By Father William Sherman
St. Michael’s has been around a long time. Apparently, the first masses conducted with any regularity started in 1872 when Father Simonet, coming down from Pembina and St. Boniface in Manitoba, gathered together an assortment of early settlers who lived in the neighborhood of the “Grand Forks”’ the junction of the Red and Red lake Rivers. The first congregation consisted of French-Indian families, some French Canadians and newly arrived Irish and Germans. One account, (one which is hard to substantiate) says that the first Mass in the parish area may have been sometime around 1733 or 1734. (That’s an awfully early date… George Washington was still in diapers.) Whatever the accuracy of the report, there is no doubt that French explorers and fur traders brought black-robed missionaries with them on subsequent occasions while they investigated the Red River and its tributaries for possible trade and hunting purposes. With the passage of time, the French-Indians (Metis) people organized their great hunting expeditions and soon the Red River cart commerce got underway. Priests, at times, accompanied the groups as they camped along the River. Masses must have taken place in the first decades of the 1800’s in St. Michael’s area.
The advent of river boat traffic and the first homestead activity brought early Canadian and American settlers to join the French-Indian families along the wooded sections of the Red and Turtle Rivers in the 1870’s. In fact, the great uncle of some of our parishioners, an Irishman named Michael Ferry, settled on a piece of land near the Turtle River (later Manvel) in 1869. It was this kind of permanent settler that brought Father Simonet to the Grand Forks area in 1872. Te priest, in writing to hiss Canadian Bishop in 1873 says, “I have seen 24 Catholic families within a distance of four miles and I was informed that almost all the other families up to the Crossing are also Catholic….I have promised to go back to Grand Forks in the Spring, and they are to try to build a temporary chapel.”
The First Church
And so St. Michael’s began. There may, as the letter says, have been a tiny log or frame chapel someplace along the river, which was used for a few years; or Mass might have been offered in the rooms of a primitive settler’s cabin. In 1878, something more permanent was built. Capt. Alexander Griggs, a veteran riverboat man and local community promoter, gave Father L’Hiver (the second resident pastor), a piece of lane at Sixth Street and Demers. Here a frame church, looking much like a machine shed with a free standing bell tower was constructed. (Father L’Hiver planted potatoes in 1879 on what is now DeMers Avenue.) The new church proved to be too small for immigrants were now coming in great numbers, and the railroad had replaced the steamboats. Within five years, the parish was building again- this time on a spot on the “edge of town” – which even today, a century later, continues to be the site of St. Michael’s parish life – Sixth Street, between Fifth and Sixth Avenue. They built a wood structure which really looked “like a church.” It was surfaced with bricks, and had a 105-fot steeple. This building, dedicated in 1883, is the grandfather of today’s St. Michael’s Church. The local newspaper said it was the “largest as well as the finest church edifice in Dakota.” But it should have been a large and fine building, for by now, records say St. Michael’s had 500 families. They were spread on muddy roads over half of Grand Forks County and extended well into Minnesota. (Any time modern priests think they’ve got it tough, they should remember the “good old days.”)
About this time the parish started worrying about such things as balanced budgets, legality, and other technical niceties, so they incorporated on July 23, 1884. On that date, the Territory of Dakota, with its capital at Yankton, said that henceforth until the end of time St. Michael’s would be known as “a body politic and corporate” and that its name would be “St. Michael’s Roman Catholic Church of Grand Forks , Dakota.”
The New Rectory
(Built in 1893-94 for $6,000. according to the picture hanging in the rectory)
It was during these years that an early cabin-sized priest house was replaced by the present St. Michael’s rectory. This building clearly shows the foresight (or perhaps ambition) of these early parishioners, for it was a huge structures containing 25 rooms with its own little steeple and a wrap around porch (no longer present). “It was a good solid building for it has been the parish center through all the years and still contains quarters for the priests and over a dozen offices and meeting rooms.
The 1883 church was doomed to be a short lived parish center, for it was blown apart in an 1887 wind storm (some say it was a tornado). A second church had to be built, and that meant real trouble for the newly arrived pastor, Father Edward J. Conaty.
