From the History of the Catholic Church

in the Diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska

1887-1987

Immaculate Conception, Resurrection, Elsie

 

More than four thousand settlers came to Perkins County during the 1880s. Some of them homesteaded in the eastern part of the county and established the town of Elsie.

 

The Catholics among the settlers in and around Elsie were blessed with the services of a priest only sporadically. A priest might visit them a few times and then, because he was transferred, or because he left the diocese, the people would not see him again. Many did not become permanent settlers. Thus, continuity was lacking among both the settlers and the clergy. As a result much of the history of the Catholic Church in that area has been lost, and some erroneous data have been reported.

 

An example of such an error is the date when the pioneers built their first church in Elsie. Many accounts state that the church was erected in 1893. but here are two sources that indicate it was built in 1889. One is the report for the year 1889 sent to Bishop Thomas A. Bonacum by Father J. J. Loughran. Elsie was one of the missions visited from Minden by Father Loughran. He stated that the patron of the church was the Immaculate Conception and that it was the only Catholic Church in Perkins County. Father Loughran explained that the work that still remained on the interior of the church would be completed during the summer.

 

Another verification of the date 1889 as the year in which the church was erected can be found in a letter written to Bishop Thomas A. Bonacum by John A. Faught of Casey and Faught Company, Builders and Contractors of Elsie. In his letter of February 27, 1893, John Faught asked for a clarification from the Bishop as to whether or not Elsie would be getting a resident priest. He mentioned that he had heard from various sources during the four years since the church was completed that a resident pastor would be assigned to Elsie. Faught's letter, together with the report of Father Loughran gave conclusive evidence that the first church was built in Elsie in 1889 and not 1893.

 

There were thirty-five families in the parish when Immaculate Conception Church was constructed in 1889. The names of these families have not been preserved. Father Loughran continued to travel the 138 miles from Minden to Elsie until 1891. Then, it seems the parishioners had Holy Mass only when a itinerant priest happened to be in the area. According to John Faught that happened only once in two or three months. Since this was always on a week day, many of the Catholics could not attend. Others did not hear the news that a priest would celebrate Holy Mass.

 

Meanwhile, Bishop Bonacum continued his search for a priest to send to Elsie. On April 29, 1893, he succeeded in getting Father Joseph Smith from the Diocese of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, to come to Lincoln. Father Smith was immediately assigned as resident priest of immaculate Conception Parish in Elsie. The parishioners had the rectory prepared for some time, and were very happy when a priest came to occupy it. Their joy was short-lived. For some unknown reason, Father Smith stayed in Elsie for only a short time and then left the Diocese of Lincoln.

 

As a result of the drouth that began in 1892, many settlers returned to the eastern states and the population of the county dwindled from four thousand to fifteen hundred people. From 1892-1897 the drouth caused crop failures, with the total loss of crops in 1894. Only the most tenacious and courageous among the pioneers remained in Elsie.

 

During those difficult years, the people of Elsie had to depend on help from other parts of the country in order to survive. In a letter written by John Faught on April 30, 1895, he gives an account of the donations that the people of Elsie received through the help if Bishop Bonacum. The list included 756 bushels of wheat, 350 bushels of oats, two cars of coal, 50 sacks of flour, 900 pounds of meat and $200 in cash.

 

Two other priests who resided in Elsie were Father Engelbert Boll from October 15, 1897 to May 10, 1899 and Father Joseph Ress from October of 1899 to March of 1901. After Father Ress was transferred to Shelby, the parish once more had only sporadic visits by a priest. Because of the lack of regular clerical services coupled with their great economic difficulties, the people had little interest or motivation for maintaining their church. Although their debt in 1903 was only $500, they decided to cancel it by selling the church. The people of Holdrege bought the building, dismantled it, transported the materials, and then used them for building their church in Holdrege.

 

After the sale of the building, any priest who came to Elsie used whatever space was available when offering the Holy Sacrifice for the courageous settlers who chose to remain in Elsie despite all the hardships. Priests who came during that era included Father Sebastian Brennan and several Oblate Fathers.

