Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Part III: St. Michael’s, beyond a building January 28, 2021

Outside my husband Randy’s home church, St. Michael’s in Buckman. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2020.

FOR MANY, THE WORD “church” prompts visions of a physical structure, a place where people of faith gather to worship. Certainly, that’s part of the definition. But, even more important, “church” is the people. That’s why, in times of natural disaster or fire or whatever may render a physical building unusable, the “church” continues.

This sign marks a back pew. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2020.

For 118 years, the faithful have gathered at St. Michael’s Catholic Church in Buckman. Even during COVID-19, Mass happens three mornings a week. On the September weekday Randy and I visited, not a soul was around, giving us ample opportunity to explore this beautiful aged sanctuary.

Book of the Innocents photographed at St. Michael’s. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2020.

Despite the absence of people, I experienced the presence of those who call St. Michael’s their church home. I saw the human spiritual connection in handwritten prayers recorded in The Book of Innocents.

They left their mark… Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2020.

Upstairs, atop the balcony wall ledge, I noticed initials, names and dates etched in wood. Another human notation, albeit probably not appreciated by all. But the scratchings are part of St. Michael’s history.

A view from the balcony. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2020.
Stained glass windows abound, this one next to a side altar. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2020.
The beautiful side altar. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2020.

As I looked down upon the massive sanctuary defined by stained glass, sculptures, woodcarvings, paintings and other impressive art, I considered the humanity of this place. Baptisms. First Communions. Weddings. Funerals. Events—joyful and sad—which brought/bring people together to celebrate or to mourn. Mass, too, with singing and praying and forgiving and worshiping and growing in faith.

Looking toward the back of the church and the balcony. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2020.

Generations have gathered here, within these walls, as a faith family.

This stunning cross stands in the center of the main altar. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2020.

I’ve found comfort and joy here, too, celebrating the marriage of my father-in-law and a sister-in-law and grieving the loss of a brother-in-law and then my mother-in-law 27 years ago. Since then, the church has been restored and a side entry and fellowship hall added, making the building much more accessible.

Spotted on a table in the entry. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2020.

In the new entry, I paused to read a small sign: PRAYER THE WORLD’S GREATEST WIRELESS CONNECTION. I laughed and thought, so true while simultaneously considering how much the world has changed since the construction of this church in 1903.

Masks are available for worshipers inside the entry. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2020.

Yet, little has changed. People still define St. Michael’s. They gather here—as they have for generations—within this art rich sanctuary, embracing liturgy steeped in music and tradition, to worship God. And to connect, heart-to-heart, with one another and with their Savior. Even during a global pandemic.

This is the final post in my three-part series on St. Michael’s Catholic Church, Buckman, Minnesota.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Part II: The artistry of St. Michael’s in Buckman January 27, 2021

St. Michael’s Catholic Church in Buckman. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2020.

WHEN I STEP INSIDE A CHURCH like St. Michael’s Catholic Church in Buckman in central Minnesota, I feel overwhelmed by the sheer artistic beauty and craftsmanship. I wonder about those who built this massive church in 1903, dedicating it on September 29, St. Michael’s Day. How did they manage to build this 118 years ago without modern equipment? That amazes me.

Looking toward the front of St. Michael’s. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2020.

Beyond the actual structure, which surely took much muscle, many manpower hours and grit to complete, I wonder about the artists behind the artwork inside. Who crafted the stained glass windows? Who built the altars? Who shaped the statues and painted the angels and built the pews?

A stained glass depiction of Jesus carrying his cross. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2020.
One of the side altars, right, at St. Michael’s. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2020.
The Nativity represented in stained glass, left. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2020.

I am grateful to those faith-focused artists and craftsman who created such beauty here in the middle of Minnesota. A place for farm families (mostly) to gather for Mass. To praise God. To confess their sins. To press their hearts in prayer. To mourn. To celebrate. To grow deeper in their faith.

The Last Supper is depicted on the lower part of the main altar. Simply stunning. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2020.

The Helbling family made St. Michael’s their church home upon relocating to Minnesota from North Dakota in 1963. My husband, Randy, and his siblings attended elementary school across the street. That school, next to the cemetery, is long gone. My mother-in-law and a brother-in-law are buried here, across Minnesota Highway 25 from the church. So, by marriage, St. Michael’s is now part of my history.

Just look at the emotions sculpted into this art. I see peace, pain, determination… Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2020.

