Minnesota County Histories
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Our Savior's and Opdal Congregations of Sacred Heart
(By Rev. Nils Giere.)
The History of Renville County, Volume 2
Compiled by Franklyn Curtiss-Wedge
Chapter XL
p. 1265-1267

The majority of the early settlers along the banks of the Minnesota river in the western part of Renville county after the massacre were Scandinavians. Their heroic story is told elsewhere.

In those early days there were no public schools. It developed upon the parents all together to care for the instruction of their children. Accordingly every home had its private school where first of all the essentials of Christian doctrine were inculcated as set forth in Luther's Catechism, Pontoppidan's "Forklaring," and other textbooks. Much credit is given to the untiring and faithful services of Lars L. Rudi, a man of much learning and Christian experience. For some time he served as the local "teacher and pastor" of the entire community. Every Sunday Mr. Rudi would have the pioneers come together for Christian worship in log cabins, cellars or the open, lead on in prayer and singing, expound portions of scripture, exhorting his friends to steadfastness in faith and clean living and then devote the rest of his time to the instruction of the "little ones."

The first Lutheran pastor to visit the Sacred Heart settlement was Rev. Thomas Johnson, of Swan Lake, Minnesota.

On a "bright Sunday morning," September 22, 1868, a large number - men, women and children - coming by foot, some from a distance of eight miles or more, assembled at the home of Ole Kolien, where the "first sermon" was preached and the mother church of all the Lutheran churches in western Renville county was organized as "Our Savior's Norwegian Evangelical Lutheran Church of Renville County, Minnesota." For a period of three years the devoted Rev. Johnson served the pioneer church as often and faithfully as time and occasion would permit. His salary was fixed at $40.00 a year. Sometimes the venerable reverend would have other pastors come to his assistance, like Revs. N. Brandt, of Decorah, Iowa; N. Ylvisaker, of Zurnbrota, and T. Hattrem, of Lake Hanska, Minn. The constitution of Our Savior's church was undersigned, as it appears, by 97 charter members. Besides the names already mentioned may be added the following: Ole O. Melsness, Ole Enestvedt, Tollef Enestvedt, Eric Nelson, Hellik Kollien, Ole B. Dahl, Iver lverson, Christian Narvestad, Theodore Rongerud, Hans Grotvedt, Ole and Halsten Otos, Hans,Gunderson, Christian Ingebritson, H. Stavne, P. G. Peterson, G. S. Melsness, Eric Golie, Hans Sagnes, Christian Hoö, Halvor Mutta, H. Golie, Hermo Halverson, B. Hogenson, B. Kortgaard, Ole Skjaggeby, K. Throngaard, O. Holtan, K. Bergan, Peter Kartgaard, P. Erickson, P. Oslie, A. Samuelson, E. S. Gunderson, J. Tillisch, John Roste, M. Hogenson, Christian Listerud, T. Skrukrud, and John Hang. Later on names like P. P. Dustrud, Martin Jacobson, O. T. Rude and Ole Stensrud were added.

For reason of the great scarcity of ministers at that time, the Sacred Heart people did not succeed in securing their local and resident pastor till in the fall of 1871. Rev. Johannes E. Bergh, of Muskegon, Michigan, upon a call from Sacred Heart (Our Savior's), Ft. Ridgely and Yellow Medicine congregations was then installed by Rev. Thomas Johnson November 12 in the log cabin of Peter Erickson. A wide mission field extending to a radius now covered by all of ten parishes, tested the zeal and strength of the new pastor through pathless plains and dreadful winter blizzards. But he labored on and for 33 years devoutly ministered to his people. The people, though poor, were happy and hopeful, faithfully meeting winter and summer at all church services. Yellow Medicine and Fort Ridgely churches withdrew respectively 1874 and 1876 from the call. About this time Our Savior's church joined the "Synod for the Norwegian Lutheran Church of America," to which society it has ever since belonged. A parsonage had been built about 7 miles southwest of Sacred Heart, preparatory steps were taken for the erection of a church, much interest was shown in arranging for parochial schools in the various districts and everything looked prosperous. But then came the pestering scourge of grasshoppers, which precipitated a sudden halt for years in all lines of progress. Many of the old homesteaders sold out and left the country, others for the support of their families would through the busy season of the year have to seek work in the southern settlements of the state, and yet the people never murmured, but displayed rather a spirit of cheerfulness and contentment ever ready to divide with one another their scanty portions of flour and cornmeal as best they knew how.

Not till 1880 was any effective work done toward the building of a church. By this time "the railroad had come," the consequence of which at once decided the location of the proposed house of worship. The cornerstone for the so-called "Synod church" of Sacred Heart was then laid on a lovely eminence in the center of the village, a small piece of ground south of town was secured as a place of burial. The new edifice was dedicated by Rev. Prof. H. G. Stub at a big church convention held here in the summer of 1888.

Previous to and succeeding this event new church organizations had been formed as annex-churches to Sacred Heart like Vestre Sogn, Our Savior's of Renville, Rock Dell and Opdal, all of which in course of time became separate parishes, except Opdal, which ever since its organization has remained a part of the "Sacred Heart call."

Rev. Bergh's pastorate, as noted, covered a period of 33 years. The following pastors served as his assistants: Revs. S. T. Reishus (1885-86), H. A. Stub (1887), Nils Giere (1901-04). At the resignation of Rev. J. E. Bergh, May, 1904, call was extended to Rev. Nils Giere, the present pastor of the Sacred Heart parish. The old country parsonage, house and farm, was eventually donated to Rev. Bergh. There he resided for about 26 years. About 1897 Rev. Bergh erected his own dwelling in Sacred Heart. This magnificent structure was later on (1905) purchased by the parish for $3,500. Adjoining each of the two churches in Sacred Heart and Opdal chapels were built (1911 and 1913) at the cost of $4,300.

By statistics of 1908 the total number of baptisms was given as 2,359; confrmed, 1,187; married, 330; buried, 491. The first born: Jorgine Caroline Enestvedt and Halvor Ostenius Helgeson, both born 1867. First married: A. Samuelson and Christine Christenson, by Rev. Thomas Johnson, May 29,1869.

The present total membership of Sacred Heart and Opdal churches, 813. Six Ladies' Aids, one girls' Priscilla club, and two Y. P. societies have been in active work for years. Summer schools for the instructlon of the young are maintained in the chapels and country school houses - besides Saturday and Sunday schools. Donations to various missions last year (1914) was $1,578.45.

Present officers: Janitors, O. H. Larshus, Ole Forkerud; choristers. P. C. Brevig, Ole Enestvedt; organists, Esther Giere, Anna Kottom; trustees, G. P. Mangerud, A. O. .Skrukrud, Carl Jacobson, M. G. Melsness, H. Golie, H. Collin, H. Hagenson, L. Danielson; superintendent of Sunday school, G. P. Mangerud; building committee, T. A. Nellermoe, John Haug, H. Thostenson, A. A. Skjette, Rev. Giere.

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