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Pioneer Priest


When Dakota Territory became North and South Dakota in 1889, the Catholic Church split the Vicariate of Dakota into two dioceses, Sioux Falls and Jamestown. In 1899, Father Vincent Wehrle and a few monks began monastic life at Richardton, North Dakota. The new monastery was called St. Mary’s Priory. By 1900, the Priory had added St. Mary’s College. The college offered class for men and boys, educating both lay students and seminarians.

The monastery was raised to the rank of an abbey in 1903 and Wehrle was named its first Abbot. Six years of construction added a residence, a new wing on the school, and the abbey church. The first service in the church was Christmas Eve, 1908. Other buildings were added including a laundry, shops, a dormitory and a print shop for the presses of Der Volkesfreund, a German-language weekly newspaper, which the monks began in 1907. These structures were built of brinks fired in the monastery’s own kilns. The monks staffed the abbey, the college, and the farm. They also homesteaded, hoping that increased income from agriculture would help the abbey retire its debts.

On this date in 1936, Father Bonaventure Goebel celebrated his golden jubilee as a priest. Father Goebel was the oldest member of Assumption Abbey at the time, and was also the longest serving priest. Born in Indiana, he entered the novitiate in 1883. He was ordained and celebrated his first Mass on June 20, 1886. With a desire to minister to those on the frontier, he ventured out to North Dakota. He served as assistant to Father Vincent Wehrle at Devil’s Lake, then joined Wehrle at Richardton for the beginning of Assumption Abbey. That began Goebel’s association with the Bismarck diocese.

Ministering to the scattered Catholics on the frontier was a challenge. Father Goebel traveled by rail, by buggy, on horseback, and on foot. He served the surrounding parishes on Sundays and taught at St. Mary’s College during the week. He was responsible for building the first churches at Hazelton and St. Joseph. He also served as the chaplain for the Bismarck hospital and the chancellor of the Bismarck diocese.

Father Bonaventure Goebel passed away at the age of 83 in January of 1941, his grave marked by a simple stone in the Assumption Abby Cemetery.

Dakota Datebook Written by Carole Butcher


Fargo Forum and Daily Republican. “Pioneer Priest Marks Jubilee.” 21 April, 1936.

Assumption Abbey. "http://www.assumptionabbey.com/page49.html" http://www.assumptionabbey.com/page49.html Accessed 8 March, 2016.