Certainly, I don’t hold the deep emotional connection that comes from years of worshiping within the walls of this rural Minnesota church. But I still hold a deep appreciation for this place which was such a valued part of my in-laws’ lives.

Stained glass windows and sculptures adorn the side walls of St. Michael’s. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2020.

As a woman of faith—I grew up Lutheran—I value aged churches and art. Religious art is often symbolic, reinforcing Bible truths and stories. It can uplift, comfort, provide peace, bring joy, remind us of our weaknesses and the source of strength and hope. It can center and ground us when we most need to feel centered and grounded.

Massive pipes on the pipe organ in the St. Michael’s balcony. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2020.

Many times, church art has reinforced my faith, helped me to feel the presence and closeness of God whether in a stained glass window, the words of a familiar hymn or the comfort of a worn wooden pew.

“Pilate condemns Jesus to death” sculpture between two stained glass windows. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2020.

Inside St. Michael’s, generations of families have gathered. I am grateful for those early settlers who labored to create this sanctuary in the small town of Buckman, Minnesota.

Please check back as I take you inside St. Michael’s for the final post in this three-part series.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Part I: St. Michael’s in Buckman, place of faith, art & memories January 26, 2021

IMAGINE, AS A YOUNG BOY, moving nearly 400 miles across the plains of North Dakota east to Minnesota with your family to start a new life. You’ve left behind your grandparents and other extended family, and the comforting familiarity of farm home, church and school. For my husband, that was reality.

St. Michael’s Catholic Church in Buckman. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2020.

As the Tom and Betty Helbling family settled onto a farm southeast of Buckman in central Minnesota in the early 1960s, Randy found himself adjusting from a one-room country schoolhouse with one teacher to a parochial school with multiple classrooms and teachers. He no longer faced cancellation of recess due to coyotes circling the playground at Chimney Butte School near St. Anthony. Rather, he faced nuns slapping his hands with a ruler or drilling thumbs into his skull, adding to his angst as the new boy in school. And then there was the matter of the frightening statue across the street inside the massive St. Michael’s Catholic Church.

In the center, St. Michael overpowering Satan. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2020.

Some six months ago, I heard for the first time about Randy’s boyhood fear of the statue which centers the main altar at St. Michael’s, where he attended weekday and Sunday Mass. The statue features a triumphant St. Michael overpowering Satan with a spear. A horrid, crouching other-worldly creature with an open mouth of sharp teeth and equally sharp claws represents Satan. Enough to scare any child looking over adult heads to that altar art. Not even the chain and weapon would be enough to inspire confidence in the Evil One’s captivity.

St. Michael’s stretches long and high. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2020.

All of that aside, St. Michael’s is a truly beautiful church. Massive in size and vast in art. I’ve come to know it only through marriage as I grew up 145 miles to the south of Buckman and in the Lutheran faith.

“The Nativity” stained glass, one of many similar windows inside St. Michael’s. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2020.
A stunningly beautiful cross, one of many. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2020.
Statues on a side altar. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2020.

I don’t pretend to understand the meaning of all the art which graces this space. But one thing I do understand is that this house of worship excels in craftsmanship and artistry. Each piece of art holds meaning, significance, purpose. From the stained glass windows to the sculptures to the ornate altars.

Looking toward the back of the church and to the balcony. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2020.

Years have passed since I stepped inside St. Michael’s. So when Randy and I visited his mother’s and brother’s gravesites at the church cemetery last September, we decided to also check out the recently-restored church. I expected locked doors, so often the case now in rural and small town churches. But the doors to an addition were open and we had the place to ourselves. Note that plenty of security cameras film visitors.

My favorite art in St. Michael’s are these angels painted on the ceiling above the altar. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2020.

My reaction was one of awe as I stood inside the sanctuary with its soaring ceiling, art seemingly everywhere. It’s a photographer’s paradise. An art lover’s dream. A place of peace for the faithful.

A side altar up close. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2020.
Ornate ceiling details. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2020.
One of many detailed sculptures. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2020.

I felt overwhelmed as I moved from one area of the church to the next—attempting to take in all I saw. The whole picture. The details. Oh, the details.

The center altar, with that frightening statue. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2020.

I stood for a moment, placing myself in Randy’s shoes as that young boy from North Dakota seeing this all for the first time. I locked eyes on the statue of St. Michael towering over Satan, the terrible, horrible creature with the sharp teeth and claws. And I understood Randy’s fear manifested there all those decades ago.

Please check back as I bring you more photos from inside St. Michael’s Catholic Church, Buckman, Minnesota.

