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A Shrine in New England


Before 1910, New England's Catholic settlers were served by Father John Dignan of Dickinson and missionary Abbot Vincent Wehrle, who would occasionally travel to the area. Father Regensberger, the first resident priest, also established a frame church, and preached in German and English both, to satisfy the needs of his congregants.

Eventually, Father Jospeh Poettgens was established in New England. He was a strong believer of religious education, and so when W.C. McKenzie sold a department store and hotel there, the parish purchased the building for $8000. The School Sisters of Notre Dame from Our Lady of Good Counsel provincial house in Mankato, MN, came to New England to establish the building as a school.

The parishioners added to the original frame church under Poettgens tenure as priest. Aided in part by the artistic work of Sister Mary Catherine Becker, two side altars were added, one of rose quartz and one of blue quartz. They also added a shrine, made mainly of local stone and petrified wood.

On this date in 1934, the sisters of St. Mary's High School were hard at work building that shrine, which they worked on in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary. They had been at this job for the past five years.

According to the Bismarck Capital, which reported on the progress of this building, the sisters had received their inspiration for the shrine from the Reverend P. M. Dobberstein, who had built the "Grotto of the Redemption" in West Bend, Iowa. He had visited the area and "secured their assistance in getting three carloads of petrified wood from the Badlands for his celebrated work of art."

The New England shrine was already composed of "Huge slabs of petrified wood, 'canon balls' from the Cannon Ball river, scoria in various hues, and strange rock formations of various kinds." Even before it was finished, hundreds of "tourists" of all sorts came to visit the shrine's progress.

Over the years, several other outdoor altars were also constructed out of stone, which were used for special processions, such as Corpus Christi and Rogation Days.

The buildings served as a testament to all early settlers, their faith and trust and love of their land, and the strengthening spirits in North Dakota.

Dakota Datebook written by Sarah Walker


Bismarck Capital, April 19, 1934

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