The First Brick Assumption Church 1903 – 1919

The first Catholic settlers in what would be called “the Assumption area” were the Schifferns and Bausch families, drawn here in 1873 by the chance to own farms under the Homestead Act.  Peter Schifferns and his wife Susanna Pauli, my great, great grandparents, brought their seven living children with them.  They were from Bettenfeld, Prussia (in an area that had been part of Luxembourg prior to 1815), by way of Aurora, Illinois.  Many people from Luxembourg had settled at Aurora, including a young man named Thomas Trausch.  Whether Thomas knew the Schifferns or Bausch families at Aurora is unknown.  However, he bought a farm on time from the Burlington Railroad and settled down in the neighborhood.  In 1876 Thomas married Anna, the oldest Schifferns child, in the Busch School house.   In 1883 a small frame church was built at Assumption. By this time many people of Luxembourg descent were arriving in the area from Saint Donatus, Jackson County, Iowa.   The congregation soon outgrew the building, but feeling a Catholic school was necessary they constructed a large two story frame school building which opened in 1900.

The congregation was blessed with a good crop in 1902 and they immediately made plans to build a large brick church. In June the Adams County Democrat, published in Hastings, reported that the “Catholic congregation bought an acre of land adjoining the west from Dim Wilmes for $1.10.”  In March 1903 Fred Butzirus and John Sauerman of Hastings were contracted to build the new church for a sum of $10,720. The parish was to furnish the glass, sand and water and to do all the hauling of materials.  The building was to be completed by November 1, 1903.  There were no government regulations to slow down construction in those days.

During this time period the Assumption settlement was called Walnut Hill.  Who gave it that name and why is unknown. It’s doubtful there were any walnut trees and the location certainly isn’t on a hill.  In fact, there is a lagoon just to the west.  In March 1903 a news article in the Adams County Democrat reported “Henry Schmitz has donated 100 loads of sand for the new church at Walnut Hill.”  In April 1903 it reported that “Twenty wagon loads of brick from Hastings crossed the Thirty-Two Mile Creek Saturday enroute to Walnut Hill.”  That same month it reported that “Mrs. Kleppers new house in Walnut Hill is going up.”  The little settlement was a bee-hive of activity that spring.

The first brick church at Assumption.  The original of this photo is a postcard printed about 1910.
The first brick church at Assumption. The original of this photo is a postcard printed about 1910.  Notice the stained glass windows and the unusual front doors.

The church’s cornerstone was laid on June 11, 1903 by Right Reverend Thomas Bonacum, Bishop of Lincoln.  He also dedicated the building on October 28, 1903.  The building had an overall length of 117.5 feet, width of 48 feet, and a bell tower 100 feet high.   The Hastings Daily Tribune printed an account of the dedication titled “New Church Dedicated, Big Day Among Catholic Residents in Vicinity of Roseland. The large handsome Catholic Church, located three miles directly north of Roseland, which has just been completed, was dedicated with impressive ceremonies Wednesday morning. …This building is, without exception, the finest and costliest country church in Nebraska and compares well with the best city churches of the middle west.  This large brick building was erected at a cost of $16,000 and was very nearly completely paid for on dedication day. … The tower, which is 100 feet in height, is surmounted by a large gilded cross which may be seen at a distance of ten miles….Father Engelbert Boll is the pastor.  The large parochial school, which was built near the church a year ago, employs a number of teachers and both German and English instructions are given.  The new church, which has a seating capacity of more than double the old one, was crowded full to the aisles and it is safe to say that 1,000 people were in attendance.  Five residences and a general store are in the vicinity of the church. … Father Boll assisted by the generosity of the 1500 [sic should be 500] members, resulted in the present handsome structure. This fine building will stand as a monument to those who gave their support toward building it long after the members are gone.”  Unfortunately, that prophecy did not come true.

Church Interior 1910
The beautiful interior of the Assumption Church about 1910. The altar, which was decorated with gold, cost $4,000. Matt and Catherine Trausch were the first couple married in this church.

In the midst of all this work and excitement, Matt Trausch and Katie Kaiser were planning their wedding.  We do not know when they became engaged.  Many years later Grandma Trausch said they met when she was helping her aunt, Anna Theisen, after the birth of her son Edmund in December 1902.  The Nick Theisen farmstead (where Chad Trausch lives now) was located just a quarter mile north of the Matt Trausch home.  It seems strange that Matt and Catherine didn’t know each other as their families attended the same church and their parents homes were only three miles apart.  However, there was a six year age difference, the families attended separate school districts, and the church congregation was so large that two Masses were held every Sunday.

In those days everyone got married on Tuesday.  When Matt went to make arrangements for the wedding, Father Boll said “Everything is out of the old church. Why don’t you wait until we dedicate the new church and get married the next day?”   Both families were well known in the community and it would be a large wedding.  So they chose Thursday, October 29th, the day after the dedication, which was also the 27th anniversary of Matt’s parent’s marriage; although Grandma said she didn’t know that at the time.  Thus Matt and Catherine Kaiser Trausch were the first couple married in the beautiful new church.  Their six oldest children, Ed, Bert, Martha, Charles, Albert (born and died in 1910), Elmer, Alfred, Laurine and Vern, were all baptized in the beautiful church which was the pride of the community.

