of Beach, Golva, and Medora, North Dakota
Tri-Parish Catholic Churches
History of the Area Catholic Churches
Catholic Churches from South West North Dakota
Stories of Beach Medora Golva Burkey Sentinel Butte
By Jack Cook
Information to present this history was found in the St. John’s Golden Jubilee pamphlet of 1959, The St John Parish Directory 1983, The Tri-Parish family directory of 2006, and the Golden Valley
Pioneers, Sentinel Butte Bicentennial Committee, Copyright 1976, and copies of the Golden Valley News.
Because Medora has such a picturesque history, a great deal is known about its Catholic beginnings. Medora was founded by the French Marquis de Mores. Within a few months,
the town grew to about 250 residents. Father Martin Schmitt said Mass in a hotel that summer. By the fall of 1884, there was a nice little church for services in Medora. The
church, erected by Medora von Hoffman, the wife of the Marquis, was 24 foot by 50 foot, a simple building with four Gothic windows on each side.
Several priests from the Dickinson and Beach area served the parish until 1919. At that time, Father
Theodore Roessler of Belfield took over responsibility of the parish and served until 1937. Since then,
Medora has been a mission of several other surrounding parishes. St. Mary's remains one of the most
interesting monuments of its kind. The de Mores gave the church to the Diocese of Bismarck in 1920.
In 1936, the State Historical Society and the Park Service restored the church's deteriorating external
Thousands of visitors travel to the tourist town of Medora every summer. Many of them, being
Catholic, need a place to go to Mass. Since 1984, Mass has been held at the town hall during the
summer to accommodate the tourists because the church is so small. During the winter, Mass was
celebrated the first Saturday of each month. In 2007, the 15 families of the parish committed to
address the exterior brickwork of the church, which was in need of repair. No Masses were celebrated
starting in the winter of 2010-11 during the winter months but resumes on Saturday’s for the summer
months for the tourists. Restoration of St. Mary's exterior brickwork was completed in 2008. The
members of St. Mary's continue to care for their little church in Medora.
Father Michael Irenaeus Lack was designated his successor as pastor of Burkey and Alpha in a letter appointment addressed to him at Richardton. N. Dak. by Bishop Vincent
decision to him a few days earlier than the written confirmation of the assignment. Father Lack arrived at the Burkey parsonage about Oct. 21, 1916. In the year 1921, the
Catholic Church was moved to Golva and a new parsonage was built. The first parsonage that the priests lived in at Burkey now sets 3 miles north from Carlyle, where the Virts
and Lindstrom families lived. It is at the present time vacant.
Father Lack still took care of the needs of the Alpha parish until his retirement; and could no longer take care of Alpha or the Golva Parishes. Father Edwin Volk has been given
the honor of the building of the new church. The cornerstone for the new church building was laid in 1966 and dedicated in 1968, with the men of the parish volunteering their
labor, to keep costs down. And the old church was dismantled, as it was very old and falling apart and in very badly need of repairs, thus now we have a larger parking area
with about 70 parishioner families attending. It is a very lovely church consisting of a seating capacity of 200, classrooms for religious instructions once a week and a large
dining room with a very roomy kitchen.
Many of the old statues have been renovated from the old church and placed back in the new church. The Church still stands at Alpha but there are no longer any services
held. We love our church facilities as the elder people can come and go without climbing any stairs as it is all ground level.
On the Sunday designated for Mass in the Alpha School house, a small group of Catholics arrived at the school well ahead of the scheduled Mass time to prepare the teacher's
desk to serve as an Altar and to make the other arrangements for Mass. The school house seemed small so the parishioners undertook the building of a church. Toward the
end of April 1915, Father Mathias Minixhofer was transferred to the south western sector of the Diocese and Father Karl Hierlmeier was appointed to succeed him as pastor of
Burkey and Alpha. He served the Mission station of Alpha from Burkey until he in turn was transferred else-where on Oct. 12, 1916.
Consequently, he consented to say Mass Aug. 5, 1912, he said Mass for the
first time in the Alpha area at the home of Samuel L. White. On this occasion,
Samuel White and Louis Fasching were appointed to serve as trustees of the
Mission Station until Dec. 31, 1919.
accommodate the large number of people who were eager to take advantage of
It was soon obvious that the home of Samuel White could not possibly this
convenience of having Mass in their own community. It appeared advisable to
request permission for the use of the Alpha School house for the purpose.