 

The beginning of World War I marked an upsurge of another land boom in Perkins County. Since the value of farm land was increasing so rapidly, many of the cattle ranges were divided and used for raising wheat and corn. The establishment of more small farms encouraged many people to come to Perkins County. This increase in population also increased the number of Catholics in the vicinity of Elsie

 

Father Joseph Blacha cared for the Catholics in Elsie from 1916 to 1921. During the regular visits that he made to Elsie from Curtis he encouraged the people to build a church once more in order to have an appropriate place to worship. J. M. Nachtigall of Omaha designed the Gothic structure. The contract was awarded to H. Shelton of Paxton. Joseph Svoboda of Kewaunee, Wisconsin, built the altar, pews, communion rail, and vestment case. The building 60 feet long and 24 feet wide cost approximately $7000. It was dedicated by Bishop Charles J. O'Reilly on Tuesday, October 8. 1918. It was named "Resurrection of Our Lord Church" since it symbolized the spiritual resurrection of the congregation that had been for a decade and a half without a church. Saint Cecilia choir traveled all the way from Hastings to sing for the dedicatory ceremony.

 

Father E. J. Schaeper succeeded Father Blacha in 1921 as pastor of Curtis with Elsie as a mission. Two years later he became pastor of Wallace but continued to attend Elsie until 1935. His successors were Fathers Fredrick A. Stock (1935-1937), Clarence E. Stirn (1937-1944) and Anthony Gruesser (1944-1947).

 

In 1947, Bishop Kucera sent a resident priest to Elsie, Father Lambert Brookman. He served at Benkelman and Saint Mary Cathedral before being appointed administrator of Elsie on September 7, 1947. The previous year an old hotel had been donated to the parish. The congregation renovated that building and used it for a rectory and social hall.

 

In 1948, construction was begun on a pastoral residence. Its completion was delayed because of the illness and death of Father Brookman. He died at the age of forty-five on December 31, 1950, after serving Elsie for only three years. He was succeeded by Rev. Casimir Bobrowski until August 24, 1960 when Elsie reverted to being a mission of Wallace.

 

The pastors who have served from Wallace since that time are: Fathers James O'Connor (1960-1961), James Dillon (1961-1965), John Kozlik (1965-1966), S. J. Buckiewicz (1966-1971), and Othmar F. Missler. Pastors since Father Missler have been: Fathers Thomas McGuire, Thomas Walsh, David Drewelow, James Benton, Joseph Steele, William Grant and Mark Pfeiffer.

 

Over the years extensive work has been done to improve all the buildings of the parish plant. This included new carpeting, new heating systems, repainting and air conditioning of the interior of the church and parish hall. The statutes have been restored and the church rewired. Exterior improvements included a new roof and siding on the church and tower, an underground lawn sprinkler system and a new entrance with handicap ramp.

 

In July 2003 Elsie became a mission of Grant then reverted again in June 2005 to being a mission of Wallace. Since June 2007, Father Pfeiffer has been serving as pastor to Mother of Sorrows in Grant as well as St. Mary's and Resurrection.

 

Two vocations have come from the parish in Elsie: Monsignor Luke L. Mandeville, served as a priest of the Diocese of Lincoln for fifty-four years. He was ordained on June 13, 1916. After earning a doctoral degree at The Catholic University of America, he served as diocesan superintendent of schools from 1928 to 1930. He completed his priestly service in this world on December 29, 1970. A young woman of the parish answered God's call to religious life and served the Church as a Dominican Sister of Saint Catherine, Kentucky, Sister Eileen Marie Byrne consecrated her life to God in 1946.

 

 

 

 

 

  

The second church in Elsie, Church of the Resurrection of Our Lord, was dedicated on October 8, 1918. The Parish hall at Elsie used for CCD classes and CYO activities.  The members of the Altar Society maintain it.