But first a word on pastors. The first few pioneer priests had come from Canada. But soon the Bishop of St. Boniface was able to coax the American Bishops to take care of the Red River. So French priests continued to come, but now under St. Cloud and Yankton diocesan auspices. With Father Conaty, it seems the Irish began to replace the French. This remarkable man, a former lawyer from Massachusetts, is one of St. Mike’s great heroes. He presided over construction of a large, brick building with high ceilings, beautiful columns and elaborate alter. Dedicated in 1887, it was an impressive structure. A contemporary description said “the interior is finished in cathedral form and the auditorium is the largest in the state.”
But, it appears that God in his divine providence wanted something even bigger and better at St. Michaels, for in 1907, the church was destroyed again, this time by fire. Poor Father Conaty had to get the folks together and try again. This time they were really “thinking big.” They hired the Hancock Brothers firm in Fargo. These English born architects were the designers of part of the state capitol building, St. James church in Jamestown, and a number of government buildings throughout the area. They put together the magnificent Romanesque structure that is still the gathering place for St. Michael’s people.
The Present Church
The parish house was moved from its old location to the other end of the block, so the big new church would have room to stretch out in all its grandeur. The building was dedicated in 1909 and the newspaper called it, “the finest church building in every particular in the northwest.” We’re not sure what the “Particulars” were, but they must have meant the beautiful stained glass, done by the Munich Studios in Chicago, and the “lower Auditorium” which was to be used for “lectures and entertainment.” The auditorium, the newspaper, the newspaper said, “is well furnished with opera chairs and has a seating capacity of 1000 people. “(Through the years events have proved the news account correct in this sense, - there’s been lots of “entertainment” but, alas, not much “operas” or “lectures.”)
St. Michael’s parishioners have always considered their church to be the most beautiful in the state and some have said that it is also the “biggest church in the state.” (There’s a $50 bill waiting for anyone who can prove the contrary.) in fact, some St. Michael’s fans resented the idea that a relatively plain and smaller church in Fargo became the Diocesan Cathedral, so sometime in the 1910’s or 1920’s they began to call St. Michael’s a Pro-Cathedral. They even installed in its sanctuary a Bishop’s chair with a fancy overhanging top and an artistic picket fence around it. Apparently, the Bishop insisted on staying in Fargo, for after a decade or two, a realistic pastor dropped the term “pro-cathedral” from St. Michael’s letterhead.
While lots of people were thinking of bigger and better church structures and cathedral types of things, others at St. Michael’s were wondering about the increased number of little people around the parish. Children were popping up all over the place. The optimism that led the early folks to build big churches, led them also to have big families. As early as 1884, the Ursuline Sisters started a school in town and eventually, St. Bernard’s Academy came into existence to care for Grand Forks area boys and girls. In 1917, the St. Joseph of Carondelet sisters bought the school and it became St. James Academy. The number of grade school children increased with each year, so St. Michael’s parochial grade school was designed and built in 1916. The Alter Society promised to pay the full construction cost of $50,000! (And the Alter Society is still doing the same grand work.) The building proved to be a most substantial structure and it’s still in use to this day. The St. Joseph sisters took charge. Father Lemieux was the pastor at the time. (The French priests had made a comeback.) Father Joseph A. Lemieux was born in Canada, but had previously been a pastor in Mandan and even at the Cathedral in Fargo. But the Irish were soon to return, for Father J. J. O’Donovan from Tipperary, Ireland, was put in charge of the parish for several years and finally, Father William McNamee came to be pastor in 1929.
