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Catholic Church marks 200 years in ND

The Catholic Church will be celebrating its 200th year in the Midwest in September.

The Most Rev. John Folda, bishop of Fargo, will celebrate a 3 p.m. Sept. 9 Mass at Assumption Catholic Church in Pembina, N.D., to mark the anniversary. A French missionary established a church and school in Pembina 1818 when it was still an unorganized territory controlled by the Hudson Bay Co. of Canada, and is considered to be the first permanent presence of the church in the Midwest.

"The courage and faith of the first settlers at Assumption Church in Pembina should be an inspiration to us today, as we carry on the heritage of faith left to us and pass it along to our children and grandchildren," Folda said. "God's grace has spread out in many directions from Assumption Parish, and we pray for his continued blessing on the faithful and their families."

Archbishop Albert LeGatt of the St. Boniface archdiocese in Manitoba, the Most Rev. David Kagan, bishop of the Bismarck diocese, and bishops from dioceses across the Midwest were also invited including Crookston, Rapid City and Sioux Falls.

The celebration is about how the church has grown here and a chance to acknowledge the work of many committed Catholic Christians, said Monsignor Jeffrey Wald of St. James Basilica in Jamestown. The Pembina church was the very beginning of the church in the Northern Plains, he said.

"It's not really just about North Dakota but about 200 years of the Catholic Church across the entire northern Midwest," Wald said.

The Pembina mission served Chippewa Indians, Métis trappers and traders, according to the Frontier Era of North Dakota, published online by the State Historical Society of North Dakota.

The priest, Severe Dumoulin, reported serving 300 Catholics and 60 students, according to Paul Braun's article in the June issue of New Earth, the magazine of the Diocese of Fargo.

Dumoulin left for Canada once the new national boundaries placed Pembina on the U.S. side of the border, according to the State Historical Society. The Pembina church was later destroyed by cannonfire during an armed conflict.

The Rev. George Belcourt came to the Pembina area in 1848 and built St. Joseph's Catholic Church at Walhalla, N.D., when it was still part of the Minnesota territory. In 1873, the church and school were moved to Leroy, N.D.

"He's the one who really got things started," Wald said of Belcourt as a pioneer priest.

Those early missionaries brought people together not only to worship but to support each other, he said.

"The priests traveled to the far reaches of the territory at a time when traveling was long and difficult," he said. "It was not like today when priests can hop into a car."

The Jamestown diocese formed 129 years ago in 1889 and remained there until Bishop John Shanley moved it to Fargo in 1897, he said. The railroad links there were more convenient for his frequent speaking engagements in communities around the region, he said.

"Jamestown had an important role in the beginning with forming the original See of North Dakota," Wald said. "It was certainly established with the great support of the community."

The basilica in Jamestown is now 104 years old, he said. The Sisters of St. Joseph opened a boarding school for women and operated St. John's Academy, now 125 years old, was established by Bishop Shanley, he said.

The Bismarck diocese was established in 1909, he said.

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