Restoring the Prairie Church
The Following Excerpts are taken from “The Life and Memoirs” of Rev. C.F.X. Goldsmith. The Late Pastor of Notre Dame, Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin.
The first Mass celebrated in the Edson area was in 1869.
“A little over fourteen years ago I held my first mission for the Catholic’s, numbering about eleven families in the Town of Edson. This was to me a memorable trip. Leaving home at eight o’clock in the morning by my conveyance, a lumbering ox team, I passed Stillson’s old place then known as Bateman’s Mill, on Paint Creek, and from there the way led across the prairie. Here we were surprised and entertained by five sprightly and beautiful deer, who startled by the creaking of our old ox wagon, ran before us to their woodland shelter, which they entered a little beyond the spot where Mr. Lancourt’s pleasant home now stands. I remember how I left the wagon (in fact, I had walked most of the way, roaming a little way into the woods here and there) and quenched my thirst at beautiful spring spouting from under the roots of a gigantic birch, now, alas, cut down. This spring’s on the property of Mr. Lancourt and bubble up from silvery, sandy ground, forming a creek of limpid, icy water, It is one of the most beautiful of the old, natural land-marks in the country. I reached Pinter’s log house in the Town of Edson that night at about 11 P.M., walking most the way. Indeed, I enjoyed walking better than the lumbering, lazy gait of our quiet, patient oxen, which the driver continually belabored and continually urged forward with a cluck-cluck similar to the endearing tones of a hen to her chickens.
Well I was, indeed, weary, and glad to stretch my body for sleep upon an old-fashioned straw tick. The house had two rooms; one was the best room or guest chamber and of course, was duly placed at the disposal of the priest. The other was the general living room, eating room and assembly chamber, in which was prepared my meal of sauerkraut and “speck.” (Not mine only, but also that of the eleven families who came there to worship God.) Hospitality in those days was real, natural, unaffected simplicity. Indeed, these warm-hearted people were generous and truly hospitable, In the morning the busy hands of these active, pious German women soon converted the spare room into a modest, little chapel, into which about half the congregation thronged, the others remaining in the outer room, reverently bowed down in worship, and like the poor publican, stood afar off, and with truly contrite hearts uttered his self-same prayer, “Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner.”
“A few days ago I dedicated a church twenty miles from here, to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. A few families from Bavaria located there seven years ago; they were poor, German immigrants, but they hoped to find bread for their children and they were not deceived. The soil was fruitful through before they could till it hey had to cut down the forest. The number of families grew to twelve; they helped each other, and last year determined to build a church. It is made of hewn timber, the cracks are filled with moss; the inside is plastered white and is neat and clean. I dedicated it; they had a High Mass, the first in the country. An old man of seventy, who had been an altar boy in Germany, served me at Mass. “Heir liegt vor Deiner Majestat” was sung, true, not according to Witt, but well meant, and with moist eyes they united in the closing hymn. “Grosser Gott.” I preached to the good people on the love of the Sacred Heart which they had just received , as the whole assembly had gone to Holy Communion; with tears and sighs they promised to remain true to their faith, and in their solitude to seek comfort and encouragement of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. On Sundays and holy days they assembled in their little church to recite the rosary and surely they shall not be in vain before the Sacred heart of Jesus for a priest. As for me, I can visit them but seldom in the year, on account of my various works.
“Subsequently I built a chapel of hewn logs twenty by thirty, on the same site where the church now stands. Two worthy and kind-hearted farmers, John Rauecker and Alex Patten, donated six acres of land; the other members of the congregation cheerfully performed the manual labor. This chapel soon became too small to accommodate the faithful of the increasing settlement and an addition thirty by fifty, was built, and was dedicated by Archbishop Heiss in 1879. To this was recently added a steeple which completed the mission church at Edson as it now stands. It is in charge of my former curate, Rev. H Untraut, a most worthy and energetic young priest.”
1883“On Monday, the 11th of June, delegated by the Bishop, I blessed a new bell there. The young men, of their own free will, paid for it. The sweet toned bell would be a credit to any church. Despite the rain incessantly failing, there was a large gathering of people from far and near in the neatly-decorated church at 3 P.M. Having performed the ceremony, I preached from the ancient monastic rhyme you can find quoted in your “Longfellow” Vivos voce” (I call the living),”Mortuous planto” (I bemoan the dead) “Festa panga” (I announce joys), “Fulgura Frango” (I avert dangers).
The generous spirit of the people asserted itself by a collection a large amount to aid in completing the priests’ house, now building. Aside from the song of the birds and the humming of the insects, the only sound on prairie and wood which years ago, when going to Edson, struck my ear was the ring of the cowbells. The industrious farmers there, remembering the bells of other days-the bells of their native city or village, whose music will sound on their ears and re-echo on their hearts forever- have striven, by buying this bell, to sway through forest and field a song of harmony, recalling them form earthly cares to thoughts and hopes of that eternal home we all long for.”