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Warsaw woman has been giving tours of Cathedral on the Prairie for 33 years

WARSAW, N.D. — If little else remains in some of the tiny towns that dot the landscape of rural North Dakota, the churches still stand tall as a monument to the strong faith of the people who first settled there.

The double steeples of St. Stanislaus Catholic Church in Warsaw seemed to reach for the clouds on a recent fall day as workers scaled the church to repair damages from a previous windstorm.

The church is 116 years old and is on the National Historic Registry.

The Rev. Brian Moen says it's the many people from the surrounding small communities who keep the parish alive.

"What makes the church so iconic and beautiful is that the Polish people at the time, their faith was so strong and important to them, they mortgaged all their land to build the church and then spent the rest of their lives paying for it," he said.

Irene Duray lives across the street from the church. She was baptized and confirmed there and for years now, has been its unofficial historian and tour guide.

"Somebody asked me once how many people live in Warsaw, and I said, 'You want the dead or the live?' " she said with a chuckle. "Because there are a lot more in the cemetery."

Even so, the town grows for at least an hour each Sunday when people come from miles around to pray in the ornately decorated church.

Duray says she has given dozens of tours over the years — the largest, a group of 152 people visiting from Norway.

She said people sometimes even show up unannounced.

"Anybody who goes down Interstate 29 sees the sign for Warsaw," she said. "They know that's from Poland, so they have to stop and see it."

For 33 years, Duray has been helping the church.

"If I can help them, I help," she said. "I even sell cookbooks and everything."

Tip: The 1975 cookbook is the biggest seller.