© Copyright 2021 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A place of peace for the faithful in Waterville September 30, 2016

 

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I AM NOT of the Catholic faith.

 

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Still I appreciate the strong, artistic visuals that hold great symbolism for those who are Catholic.

 

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On a recent visit to Waterville, I discovered the grotto at Holy Trinity Catholic Church. While there’s no comparison to the renowned Grotto of the Redemption in West Bend, Iowa, this southern Minnesota grotto is worth appreciating.

 

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Here, in this farming community, field stones were harvested and crafted into a religious shrine in 1929 that honors Christ, Mary and the archangel Michael. One can only imagine the labor and love invested in creating this quiet space of prayer and peace.

 

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Nearly 90 years later, this parish still cares for this place. Plants ring the shrine. Stones remain secure. And in 1992, the walls and floors were constructed and a time capsule installed.

 

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Faithful devotion endures through the generations at Holy Trinity Grotto in Waterville. I see that in this shrine.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Kommen Sie for a taste of Deutschland in Faribault November 2, 2013

Arroz con pollo tastes much better than it looks.

Arroz con pollo, a Latin American dish of chicken and rice seasoned with fresh garlic, onions, red peppers and cilantro. The perfect comfort food as Minnesota transitions into winter.

EVERY YEAR ABOUT THIS TIME, I find myself craving comfort foods. Homemade mac and cheese. Beef roast and mashed potatoes. Steaming bowls of soup laced with thick chunks of vegetables. Fiery chili. Even hotdish.

Sliced strawberries, cucumbers and Amablu Gorgonzola cheese added to Romaine lettuce made a perfect salad. I topped the salad with lemon poppyseed dressing.

Sliced strawberries, cucumbers and Amablu Gorgonzola cheese added to Romaine lettuce make a delicious salad, often a meal for me during the summer months.

I eat fewer salads, place less fresh produce in my shopping cart, fight the urge to bake cookies.

The cycling of the seasons, transitioning into the long, dark and cold days of winter in Minnesota, imprints upon my body and psyche. Call of comfort foods. Snuggling on the sofa under a fleece throw, book in hand. Limited trips outside the house once the curtain of cold and darkness falls upon the land.

The German meal: sauerbraten and spaetzle on the left, German potato salad, sweet and sour cabbage, dinner roll and sauerkraut and brats.

The German meal: sauerbraten and spaetzle on the left, German potato salad, sweet and sour cabbage, dinner roll and sauerkraut and brats. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

And so this seems the perfect time to partake of the food of my forefathers at Cannon Valley Lutheran High School’s annual German Fest: Sauerbraten mit spaetzle, Deutsche potato salad, sweet & sour red cabbage, bratwurst mit sauerkraut and the, oh, so delectable bread pudding.

Diners enjoy the ethnic meal at the second annual CVLHS German Fest in 2011.

Diners enjoy the ethnic meal at the second annual CVLHS German Fest in 2011.

Tickets are now on sale for the Sunday, November 10, German Fest Supper, served from 5 p.m. – 5:45 p.m. in the Trinity Lutheran Church gym, 530 Fourth St. N.W., Faribault. Cost is $13 for ages 11 – adult; $7 for ages 5 – 10; and free for preschoolers with a paid adult. Call (507) 685-2636 for tickets. You may also purchase tickets at the door.

If you appreciate German food, you will enjoy this ethnic meal served after the free German Fest of Thanks & Praise, which begins at 4 p.m. in the Trinity sanctuary. From songs and prayers in German to the music of an accordion trio, a harmonica player and a 12-piece band, the program offers an opportunity to reflect on our blessings.

The German Fest presents a perfect prelude to Thanksgiving and to this season when Minnesotans crave comfort foods.

FYI: The German Fest Supper is a fundraiser for Morristown-based Cannon Valley Lutheran High School, which serves students in grades 9 – 12 from around the region. Classes were suspended this school year, among other reasons, to pay off the school’s operating debt with plans to reopen in the fall of 2014.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

In Lenora, Minnesota: An historic stone church October 10, 2013

STUDYING THE BOOK OF PROVERBS the other evening with my bible study group, the discussion turned to the value of wisdom over silver, gold and rubies.

We all agreed that we’d rather have godly wisdom than wealth.

And then the talk somehow sidetracked to churches and whether monies spent to build ornate structures would better be used to serve the missions of the church. Eventually we concurred that, when done for the right reasons—to honor God, a physically beautiful sanctuary is God-pleasing.

The Cathedral of Saint Paul. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

The Cathedral of Saint Paul. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

The exterior of the 1865 Lenora United Methodist Church. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo from October 2012.

The exterior of the 1865 Lenora United Methodist Church. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo from October 2012.

I’ve been inside both, from the sprawling and ornate Cathedral of Saint Paul in St. Paul to the simple plainness of a country church with handcrafted pews.

Jeremiah Fowler Stevens built and donated the pews.

Jeremiah Fowler Stevens built and donated the pews in the Lenora church.

Like the pews in the Lenora United Methodist Church, the oldest church in Fillmore County in southeastern Minnesota. The congregation was established in 1856 by a pioneer circuit rider who led camp meetings there boasting attendance of 2,000 plus souls. The church closed in the late 1920s (as Lenora was bypassed by the railroad and dwindled in population) and today is open for special events and concerts and the occasional worship service.

Looking from the front toward the back of the church.

Looking from the front toward the back of the church.

The bible study exchange and the mention of the historic Lenora church by bible study member Jeff, who recently visited this church with wife Mandy, reminded me of my visit there a year ago and that I needed to share those photos here.

When I went online to research the church in preparing this post, I discovered that Brad Boice, an award-winning Elvis impersonator, will present inspirational and uplifting music along with his wife, JulAnn, from 3 p.m. – 5 p.m. this Sunday, October 13, at the Lenora church.

A simple touch of lanterns upon windowsills of the church.

A simple touch of lanterns upon windowsills of the church.

Now if there’s anyone who’s glitzy silver and gold and rubies rhinestones, it would be Elvis.

Brad Boice may be all that when impersonating the famous 50s singer. But he’s also a man of faith as evidenced in this online quote:

I thank Jesus Christ, my Lord and Savior, for my family, friends and the talents that He has given me. Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined that God would take me to the places that He has.

Another view of the historic church.

Another view of the historic Lenora church.

Sunday afternoon that place will be inside the Lenora church along Fillmore County Road 23 in Lenora (near Canton).

Don’t expect silver or gold, rubies or rhinestones. Instead, expect inspirational spiritual songs within the confines of a simplistic house of worship on the National Register of Historic Buildings.

The rustic Lenora church doors.

The rustic Lenora church doors.

FYI: Click here to learn more about Lenora United Methodist Church.

And click here to learn more about Elvis impersonator Brad Boice.

Watch for a post tomorrow from Lenora, in which I introduce you to Fannie Miller.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

I know that my Redeemer lives March 31, 2013

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A cross in Trebon Cemetery, 10 miles northwest of Faribault in Shieldsville Township.

A cross in Trebon Cemetery, 10 miles northwest of Faribault in Shieldsville Township.

I know that my Redeemer lives;
What comfort this sweet sentence gives!
He lives, He lives, who once was dead;
He lives, my ever-living head.

He lives triumphant from the grave;
He lives eternally to save:
He lives all-glorious in the sky;
He lives exalted there on high.

This, one of my favorite hymns, I sang with the congregation of Trinity Lutheran Church in Faribault this Easter Sunday morning.

The words are imprinted upon my memory from childhood Easters, of singing from the balcony of St. John’s Lutheran Church in Vesta with my Sunday School classmates.

I know that my Redeemer lives. I knew that then. I still know that now. He is risen. He is risen, indeed.

Wishing you a most blessed Easter in our risen Lord.

Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Appreciating the beautiful craftsmanship of a Minnesota church December 23, 2012

A snippet of the pews and beautiful stained glass window.

A snippet of the pews and beautiful stained glass windows.

THE PEWS ARC in graceful curves in this holy house where the muted grey gloom of a December afternoon filters through the western wall of stained glass windows.

Just another interior view, looking toward the balcony.

Just another interior view, looking toward the balcony.

Dark wood fills this place. If not for the glorious side windows and the stained glass dome, darkness would prevail.

Focusing on the altar area and the eastern stained glass window.

Focusing on the altar area and the eastern stained glass windows.

Like so many churches in my southeastern Minnesota community, Fourth Avenue United Methodist Church in Faribault is steeped in history, bathed in beauty. One need only stand within this sanctuary, dedicated in December 1915, to feel the overpowering influence of the past in fine craftsmanship.

The obvious Greek influence in the church architecture.

The obvious Greek influence in the church architecture.

It is humbling to consider the hours devoted with hands-on manual labor to create such a reverent place resembling a Greek temple, particularly noticeable in the exterior stately Tuscan style columns.

