Our Lady Visits Two Cathedrals on the Grassy Plains of North Dakota

St. Stanislaus Church in Warsaw has been called "The Cathedral on the Prairie” due to its beauty and grandeur in rural North Dakota.  Built in 1901, it is listed on the National Historic Register.  The Church is named after Bishop and Martyr, Saint Stanislaus (1030-1079), who denounced the unjust wars, cruelties and other injustices of King Boleslaus, who ultimately murdered him.

Starting in the 1870’s, Polish immigrants came to the grassy prairie wilderness of Walsh County, North Dakota to build a new life. They staked their claims, broke and plowed the land, seeding wheat, oats, potatoes and rutabagas. The area remained predominantly Polish-speaking well beyond the middle of the 20th century.

As the pilgrim icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa arrived at St. Stanislaus, Father Joseph Christensen of the Franciscans of Mary Immaculate welcomed her. Fr. Christensen attended Holy Apostles Seminary in Cromwell, CT, just after Father West graduated in May of 1991. They also met when Fr. Christensen visited St. Catherine’s Church in Hillside, NJ, where Fr. West was assigned as a young priest. 

The Franciscans of Mary Immaculate wear an emblem of Our Lady of Czestochowa on their brown habits. An important part of their spirituality is the promotion of total consecration to Jesus through Mary.  Fr. Christensen is currently the Chaplain/Spiritual Director of St. Gianna Maternity Home, located across the street from St. Stanislaus.  The home is named after Saint Gianna Beretta Molla, who, while pregnant, courageously refused an abortion or hysterectomy to treat a tumor on her uterus, instead choosing life for her baby girl.  On Holy Saturday, April 21, 1962, Gianna Emanuela was delivered by Caesarean section, but her mother continued to have severe complications. Saint Gianna died of septic peritonitis one week later.

St. Gianna could have chosen to have a hysterectomy, though an indirect consequence her daughter would have died.  Instead, she chose a heroic path for the sake of her baby.  According to The Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, issued by the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops:

Abortion – that is, the directly intended termination of pregnancy before viability or the directly intended destruction of a viable fetus – is never permitted… Operations, treatments, and medications that have as their direct purpose the cure of a proportionately serious pathological condition of a pregnant woman are permitted when they cannot be safely postponed until the unborn child is viable, even if they will result in the death of the unborn child.  (The Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, nos. 45 and #47)

In the evening both Fr. Christensen and Father John Kleinschmidt, the pastor of St. Stanislaus, concelebrated Mass with Fr. West. In his homily, Fr. West spoke about the Black Madonna, and about the work that Human Life International is doing throughout the world. After discussing the prayer for life by St. John Paul II from Evangelium vitae, he reminded all present that prayer is especially needed because both life and religious freedom are under attack.

We visited St. Stanislaus between the celebration of the Solemnities of the Ascension and Pentecost.  Fr. West said the Blessed Virgin was present with the disciples as they prayed for nine days for the coming of the Holy Spirit.  Mary’s presence attracts the Holy Spirit.  The prayers of The Blessed Virgin Mary and the other disciples were answered in a powerful way with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.  After that first “novena,” the apostles, instead of being weak and timid, became brave and boldly proclaimed the Gospel without fear of death.

After Mass, a group of young people treated us to a Polish dance performance outside, in the front of the church.  First a group of girls age ten years and under performed some traditional Polish dances, despite having practiced only three times!  The older group of boys and girls capped off the performance with a traditional Polish dance of their own that was done with skill and delighted all present.     

As we spoke with the pastor and parishioners during dinner about the Black Madonna, the church was darkened for a subsequent Holy Hour and candles were placed around the icon. After dinner, we joined in a Eucharistic procession around the Church, which included the Black Madonna. People followed carrying candles and prayed silently.  The Holy Hour closed with Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament

Later that night, the Black Madonna was transferred from the church to St. Gianna Maternity Home, where Fr. West and Fr. Joseph concelebrated morning Mass.  During his homily, Fr. West reiterated some points from the previous night’s homily.  The ladies who stay at the maternity home helped prepare breakfast for everyone and afterward the Black Madonna was on her way to the Cathedral of St. Mary in Fargo.

St. Mary is the mother church in the Diocese of Fargo and is home to the Legion of Mary, Cursillo and St. Vincent de Paul.  All the good works of these ministries, of course, begin with uniion with Christ. To that end, the Cathedral has an Adoration Chapel named for Our Lady of Guadalupe, a name chosen with the intention that the Americas may again be converted to Christ and that unborn children be welcomed into life.

Fr. Daniel Musgrave and Fr. Charles Fischer concelebrated with Fr. West the noon Mass during the visit of the Black Madonna to the cathedral, at which Fr. West was able to discuss HLI’s worldwide mission and the From Ocean to Ocean Campaign in Defense of Life. He also concelebrated and preached at the 7:30pm Mass and the noon Mass the following day, after which the Black Madonna departed for her next stop in Little Falls, Minnesota.

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