    The Catholics of the Alpha Territory attended religious services at St. Mary's Catholic Church, Burkey, North Dakota miles or
    more to attend Sunday Mass, and as they neared the Church, they joined in almost a caravan-like group. On their return
    trek homeward they appeased their hunger, especially when they had been fasting for Holy Communion, with a few dry
    sandwiches they had brought with them. They would stop at a creek to wash them down with a few gulps of water taken
    Gideon fashion. For them the Scripture passage; "They drank of the stream along their way,"  had a very  realistic meaning.
    In view of the difficulties and hardships involved in attending Mass under these circumstances especially trying for the
    women and children who were not accustomed to such travel conditions and methods, the man of the Alpha territory called a
    meeting in early June of 1912, to consider the possibility of engaging the service of a priest. A representative group
    approached the pastor at Burkey, Father Mathias Minixhofer, and requested that he say Mass at Alpha, at least
    occasionally. Father Minixhofer fully realized and appreciated the conditions under which his Alpha parishioners were
    attending Mass and considered their approach a reasonable one.
Construction on the new church was begun in May of 1965 and St Michael’s Catholic Church in Sentinel Butte was dedicated in 1966. Volunteers moved the pews and furnishings from
the old church and cooperated with help wherever it was needed. Mass was offered for the first time in the new St. Michael’s Church on Friday February. 4, 1966. Final services of the
Catholic Church of St. Michael of Sentinel Butte were held Sunday, October 2, 1994 with Bishop John Kinney and Father Jerry Schommer officiating. At the time of this writing no one
was available to explain to me why the Church was closed. It was explained that many parishioners felt very hurt at the closure and were never given satisfactory answers as to why it
needed to be closed. As I have seen the church now, it has become a storage shed for Home on the Range.
Office and School furniture furnished pews for $270.00, and a bell was purchased from old St. John's Church, Beach, for $50.00. C. J. England of Sentinel Butte sold the furnace to the
congregation for $285.00. The work was completed by early fall and on October 10, 1915, Bishop Vincent Wehrle dedicated the new church with the assistance of Father G.
Schollenberger of Stearns County. Minnesota, Rev. Stanislaus Cieslewicz, Wibaux, Montana, Rev. Carl Hierlmeier, pastor of the new congregation at Burkey, N.D., and Rev. Justus
Father William F. Hake. St. Michael became a full parish in its own right when it received its first resident pastor in the year 1948, with the arrival of Father Laurence Talty.
Father Wolpers was to be met from the penny collection taken up on his monthly visits. On September 8, 1914, the congregation was officially incorporated under the title, "Church of
St. Michael." with Rt. Rev. Vincent Wehrle, O.S.B., Bishop of Bismarck, as its president. As time went on it became apparent that a more suitable and larger building would be needed
for the Catholic Services and in 1915 it was decided at a spring meeting to proceed with the building of a church. The Ladies Altar Society initiated the project by raising S40.00 to
purchase a 3-acre tract of land from Mrs. Gilbert for a cemetery, and this was the first property owned in the name of the new congregation. Charles McCloskey and G. F. McCloskey
each donated a half block of land for the church site. A building committee was appointed consisting of John Jordan,
E. R. Kennedy. T. J. Cassiday, Mike B. Lardy and J. P. McDonald. A. J. Weyenberger of Beach was engaged to draw up the plans and the contract was let according to the plans and
specifications drawn up by him at an estimate of $2,479.00 It is noted in the minutes that the basic contract price exceeded the estimate by $341.00 because of some changes and
additions to the original specifications. Members of the congregation excavated the site, hauled rock and materials for the foundation, and contributed labor to the project.
Rev. Karl Hierlmeier replaced Father Vanden at Beach in 1909, but there is no
record Heuvel of visits to by Father Otto Wolpers in 1910, and in July of 1911
services were resumed at Sentinel Butte, the Town Opera House having been
offered by its owners as a Mass site. Charles McCloskey constructed the altar
used for these services. Immediately after the first Mass offered by Father
Wolpers in Sentinel Butte a meeting was held to discuss the possibility of
forming an official congregation or parish of the Catholics in the area.
