By Rachel Noel/Freelance Writer, OND
Pembina, N.D. – On Sept. 9, Christ’s faithful – comprised of bishops, priests, nuns, and laypeople – gathered outside Assumption Church in Pembina, North Dakota, to mark its 200th Anniversary as the oldest parish in the region.
Ninety-one years before the Diocese of Crookston was founded, Bishop Octave Plessis of Quebec sent Father Joseph-Norbert Provencher and Father Sévère Dumoulin to establish a mission in the Red River colony for serving the population’s spiritual needs. Seminarian William Edge accompanied the priests from Montreal to the Red River in an expedition that lasted nearly two months. On Sept. 13, 1818, Father Dumoulin and Edge arrived in Pembina and opened a school, enrolling approximately 60 students. Father Dumoulin selected Pembina as his principal place of residence and built a chapel which opened in 1821. He named it after St. Francis Xavier.
Bishop John T. Folda of Fargo, concelebrated Mass with Archbishop Bernard A. Hebda of Saint Paul and Minneapolis; Archbishop Albert LeGatt of St. Boniface in Manitoba, Canada; Bishop Michael J. Hoeppner; Bishop David D. Kagan of Bismarck; and Bishop Paul D. Sirba of Duluth.
“Brothers and Sisters, this is a remarkable day for all of us. A day for the history books – not only for Assumption Parish, not only for the Diocese of Fargo, but also, for our entire region,” Bishop Folda said during the homily.
“Two hundred years ago, in September of 1818, Father Dumoulin was sent from Saint Boniface in Canada, to serve the people of this village of Pembina which was already a busy trading post. Father baptized, heard confessions, celebrated Masses, and blessed many marriages. And while they had a priest in their midst, the people of this parish built the first log church a little over a mile north of here. It was named for St. Francis Xavier, one of the greatest missionaries in the history of the church,” Bishop Folda said.
He also discussed the many misfortunes parishioners have faced throughout the past two centuries.
“The church flooded more than once. The trading company pulled out of Pembina soon after everything got started, and the church itself began to fall into decay. And if we think we have problems in our time, we should remember that in 1863 the church was destroyed by cannon fire. I’m pretty sure that isn’t covered in our insurance policy,” he said.
“But just as the people of this parish faced one calamity after another and persevered, so we do today. Christ remains with his church no matter what. He touches us with the grace of the Father, through every joy, and every sorrow,” Bishop Folda continued. “And it was in the year 1848 that the famous missionary Father George Belcourt came to Pembina as pastor and around that time, the parish was renamed for the Assumption of our Blessed Virgin Mary.”
Bishop Folda stressed that the mission which began 200 years ago is far from finished.
“There are very few places that can claim such a spiritual heritage and legacy, but the work isn’t done. Pope Francis has called each of us to be missionary disciples, who are ready to be sent, ready to share with others the beauty and the joy of our faith, ready to live it and to be witness to it wherever we are. There are others who are alone and who are suffering, and they need our compassion and our love. Our children need to know the gospel just as we did. We can teach them by our word and by our example. God has been forgotten or set aside by so many, but our Lord is still here dwelling among His people. He asks us to live the faith and pass it along to a new generation just as it was passed on to us,” he said.
“Into the darkness, came the light, and that light is Jesus Himself. Into this wilderness came the savior who first sent His apostles out into the world and commanded them to preach the Gospel wherever they went and make disciples of all nations. That mission continued right here in Pembina and it carries on to this day 200 years later,” said Bishop Folda.
More than 100 people gathered for the Mass which was held in the outdoor grotto next to the current church building. It was followed by live music and a dinner.
“What a wonderful celebration, 200 years – not only the faith of the people but the presence of Jesus for 200 years,” Bishop Hoeppner said. “How wonderful it is to celebrate God’s goodness with his people in this place.”
The recurring theme throughout the celebration was the call for Catholics to actively spread the word of God and pass the Catholic faith to the next generation with vigor.
Bishop Hoeppner said, “We have to remember that we each get our turn to continue in faith to celebrate God’s goodness and to help the next generations come to know the wonderful presence and action of God in our world.”