I don’t pretend to know much about architecture.

But I do recognize beauty.

Looking up at a Christmas star suspended from the center stained glass dome.

Looking up at a Christmas star suspended from the center stained glass dome.

Three sets of heavy wooden doors lead into the sanctuary. To read about the Community Christmas Dinner, check my December 17 post.

Three sets of heavy wooden doors lead into the sanctuary. To read about the Fourth Avenue United Methodist Church annual Community Christmas Dinner, check my December 17 post.

Another view of the sanctuary.

Another view of the sanctuary.

Editing tools were applied to this photo of Mary and Joseph, lending a dreamy quality to the image.

Editing tools were applied to this photo of Mary and Joseph, lending a dreamy quality to the image.

I noticed this message posted in a church hallway.

I noticed this message posted in a church hallway.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The inspiring art of Richard Vilendrer October 28, 2012

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IF YOU HAVE ANYTHING in your life weighing you down today, and I mean anything, then you need to watch a You Tube video, “The Artwork of Richard Vilendrer.” (Click here to view.)

Richard is a 73-year-old Faribault artist who uses a ballpoint pen and colored pencils and a technique called cross hatching to create the most uplifting and inspiring art. He draws subjects like flowers, leaves, crosses, stained glass and more, integrating religious themes.

An example of Richard’s nature and faith-inspired pen-and-ink and colored pencil artwork.

In fine and precise block print, Richard often incorporates a message: GOD’S GREAT LOVE HOLDS EVERYTHING IN EXISTENCE or I AM THE BREAD OF LIFE or MAY THE PEACE OF JESUS BE WITH YOU ALL.

I first discovered Richard’s art about a year ago at the Faribault Farmers’ Market where Carol Vilendrer was selling her husband’s work, and I hesitate to call his art “work.” Passion would be a more accurate description, I later learned in a phone interview with Richard. That led to a blog post, which you can read by clicking here.

Recently, Carol tipped me off to the You Tube video created by the Vilendrers’ daughter, Rebecca Quidley, who is pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree with an emphasis on arts at a North Carolina community college. As a class assignment, Rebecca had to write about someone who inspired her in life. She chose to write about her father.

When you view this video, you will understand why Rebecca chose Richard because, I promise, you will be inspired. You see, Richard suffered a stroke while vacationing in October 2010 and was paralyzed on his right side. Fortunately, he is left-handed. Richard underwent intense physical therapy to recover. The video shows that recovery process.

Daughter Rebecca writes in her video that, after the stroke, her dad drew with more passion and fervor than ever. That shows.

He draws in a small room—a bedroom before the kids left home—at a drawing table.

Childhood memories, daily life and his faith in God inspire Richard in his art.

Right now, watch “The Artwork of Richard Vilendrer” and be inspired. Your day will be better for having done so.

Scripture and Christian songs also inspire Richard.

FYI: Richard’s given four drawings to his church, Divine Mercy, and one was purchased by the Friends of the Library, on display at Buckham Memorial Library in Faribault. Half-fold greeting cards are sold at a downtown Faribault consignment shop, Fabulous Finds. Richard’s prints and cards are also sold at events with all proceeds given to the American Cancer Society.

© Text copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling
All artwork copyright of Richard Vilendrer and photographed with permission

 

Hop into church on Easter April 6, 2012

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TYPICALLY, JUNK MAIL I receive goes directly from my mailbox into the recycling bin without even a read-through.

But the message and graphic on this piece of mail paused me to stop, read the words and actually flip the oversized postcard to the other side.

Now why did this mass mailing capture my momentary attention?

The short, off-the-wall powerful message popped right out at me. And, the image, well, who doesn’t savor a chocolate Easter bunny?

Connecting the bitten-off-tail bunny with the chosen message seems creative genius to me, the perfect pairing of art and words.

Now I don’t know who, specifically, is the creative mind behind this postcard. But the mailing comes from CANVAS Church in Northfield.

I won’t be attending or joining CANVAS Church. I already have a church home. But I applaud this congregation for reaching out to the masses with an impressionable message that might just bring people in the doors for Easter morning worship.

As an added Easter worship incentive, CANVAS is offering free individual or family photos by a professional photographer.

There you go. Creative marketing and gimmicks to draw in worshipers. Not a new concept. But certainly one that made me stop to read a piece of junk mail before tossing it into the recycling bin.

© Text copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling