassedy died in Beach, ND, at the age of 51. He was the founder of the Home on the Range for Boys near Sentinel Butte.

Cassedy was born in Jersey City, NJ, on April 9th, 1908. After graduating from St. Patrick’s Grammar School, he went to high school, but he was forced to drop out so he could help support his family. He found a job on Wall Street, working as a messenger for the Equitable Trust Company. He worked his way up to page, and then to junior bank teller, while also going to night school. Finally, at age 23, he got his high school diploma and enrolled at Notre Dame.

Cassedy was 30 years old by the time he graduated from college. Taking the name Walter, he became a brother with the Order of the Holy Cross and was assigned teaching jobs at the Gibault School for Boys in Indiana and the St. Charles Boys’ Home in Wisconsin.

A few years later, Brother Cassedy entered the St. Paul Seminary in Minnesota. He accepted a call in 1944 to Bismarck, where Bishop Ryan ordained him as a priest. Father Cassedy was given charge of three widely separated missions in the tows of Wing, Menoken and Driscoll.

Having seen the value of fostering troubled youth, Cassedy had a dream of creating a ranch where delinquent and homeless boys could be housed and taught a useful trade. His belief was that there were no bad boys – all they needed were guidance and better opportunities.

In 1949, Father Cassedy shared his vision during an Eagles Convention in Deadwood, SD. The Eagles decided to help and appointed a committee to help raise money. They also “passed the hat,” and the $123 they collected became the seed money for the “Home on the Range for Boys.”

Out near Sentinel Butte, Belgian immigrants Edward and Emma Lievens, read about Father Cassedy’s dream in the Bismarck Tribune. They were nearing retirement and decided to deed their land – more than 900 acres – to Father Cassedy for his project. Bishop Ryan released Fr. Cassedy from his parish assignments, and the priest hit the road to raise money across North Dakota, as well as his home state of New Jersey.

By January, the Bismarck Eagles raised $5,000 toward a dormitory. Fr. Cassedy traveled to Father Flanagan’s Boys’ Home in Nebraska, to learn all he could from Monsignor Wegner, the director. Back on the ranch, a granary was remodeled, and on July 28th, 1950, Fr. Cassedy moved into it with his first three boys: Eddie Schwartz, Leonard Schwartz, and Harvey Gifford.

By the time Fr. Cassedy wrote his first Christmas letter on behalf of Home on the Range, excavation had begun for a dormitory for as many as 35 boys. In his letter, Cassedy mentioned donations they had received, including 43 head of cattle, 20 calves, 62 chickens, 7 pigs, 22 rabbits, 9 horses, and 5 dogs.

Father Cassedy suffered a serious heart attack just seven years after he founded Home on the Range; he was only 49, and he spent the next two years recuperating in New Jersey.

Father Cassedy returned to Sentinel Butte on October 1st, 1959, where he wrote his annual Christmas letter. Two weeks later, he had another heart attack. This one was fatal. He was buried on top of a hill overlooking the ranch. It was one of his favorite places to pray.

Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm