Plevna’s St. Anthony Church proclaiming Christ for 100 years

The St. Anthony Catholic Church in Plevna has stood on a firm foundation for over 100 years as they have proclaimed the gospel of Christ.

By Sherry Vogel

The St. Anthony Catholic Church in Plevna has stood on a firm foundation for over 100 years as they have proclaimed the gospel of Christ.

The original church building is still in use today as 10-15 families of parishioners gather three Sunday mornings a month at 10:30 a.m. to celebrate mass.

The stately old white clapboard cathedral was erected in 1914 for $500. The Catholic community gathered together to have a church raising, similar to the old fashion event of a barn raising where many of the surrounding area would gather to help make the building process an easier and quicker undertaking. As the story is told, the first day, they erected the frame. Then the parishioners retired for the night. They discovered early the next morning that a gusty Montana wind had blown during the night and had blown the entire frame over. So the building crew strengthened the frame with iron cross bars to make a sturdier building. Those iron cross bars are visible still today.

St. Anthony was built in the traditional design of the Catholic Church, which used a specific architectural  “language”, based on eternal principles to build the temple of God. Nearly every detail of this old traditional Catholic Church building had a precise and rich significance, pointing to important aspects of Catholic faith and practice.

The three primary elements which the early Plevna Catholics kept in mind to define the aesthetics of the church building, are: verticality, permanence, and iconography.

St. Anthony’s church building met the first element of vertically. The premise was that the church should dominate the horizontal. The original building was constructed with a high tower, which housed the campanile (bell tower). It was also built on the highest hill in Plevna. Although during a church remodel in the 1980’s the belfry was removed the building still stands on the highest point in Plevna. After the remodel, the parishioners kept the original bell, which is mounted on a stand in front of the main entry.

St. Anthony’s would make its first priests and parishioners proud as it has definitely met the criteria of eternalness as it stands with a firm foundation to celebrate 103 years of permanence in the Plevna community.

The third element incorporated into St. Anthony’s structure is the primary element of iconography. The church building has remained, after all this time, to be a sign to both the faithful and the greater community that Christ and His Church is present and active in this specific locale.

Old time parishioners Otto Meyer and Ed Herde furnished the sanctuary with a beautiful altar that they had shipped in from Wisconsin.

Although there were no stained glass panes in the windows at St. Anthony, the original windows were the traditional round-headed Saxon windows the builders had clustered in groupings of two. This was common practice, a hundred years ago, to allow ample light fill the sanctuary.

In 1918, the parish built a house next to the church, which was the home of a succession of priests until 1948.  The last priest to live in Plevna was Father H.D. Ciebattone who retired in 1948. St. Anthony then became a mission of the St. Johns Catholic Church in Baker. The parish house was purchased by the Sieler family and moved a block over to become their family home.

In the past 103 years, 11 priests have served the parish. The first priest was J. B. Moskopp. (1914-1919). He was followed by Father Arthur Richard (1919-1928), Father Thomas Aquinas Starkle (1930-1931), Father Hyacinth Ciebattoni (1931-1948), Leo Jansen (1947-1949) (1950-1954), Father John Alphonsus Hanrahan (1954-1967), Father Joseph Galour (1967-1968), Father John Joseph Gilhooley (1968-1971), Father Denis Keane (1971-1977), Father Thomas Tobin (1977-2015) and presently is Father Phillip Chinnappan who currently presides over the  parish as of 2015.

*Father Thomas Tobin, who now resides in Ekalaka, has the distinction of the longest serving priest at St. Anthony. He  ministered for 38 years.

The original structure of St. Anthonys has changed drastically over the decades yet the front facade still has the double doors, sometimes called the portal, that function as the literal gate to the Domus Dei (the House of God).

St. Anthony opens its doors on Saturday evening , May 6 to welcome everyone to come in to celebrate their 103rd birthday. The celebration, that commemorates the church as it enters into its second century of serving the Plevna community, will begin with mass at 5 p.m. followed by a potluck at the Plevna Community Center. A short program will conclude the celebration at 7 p.m.