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Wendy Reuer, Published October 15 2013

St. Benedict's Catholic Church in Horace marks its 100th birthday

HORACE, N.D. – As the sun set on the prairie Tuesday, about 50 French descendants settled into the pews of St. Benedict’s Catholic Church here to celebrate the church’s 100th birthday.

From senior matriarchs to third-generation toddlers, many of those at Tuesday night’s celebration Mass were surrounded by ornate remnants of history that tell a rich story of the centurion building and the culture of settlers who built it.

The congregation of St. Benedict’s first came together as a church in 1870, just off Highway 81 and 124th Avenue South in what used to be the town of Wild Rice. It was formed by a group of settlers from Canada. Fire destroyed the original building around 1912, and St. Benedict Parish was rebuilt in 1913. Its address would eventually be changed to Horace.

The close-knit community of French settlers began as a product of its time, said church member Tom Kenville.

Kenville said a French colony was formed in that area and drew its lines at what is now 52nd Avenue South in Fargo down to 124th Avenue, and went no farther west than County Road 17.

“Everybody inside that area was French and everybody outside that was Norwegian,” Kenville said.

Over the years, the congregation pitched in to ensure the 1913 building could endure the harsh North Dakota winters and spring flooding. Earthen dikes have been built around the area to prevent serious flooding from overtaking the church.

History lives on the walls inside the church.

Although it was once covered by paneling, the skull of the Rev. Anthanase Fidele Bernier is now enshrined near the altar.

Bernier’s skeleton was discovered around the 1940s, Kenville said. The congregation sought to add a basement to the church and Bernier’s remains were uncovered as they began digging. Bernier, one of the church’s first missionaries, is believed to have been killed by Native Americans in December 1891 at the age of 58.

Inscribed on each of the vivid stained-glass windows are French names. The French writing was to denote members who contributed to the church a century ago. Today, it serves as a beacon for their descendants, such as those of Alex Richard.

Richard came to North Dakota from Three Rivers, Quebec, as a farmer. His great-grandson, George Richard, and his wife, Sharon, farm the same area and still attend St. Benedict’s.

George and Sharon Richard are 1960s graduates of St. Joseph’s, a school originally built near the church to help teach English to the French colony’s youngest students. The school has since been removed from the area, but the priest’s home next to St. Benedict’s remains in near original form, Kenville said.

Another descendant of Alex Richard is Kate Tande, who like the Richards, grew up as a member of the church. Tande regularly attends St. Benedict’s, where she is reunited with her longtime best friend, Carol Trottier.

Today, the congregation is comprised of more than 200 families, Tande said. Many church members live in the Fargo area and are no longer solely of French descent.

“There’s a large diversity now in the parish,” Tande said.

Numbers in the congregation, led by the Rev. Jared Kadlec, are expected to keep growing.

“We are going to grow like gangbusters once the diversion goes in because we are on the dry side of the diversion,” Kenville said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Wendy Reuer at (701) 241-5530