‘Little White Church’ history mystery solved
By Kathy Cordes
These past several months, the diocesan archives has been a whirlwind of activity! There have been events such as the West River Catholic’s 50th anniversary open house, items to display from the 1962 construction of the Cathedral OLPH, storing artifacts for the Cathedral high school, the collection of early items from the Sisters of St. Martin’s, just to name a few, along with our day to day busyness.
Often, the archives are behind the scenes putting together such events. For the 50th Anniversary of the West River Catholic, I located historical news and relics, and, in this case, the past media (mediums) used for the processing of our West River Catholic newspaper. Wax photos, tin negatives, old issues including when the WRC was first published by the All Church Press in Texas, and history stories from the Rapid City Journal that predate the diocesan newspaper. The display included items ranging from an old electric typewriter to an early computer, layered color photo separations to digital photos relevant to the times.
For the Diocese of Rapid City Cathedral Building Fund Campaign, I found an original fundraising brochure. The picture on the cover displays the 1963 Cathedral with the baptistry on the south side (as it is being installed there now). I have been diligently searching for any correspondence from the early days as to why the original drawings were on the south side and not on the north as it has been located these past 60 years.
Sitting on a shelf waiting to be discovered, I opened three boxes labeled “negatives, oiled and not oiled.” I discovered metal plates, what I refer to as “tin negatives.” Technically, these metal plates are called micro metal photo engravers plates and were used by the earliest of printing presses. They are vintage! They are negatives of a picture or print. The tins are of a very heavy, sturdy metal invented sometime in the seventeenth century. Then, they were oiled with some sort of “ink” and pressed onto a wood plank which is then pressed onto the newspaper plate for printing.
These plates are reverse printed. Meaning, in my simple terms, they are backwards. I began to wonder … God moment? I believe the printing of the Cathedral on this 1963 fundraising brochure was printed incorrectly, whether it be for correct news layout esthetics or plain and simple human error. I did not find any plans or correspondence in the archives of moving the baptistry to the opposite side — until now, that is.
In the box every parish had their own print, along with our priests of the time, including a picture of the church of Maxwell. If you follow our social media and #tbt, you know that the archives has been searching for any and all history on this church in the small town of Maxwell. History buffs will recognize my research and definitely, my excitement.
“Bishop (John J.) Lawler’s wonderful zeal for these souls, a beautiful church is being erected, and thus far seen in the prairies it is one of the nicest little churches I have seen,” said Fr. John Groell, in 1935.
Maxwell’s lone building was called St. Ann Catholic Church. Its nickname, the “little white church” has made quite a journey throughout our diocesan history. “Your spiritual life will center among the church … this church will be the source of God’s Grace … It will bind you together in mutual charity and companionship … your children will learn to be God-fearing and God-loving people …” Bishop William T. McCarty, 1956, upon the dedication of the new “little white church.”
Do you know where and how many times the “little white church” has flourished and moved locations in our diocese!? Its history was featured on our #tbt on July 13. Did you see it? Built in the early 1920s at Maxwell, the church was moved in 1947 to Rapid City and was called Blessed Sacrament. The Blessed Sacrament at Canyon Lake congregation outgrew this small white church and was then moved again to St. Isaac Jogues and washed away in the flood in 1972, ending its history with the Diocese of Rapid City. Check out Facebook.com/DioceseofRapidCity to see the tin negatives.