Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

A drive in the Minnesota countryside takes me to St. Jarlath November 7, 2017


“SAINT JARLATH. Who’s that?” I asked my Catholic-raised and educated husband as we pulled up to a rural Minnesota cemetery during a recent Sunday afternoon drive.



He offered no information, as puzzled as me by the saint behind the name of St. Jarlath’s Catholic Cemetery located just off Waseca County Road 22 in Iosco Township. My later online research revealed Bishop Jarlath as the founder and principle patron of the Archdiocese of Tuam in Galway, Ireland. Irish names in the cemetery should have tipped us off.



I delight in discovering such well-kept rural cemeteries edged next to equally well-maintained churches. Clearly, people care deeply about this place. That pleases me although the closure of rural parishes like this one does not.



As we wandered the grounds, I spotted autumn décor adorning some gravesites. Seeing scarecrows on a tombstone marked a first for me.



I noticed, too, the trees,



the aged, and not so aged, stones,



the loving words







and clear markers of faith in crosses high and low.



I tugged at the church door, hoping to get inside. I never expect access. But that doesn’t stop me from trying. Gone are the days of unattended, open churches. I can only imagine the beauty, the history within this country church.



The ability to freely wander this cemetery on a stunning autumn afternoon tempered my disappointment. To see folks honor their ancestors and Saint Jarlath through a well-kept church and grounds encourages me. This place remains important—at least for now to those still living.


AS I SCHEDULED this post, written days before the deadly mass shooting at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, I feel compelled to add this postscript expressing my sorrow and thoughts. I cannot fathom the loss to these families, to this community, about the same size as my Minnesota hometown. My heart breaks. A church, of all places, should be a sanctuary from violence. No place seems safe any more.

Initial media reports reveal the perpetrator had a history of domestic violence and that he sent threatening text messages to his mother-in-law shortly before killing 26 people and wounding another 20 at the church. This troubles me. Domestic violence continues to root deep into our society. I read or hear media reports daily about murder-suicides, violations of restraining orders, calls to domestic disturbances, stalking, assaults…and more. For every case reported to law enforcement, many many more are not reported. Because of fear. Because of intimidation. Because of control and manipulation.

The invasive crime of domestic abuse and violence is affecting too many of our families, our neighborhoods, our communities and, yes, even our churches, directly and indirectly.


© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


20 Responses to “A drive in the Minnesota countryside takes me to St. Jarlath”

  1. Perhaps, and yet it is with some doubt, that those who are the subject of domestic abuse will not hesitate to notify the police of any and all fear and concern that they may have regarding abuse, regardless of the intent (real or imagined) for one never knows, sometimes until it is too late.. Let the authorities decide!

    • I wish it was that simple, that victims of domestic abuse would report it. But usually they’ve been so controlled and manipulated that they feel powerless and/or afraid, or may not even understand that they are being abused. Victims will often back off, change their stories, etc., when law enforcement becomes involved. Abusers lie. Law enforcement need to be savvy on the topic and recognize signs of abuse. Then…the system (courts and probation) needs to follow through, to hold offenders accountable. Too often that system is flawed and fails victims.

      I am thankful for the resources (shelters, centers, advocates) available to help victims, survivors and others. There is hope. And help.

  2. Susan Ready Says:

    Again we witness another senseless mass tragedy and so much of it often domestic violence related. One would hope a church to be a safe haven but not anymore. We pray for the victims and their grieving families.
    P.S. Raised Catholic in Minnesota I must say I have never heard of Saint Jarlath- nor the cemetery honoring his name. town-nice photographs

  3. Jackie Says:

    I love this post as you well know we share a love for old churches and cemeteries (and unlocked church doors) but it’s the killings in the church in Texas that causes a lump in my throat. I’m loosing hope that there are any places that remain safe from these evil cowards (I won’t even call them people) It’s just so sad and scary…. all I can do is pray.

  4. Valerie Says:

    What a great name for a saint, an Irish one at that. I, too, enjoy old cemeteries and churches and like your photographs.
    So much seemed wrong with the young man who killed so many in Texas. What a sad, sad, situation.

  5. melirey96 Says:

    What a beautiful church. Looks like the one I attend. The cemetery with the fall decors that was placed just reminds me that I need to pay a visit to my grandfather’s grave site to decorate it with fall decors.
    Have a blessed day!

  6. Ruth Says:

    Especially like the sun rays on the church top in the last photo. What a great post. Will share your post with my son who is a history major and avid cemetery explorer.

  7. Janet Hanf Says:

    This church as been there many years n has German Catholics as well as Irish. You should check out Cannonville Church also.

  8. Missy's Crafty Mess Says:

    What a beautiful little church and cemetery.

    I found a Facebook page for the little country church that I was married in.

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