Father McNamee, known to thousands as “Father,” known to hundreds as “Father Mac,” to errant high school students as “Iron Mac,” known to dignitaries as “Monsignor,” was known to everyone as a truly magnificent human being. It was this great priest who fashioned St. Michael’s into what it is today. He is remembered, not so much as a builder of buildings (although he erected the Youth Center in 1948 and the new school in 1953), but he built that more basic thing, the St. Mike’s spirit, its loyalty, its sense of compassion and faith. For an unbelievably long time (1929-1967) Father McNamee presided over tens of thousands of parish events – socials, classes, funerals, weddings, and ceremonial moments. For literally thousands of people, he was the pastor who led them through the troubles of life to the goodness and peace of God. And, remarkably, Monsignor is “still going strong.” He is pastor at Larimore, and still the wise and faithful guardian of his flock.
It’s all very nice to talk about pastors, but everyone knows that wars are won not only by the generals who get the headlines, but also by the foot soldiers who are easily forgotten. At St. Mike’s, some 70 foot soldiers (assistant pastors) were active through the past century. They came in all sizes and shapes. Several were over six feet tall, and others were hardly five. Some were bald, some handsome and others were, to put it mildly, rather rotund. All the assistants (in olden days they were “curates”, now they’re called “Associates”) came as young men not only to serve, but also to get a fast course in priestly experience, so they stayed only a few years. Some, it is true, came to be rehabilitated, for they had a bit of a problem with the “grape,” as they say. But they were generous men, few were lazy, and all had a sense of compassion. Two of them, (Bishop Dworschak and Bishop Mulloy) were raised to the Episcopacy.
Assistants often had sidelines. One had bee boxes all over the countryside. Still another one (unbeknownst to the pastor) ran a used car lot. One well-known priest, Fr. Arrel, (unbeknownst to the Bishop) was softball player of state-wide fame. He’s still known as the famous “bill Bailey.” Some taught at the University, some were gourmet cooks. One was a great hunter (the church towers were full of bullet holes for he apparently practiced on pigeons). Some were ex-servicemen. A few came from foreign countries and spoke excellent English, a few were from America and spoke dreadful English. An occasional one was a saint, and all were trying to be saints and that’s what counts. So they left St. Michael’s their own special spiritual legacy. We are forever in their debt.
And what of the sisters? The “good sisters” they used to say, and the term was well-merited. They were here in remarkably early days – 1883 to be exact. Their names will never be found on monumental plaques, but they are inscribed in the private memories of thousands of young and old. Adding them up, they must have numbered between two and three hundred. (In the 1950’s baby boom years, 18 sisters were teaching almost 800 pupils at St. Mike’s.) They were as tough as any prairie homesteader. They knew cold water, thin walls and pot bellied stoves. As the years went on, the living quarters became easier, but the jobs became more difficult. Imagine a 100 pound nun presiding with absolute discipline over fifty tough eighth graders, some weighing 200 pounds and already shaving. They were legendary, those early nuns. One could hit a ball out of the block and some were demure and cultured. Some were the image of benevolence, others are still remembered with terror. Yet, they educated almost ten-thousand young men and women at St. Michael’s; men and women who went on to become college professors, mayors, federal judges and millionaires (and a few continued their studies in the penitentiary). All, however, learned to pray and would forever remember their lessons, that the things of God come first.
Greater Grand Forks
The Grand Forks community is fortunate I n having St. Mike’s in its midst. In dollar figures alone, the gift of the parish to the city is considerable. St. Mike’s has taken hundreds of children from less fortunate homes, some who hardly spoke English, and made them into capable American citizens. In modern monetary terms, the parish gives the city each year, a quarter million dollars worth of fully accredited free education. And this has been going on for almost a century. Even today, about 15 percent of the young people at St. Mike’s belong to some classic minority group. But don’t forget the thousands of troubled marriages, the endless stream of bewildered and even delinquent citizens whose lives have been untangled through the gentle guidance of the priests and sisters and lay people on the St. Mike’s staff.
But to the nation, St. Mike’s has been equally generous. A whole battalion of soldiers could have been formed of the young men and women who left St. Mike’s to serve in America’s wars. They turned out en masse. The church’s World War II memorial plaque lists 417 servicemen and they must have quit counting, for there more who were not listed. A few were officers, most were just plain old G.I.’s, the ones who got the mean jobs, the jobs which often ended in the grave.