Engelbert Thomas Trausch was baptized March 25, 1906 at the age of three days.  His name is written Thomas Engelbert in the church baptismal register.  He was named for the priest, Father Engelbert Boll who was well liked by his parishioners, and for his grandfather Thomas Trausch.  Bert’s baptismal sponsors were his grandfather Thomas Trausch and an unknown  woman written as “Elizabeth Trausch” in the baptismal register.

Bert made his First Communion on June 7, 1914 at the age of eight.  Twenty-eight children were in his class that year.  It was the tradition for boys to wear knee-length pants until they made their First Communion; then they began to wear long pants.

The Sacrament of Confirmation was administered to Bert by Right Reverend Henry Fisher, Bishop of Lincoln on Thursday, October 19, 1916.  The weather was very bad that day.  The temperature was below 20 degrees, the wind was blowing strong from the north and sleet followed by snow had fallen.  The roads were badly drifted.  Nevertheless, 80 children were confirmed at Assumption.  The group included Bert, Martha, and their uncle Sylvester “Vet” Trausch.  Grandpa Nick Kaiser served as one of the sponsors.  At that time the confirmands did not have individual sponsors.

The congregation always stood outside the church after Mass to visit.  Notice how the men and boys are all dressed in suits with hats.  This photo was taken about 1918 when people took pride in their appearance.
The congregation always visited outside the church after Mass.  Notice how the men and boys are all dressed in suits with hats. This photo was taken about 1918 when people took pride in their appearance.

During the years prior to World War I, church sermons, readings of the epistles and gospels, and the announcements were given in German.  The Mass, of course, was in Latin.  German and English were both taught in the school.  Then during the war, over-zealous WASP (white, anglo saxon, protestant) “patriots” who controlled the government, decreed that German could no longer be spoken in schools, churches, on the telephone, or in public.  Those restrictions eased after the war, but German was no longer taught in the school and the knowledge and use of German was gradually lost.

On November 20, 1919 disaster struck when the beautiful church was destroyed by fire.  On Friday, November 21, the Hastings Daily Tribune carried an account titled “Church Was Afire While Couple Wed”

At 10 o’clock in the morning Louis Hoffman and Miss Stella Beiriger were married by Father Merkl.  He then attended the wedding dinner at the M. G. Beiriger home two miles east.  The fire was discovered at 12:15 by Albert Hoffman, who lived just south of the church.  Mr. Hoffman at once gave the alarm.  A telephone message was sent to the home of the bride’s parents, where the wedding guests were at dinner.  Meanwhile others, seeing the blazing church, came in cars from the farms around.  In a short time 500 people were gathered about the church.  Buckets were brought from nearby farms.  Dominic Willmes threw the first bucket of water on the burning church, but little could be done.  The Hastings Fire department was called, but because there was no water system they replied they could do nothing.

The fire had started in the floor above the furnace, and destroyed the altar first.  The altar had cost $4,000.  The chalice, ciborium (a covered cup for holding hosts) and monstrance, (a decorative vessel used to display the consecrated host) all made of gold, were destroyed.  Among the church decorations destroyed were five valuable statues.  The pipe organ, donated by Miss Anna David, was only two years old.  The church with contents was insured for only $10,000, a fraction of what it would cost to replace it.  Father Merkl was quoted “I can’t say what we will do about rebuilding.  Our farmers have been unfortunate.  For three years we have raised practically no crop in this community.  This is going to be very hard on the church.”

Bert Trausch was thirteen years old when the church burned.  Sixty years later he reminisced “We saw the smoke in the sky, got in the car [Matt’s bought his first car in 1918, a 1914  Model Overland] drove over there, but all we could do was stand and watch it burn.

The old frame church, which had been moved west of the school and used as a hall, was again used for worship.  But, it was much too small to hold the 600 church members.  Despite the financial hardship, plans were immediately made to rebuild.

Once it was determined that the walls and bell tower were still structurally sound, reconstruction began with the congregation furnishing much of the labor.  This photo was taken in 1920.
Once it was determined that the walls and bell tower were still structurally sound, reconstruction began with the congregation furnishing much of the labor. This photo was taken in 1920.

2 thoughts on “The First Brick Assumption Church 1903 – 1919”

  1. Sure was a run of bad luck at churches built at that location over the years, very beautiful, like churches back in the Grand Duchy ! Grandpa and Grandma married there in 1916, lots of history. Always remember them coming to visit us on Sundays, after church in Dubuque, still dressed up at that time too. Need to find a use for old St. Mary’s in Dubuque, closed for last 6 years, no more good Luxemburgers to keep it going …. Thanks, Karl

  2. Thanks once again. It was not Dick Willmes who sold the land for the church . It was “Dim” or Dominic my greatgrandfather. He also threw the first bucket of water on the burning church. Also one of the first Masses was said at the home of John Gerten also one of my grgreatgrandfathers. Also the first priest’s house was moved to the Dim Willmes farm and used as a corn crib and was still there in 1983.

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