A number of Catholic families had moved into the vicinity from Stearns County,
Minnesota, and it was felt that the outlook for a permanent congregation looked
far more hopeful than it had daring the years when Father Dignam and Father
Vanden Heuvel visited the town. Mr. Charles McCloskey and Mr. Paul Charliboe
were appointed trustees of the temporary congregation and Father Wolpers
agreed to hold services in Sentinel Butte on one Tuesday of each month.

The first Catholic services held in Sentinel Butte were conducted by Father John W. Dignam of St. Patrick's Church, Dickinson, who visited the town occasionally and offered Mass in
a room over John J. Hartley's store, later owned by Jay W. Brown. Father Dignam included Sentinel Butte in the circuit of mission stops he made through southeastern North Dakota
beginning in 1905. Several years later his work in the area was taken over by Father A. J. Vanden Heuvel, the first resident pastor of Beach. Eventually these visits to Sentinel Butte
were discontinued "owing to the newness of the country and the lack of worshippers," according to the notation in the Minute Book of St. Michael's.
organist at the ceremony. By December 12, 1913, the Church was completely enclosed with the exception of the belfry and the steeple which were not yet erected. The first mass
that was said in the church was on Easter Sunday, 1914. In April, 1919, Father William Fred Hake came to St. John's Church as pastor. He served in that capacity until his death in
November, 1950. In January, 1951, Msgr. John J. Heinz became pastor of St. Johns. He served until his death on October 23, 1956. He was followed by Rev. Gerard Finnegan, who,
in turn, was followed by Father Thomas Knopik on September 1, 1970.
The older parishioners, many of whom were in his first communion and confirmation classes. Father Wolpers held catechism classes in
both English and German and is credited with the building of the new Church. The work of excavating for the basement and foundation of
the new and present Church began in August of 1913. The brick used in the Church was of three types and was obtained from the North
Dakota Pressed Brick Company, Dickinson, North Dakota. E. J. Donohue of St. Paul was engaged as the architect and the contract was
let to P. O. Nasvik of St. Paul, who hired some local labor.
The laying of the cornerstone occurred on September 26, 1913, with three Masses being said in the old Church — Father Wolpers, 7 a.
m., Bishop Wehrle. 8 a.m., and Rev. Father Bernard of Richardton celebrating High Mass at 10 a.m. In the afternoon the congregation
gathered at the old Church and formed a procession headed by Martin McCarthy, bearing the Cross, followed by the Altar boys, children,
women, men, Clergy, and Knights of Columbus. The procession led to the new building where Bishop Wehrle blessed the cornerstone
and gave the address in English. Then an address in the Polish language was given by Rev. Father Cieslewicz of Wibaux.
In August 1909 Father A. J. Vanden Heuvel was replaced by Father Karl Hierlmeier who remained here about one year. He had many
missions to serve, so Mass in first catechism classes remembered. Only a few of the children in this newly established parish had ever
attended any religious instruction. It was seldom that any Sisters could be obtained to instruct the children in those early days, so the task
of instructing the children in religion was a difficult one.
The area of St. John's Parish, in the extreme western part of North Dakota, was opened to homestead claims in
German Catholic Golden Valley Land Company with W. H. Hunk as agent at Burkey, North Dakota, the
southern part of our valley was largely settled by German and Polish from Minnesota and Wisconsin. The
Historical Record of the diocese gives the Catholic population as Irish, German, Polish, and a few Bohemians.
When Father John Dignam took charge of St. Patrick's Church in Dickinson, August 26, 1903, his parish
extended as far west as the Montana-Dakota State line. St. John's Church was incorporated September 5,
1906, and was dedicated by Bishop Shanley, August 26, 1906.
It was built on the northeast corner of Block 5 on Lots 11 and 12. The original town site and the property was
transferred from Bishop Shanley to St. John's Church, December 26, 1906. Father Dignam held services in
Beach as early as 1904 and served the mission until April 1908; however, no records were kept at the time.
The Rev. Father A. J. Vanden Heuvel became the first resident pastor in April 1908. Because he served
several missions, Mass was said in Beach on the second and fourth Sundays of each month.  There was no
rectory at that time. An item from the Beach Advance, May 22,1908, read: . . . "At a meeting held last Sunday at
St. John's Church, nearly $1,200.00 was subscribed for the building of a priest's residence at Beach."
St. John The Baptist Parish