America has been good to St. Michael’s people, but let’s not forget, St. Mike’s people have been good to America.
St. Mike’s People
Well over a century has gone by since the first parish organization took place. It’s a parade of people, a pageant of nations. Way back in the beginning there were the French-Indian families, the Canadian-French and the scattering of Irish and Americans. More Irish came, then more Germans, some right off the boat and some from America’s eastern cities. In the first decades of this century, the Germans from Russia came, especially after they closed the round house in Devils Lake. At least 500 of our parish members trace their roots to that happy railroad decision. In the 1930’s a trickle of Bohemians, Polish, and French began to come from the countries to the north and east of the city.
After World War II, the trickle became a flood. Farms got bigger, small farmers moved out and Grand Forks became a new home for thousands. Warsaw, and Pisek, Argyle and Tabor, Mt. Carmel and Lakota now found their sons and daughters at St. Michael’s parish.
And the flow kept coming. The 1960’s brought the air base and the expansion of the University of North Dakota. New jobs meant new people, this time from all over America. Some stayed awhile and left, others took up roots for good.
And the cycle comes around today. Among the most recent arrivals are French-Indian families from Pembina County and the Turtle Mountains. Indeed some are the descendants of those who made up the very first St. Michael’s parishioners.
St. Michael’s is not just a melting pot – it’s a layer cake. Wave after wave of God’s faithful, moving to the city and forming a parish community whose spirit and style sets them apart as an example of the finest and the best.
The Mass is the most important item on St. Michael’s agenda, but activities don’t end there. Not hardly.
There are groups of parishioners, more than 100, behind every conceivable activity, including the Mass. Finances, the cleaning of the church, Sunday night bingo and the special dinners are just a few of the activities sponsored and kept alive yearly by the scores of interested parishioners at St. Mikes.
And once in a while, just for a change of pace, there is an activity thrown in to keep all of our interests alive. Last March (1981), for instance, two Paulist priests, Father Donald R. Abram and Father Mark J. Hettel, conducted a parish renewal at St. Mike’s.
In a two-week time-span more than 20 topics were touched upon by these two members of the Paulist Preaching Service. These topics included the family, life’s hurts, penance and communion.
Lectures, discussions, film strips and open forums were held. If the success of such a venture is measured by attendance, then Abram and Hettel must have been overwhelmed. During the two weeks more than 3,000 of St. Michael’s parishioners participated at one time or another.
Sheer numbers are impressive but there are groups of people in the parish whose numbers are considerably less than in the thousands. Some of these groups number less than 100, some less than 20.
What’s so important about these groups? Well, as Father Sherman sees it, there’s work to do and they see that it gets done.
A survey, in no order of importance, includes the following groups active at St. Michael’s Catholic Church in Grand Forks.
The Parish Council
Dedicated, elected members of St. Michael’s Parish meet on a quarterly basis to discuss the direction of the Church here locally. They try to coordinate activities in a manner benefiting all of us.
Members of the Parish Council represent practically all walks of life and representatives live in all of our neighborhoods. There are members to represent the University of North Dakota, the Riverside Park area, etc.
Members of the Parish Council have the thankless job of trying to solve the problems in the parish that prompt criticism.
The Finance Board
There are more than just a few bills to pay at St. Michael’s. Members of this group meet periodically throughout the year to try to keep the church on budget.
It’s often a no-win situation for members of this group because the operating budget of the church has increased dramatically in the past few years due to rampant inflation and donations haven’t increased the same percent.
But members of this group have done there best to keep red ink at a distance.
The Altar Society
This group is composed of dedicated women. They serve at funerals, clean th church and the sanctuary and sponsor the Annual Parish Fund Raising Activity, all for the benefit of the parish.
They meet the second Wednesday of the month to discuss their long-range goals. The annual Fall Bazaar is this group’s biggest single activity of the year.
The Men’s Club
These men sponsor the Sunday night bingo, the Annual Game Feed and Parish Dance. With funds raised the Men’s Club finances St. Michael’s Park and the athletic programs of St. Michael’s Elementary School.
Members of this group meet the first Monday of the month, September through May.
This group also sponsored the Oktoberfest celebration, a Mass, dinner and dance honoring the German heritage in St. Mike’s parish in 1981.
The Board of Education
This group meets monthly and establishes and sets policies for the operation of St. Michael’s School, the Religious Education program, and the Adult Religious Education Program.
Boys and girls in St. Michael’s Parish have a chance to join the nationally-affiliated scout program. The Boy Scouts, Weblows and Cub Scouts meet in the Youth Center Mondays, 7:30 p.m. The Girl Scouts meet Mondays at 3:15 p.m. in the school’s cafeteria.
The Bridge Builders
Membership in this group is attained with a minimal financial commitment of $100 a year for five years. The money is invested and it in turn helps St. Michael’s school stay alive.
The Bridge Builders provide the school with audio-visual materials, band and musical items, carpeting and paint and other specialized materials.
Home and School Association
This inclusive group of parents of the students attending St. Michael’s schools and the teacher work together to provide an atmosphere that enhances all aspects of Catholic education.
This group meets on a irregular basis throughout the school year.
This group, composed of laymen and clergy, teaches religious education on a weekly basis throughout the school year at St. Michael’s. Grades covered include 1-12.
It’s the function of this group to teach and carry out the policies set forth by the Church hierarchy.
This group’s main purpose is to allow singles to communicate, socialize and share in an open atmosphere. Activities include picnics, dances and dinners.
St. Michael’s Activities for Senior High is purely a social group that plans its own fun activities and outings. The group is sponsored by its own fund raisings, i.e. Bake sales and breakfasts.
Renovation and Repair of St. Michael’s Church
By Theodore Pedeliski
(Beginning in September 1985 the interior of the church was engulfed in scaffolding. During these months of renovation the parishioners celebrated Mass in the school Youth Center. After four months, the newly decorated church was rededicated by Bishop James Sullivan.)
When the pastor, the trustees, the finance committee and the parish council of St. Michael’s gathered in various meetings in 1984 and 1985 to discuss renovation and repair of the church, there was clear feeling that renovations would follow certain objectives:
- Maintain the architectural integrity and style of the church;
- Follow present liturgical guidelines within the context of our architectural setting;
- Resist the urge to force upon our architectural setting incongruent modern elements (e.g. such as a stark auditorium setting);
- Maintain and renovate those furnishings of the church which reflect fine old workmanship;
- Retains those symbolic elements of the church with which the parish had a strong identity attachment;
- Brighten the church and improve the color scheme;
- Make appropriate features more elegant;
- Most especially, preserve the prayerful and sacred atmosphere.
After considerable different renovating firms, the parish council, on recommendation of a decorating committee, decided on Conrad Schmitt Studios of Milwaukee, Wisc., a most respected firm in church renovation. Conrad Schmitt had a reputation for respect of historical traditions and for maintaining aesthetic integrity in its projects. They had decorated and maintained such churches as St. Joesphats Basilica and St. Stanislaus Church in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and St. Peter’s Cathedral in Marquette, Michigan. They had been responsible for the decoration of St. Mary’s Cathedral in Fargo in the 1940’s.
When Terry Groth of Conrad Schmitt Studios assesses our church, he proclaimed it “an architectural jewel.” “It has beautiful lines, and fine craftsmanship on many levels.” (as in the alters). But many of the artistic features had been masked by an unimaginative coat of paint. Other features were difficult to see in the dark and somber atmosphere. Certain areas showed cracks, some were tarnished, many showed dirt and grime.
Conrad Schmidt Studios said the artistic qualities of the church could be enhanced and brought to their full potential; they saw an opportunity to brighten the church, harmonize the colors, and create an atmosphere of spaciousness. The said it was possible to add a quality of richness to the setting, thereby emphasizing the fact that it was “God’s House.”
Conrad Schmitt Studio craftsmen arrived in Grand Forks on September 10, 1985. James Makovec and Robert Pettis were the primary decorators and Richard Sierlecki was the supervising artist. Specialists in ornamental plaster and stained glass windows were also present.
The Conrad Schmitt artists carefully assessed the décor of the entire structure. They modified the imposing chancel arch, keeping the major design and emphasizing the details in gold leaf. They also preserved the frieze along the top of the walls, highlighting the gold egg and dart ornamentation. They provided new ceiling cils for the window frames and for the high ceiling (where none had been before). The artists saw the special merit in Christ’s glorification, thus emphasizing his divine as well as his human nature. They improved the angels in the mural, giving them a more spiritual character (and making them resemble angels in the same apse some sixty years ago). The Schmitt studio men worked in a dozen major areas: they embellished the workmanship of the alters and sanctuary furnishings, they repaired and improved the finish on all the sanctuary, they repaired and replaced capitals on top f the pillars, resculpted the leaf motif in the rib design. In all details of the church’s construction, they sought to enhance the original design and beauty, but kept in mind the current liturgical directives which guide renovations and improvements.
The statistics for the decorative renovation of the church are impressive. The crew erected over 50,000 pounds of scaffolding which was set up to a height of 40 feet in the center of the church. They used over 200 gallons of paint, many areas being covered with as many as three coats. They painted 2,100 feet of stencils. They utilized 27 boxes of gold leaf, each box covering an area of 16-1/2 square feet. All gilded surfaces were done, not in Dutch metal or bronze but in 23 K hammered gold. The ornamented surfaces will, as a result, never tarnish. St. Michael’s was to become a newly polished jewel.
While Conrad Schmitt was the main contractor for the renovation, many local firms and individuals played a major role in the total project. Actually work toward a full renovation began five years ago when the parish commissioned the construction of our present alter of sacrifice and our ambo (podium). Leo Klave constructed the alter and Loyd Martin constructed the podium which was finished by Bev and Jim Swingen. Other portions of St. Michael’s were revealed to be in need of repair. Five years ago, St. Michael’s installed new lighting fixtures but the lights were never able to produce their designed level of illumination because of circuit limitations. Bud Moe supervised the electrical improvements and a contract was let to Comeau Electric to remedy restrictions. In addition, nave lights were done and the electricians provided a host of electrical improvements, including improved flood lighting in the sanctuary.
The renovation of the church also provided the opportunity to remodel the older confessionals into reconciliation rooms. One of the confessionals was already redesigned and reconstructed in 1984 and the 1985 project allowed the completion of the second room. Harrie and Kennedy, architects, designed and the Leo Klave company built the new features preserving the style and ornamentation or the originals and incorporating woodwork from the older St. Michael’s.
One of the major projects of this renovation included the refinishing of the pews and the repair of the floor, and provision of new floor coverings to replace the old which were in a state of serious disrepair. John Karlstad of Timber Structures, local carpenter and craftsman, was contracted to repair and refinish the pews. The project involved dismantling of each pew, striping every part, regluing all parts, repairing ornamentation, and finishing and varnishing each pew. The pews were given a golden oak finish to conform to the new church color scheme. Some 20 hours of labor was required to renovate each pew.
The floor was in such disrepair that a new subflooring was required which was installed by Wavra Construction. It was decided to retain a hard tile surface under the pews and install a rich rust color scheme. The sanctuary would also receive a new carpet, a plusher pile type carpet which contrasts with the commercial surface installed in the aisles. Floor to Ceiling Store provided and installed the tile and carpeting.
Improvements were also made in the votive stations. New votive stations were locally constructed by Stan and Duey Osowski of the Ornamental Iron Company. The new votive racks have ceramic tile foundation and are now more sturdy and fire safe. Romanesque ornamentation also marks the candle racks. The Mother of Perpetual Help Shrine was moved to the north wall, out of the traffic lane to an inconspicuous location allowing privacy for personal devotions. The shrine was also moved back from the wall to protect the surfaces from discoloration caused by smoke and candle vapors.
In the narthex or entry an inscription was also mounted which identifies St. Michael’s and briefly indicates its ecclesiastical history. This inscription was drawn by a local calligrapher, Wm. Julison.
Other renovation and repair projects became necessary. It was discovered that a major floor beam had shown cracks and the floor under the balcony had ominously depressed. Engineers of KBM Engineering devised a remedy which included new support pillars to be erected in the basement extending into the balcony. The installation of the new supports was made by the Ornamental Iron Company and Mr. Frank Swangler.
Another major improvement was the addition of a new north entry which allowed handicap access to both the church nave and the church basement. Harrie and Kennedy, architects, designed the structure. Construction was done by Lyle A. Anderson Company. Brick work, arch windows and general design were made to match the original church.
Improvements included a number of projects which were done by crews of volunteer laborers: the dismantling of the weather-walk between the school and the church basement, the stripping and refurnishing of the church woodwork, and the painting of the sacristy walls. In various places, weather-stripping and shelf construction took place.
The Flood of 1997
Nothing in St. Michael’s 120-year history can compare to those fateful moments in April-May, 1997. For a good part of a month there were no masses, no Holy Sacrament present, no parishioners, just silence, interrupted occasionally by the sounds of water. St. Michael’s did exist of course, but only in the hearts of thousands of its members scattered in every direction throughout mid-America. It existed in their deep concern and continual prayers.
The first returning scouts were relived to find that a good portion of St. Michael’s physical plant was untouched by the surrounding water. God preserved the towers and sanctuary, so also the upper portions of the school and parish house. Soon the pumps and shovels of the brave working people exposed the damaged areas. Volunteers from near and far ripped out walls, furniture, and equipment, filling at least twenty semi-trailers with debris. Finally, after weeks of drying, sanitizing, and patching, life began to emerge in a limited fashion. With the advent of 1998 some school areas were readied. A house across 5th street and a large mobile home provided classroom space. By mid-1998 the Youth Center and lower floors of the school began to be utilized. Parish activities took place in the gutted church basement (masked in plastic and bare of any decorative features.) By Spring 1999, the foundation of the church was exposed with drains and pumps installed. The “courtyard” in the center of St. Michael’s buildings was ripped apart and new utilities were set in place. Summer 1999 saw the dismantling and repair of the church steps and entry ways. Fall of that year witnessed the completion of the church basement and by Spring 2000 it could again be the center of activities.
Sunday, April 13, 1997: water rising, masses with prayers for flood protection; yet there were no serious concern for “we’re outside the 100 year flood plain.”
Wednesday, April 16: Red River waters continue to rise; a million sandbags have been set in place; school continuance is questionable.
Thursday, April 17: increasing alarm, evacuation taking place in low-lying portions of the city.
Friday, April 18: Masses at 7:15 a.m. and 5:15 p.m. 8:00 p.m. a four-hour Holy Hour for flood protection begins, 9:00 p.m. seventy prisoners transferred from flooding county jail to Youth Center. 9:30 p.m. mandatory evacuation orders for river portions of the city. 10:00 p.m. frantic plugging of school and church drains. 11:30 p.m. KCNN asks the priests to broadcast words of encouragement. 11:30 p.m. dikes breaking and workers ordered away from river.
Saturday, April 19: 3:00 a.m. prisoners evacuated to safe areas elsewhere in the state. 6:00 a.m., water in the streets and seeping under Youth Center doors. 7:15 a.m. Mass with three people present (in hip boots.) 9:15 a.m., silence abd waters running into basement facilities.
Sunday, April 20: entire town under mandatory evacuation.
Monday, April 21: Priests return in military vehicle and find church sanctuary safe and upper floors of parish house and old school undisturbed. The Holy Sacrament is transferred to Larimore.
Monday, May 4, mass for all parishes at Ramada Inn on the west edge of the city.
Tuesday, May 12, with temporary lights and portable heaters, a one-room parish house office is set in place.
Monday, May 18, masses resume at St. Michael’s with meager lighting, no heat and no toilet facilities.