FRANC PIRC AND THE ESTABLISHING OF THE FIRST SLOVENE SETTLEMENTS IN THE U.S.A.
The article deals with the role of the Slovene missionary Francis Pierz in the establishment of the first Slovene settlements in the United States. While mainly promoting the German Catholic colonization of Stearns County in Minnesota, he also managed to attract several fellow countrymen to the area of his missionary activity. The article focuses on the establishment of the two Slovene settlements and parishes of St. Stephen and St. Anthony, respectively in Brockway and Krain townships – the latter was named so after the area of origin of the settlers, and it still retains this name.
Like the German Catholic community in Stearns County, the much smaller Slovene “island” within it as well shows an outstanding attachment to its ethnic roots and the Catholic religion, which is also related to their preservation of the rural way of life. However, it originally stems from the beginnings of their life in the wilderness, when they needed mutual collaboration and the contacts with the missionaries for their very survival. On the other hand, we can also suppose that they were somehow aware of their role in setting the bases of their ethnic community in the new world. The missionaries and the institutions of St. Cloud's diocese sure aided them in this regard.
The writings of the Slovene missionaries also provide the essential sources which enable us to follow the events that led to the establishment of the settlements of St.Stephen and St. Anthony, as well as their development in their early years.
Thus, by reading Pierz's letters in the Slovene religious newspaper Zgodnja danica (Early Morning Star) we can follow the emigration of a group of his fellow countrymen from their homeland up to Minnesota, where, however, they were misled, probably by land agents, and did not reach the missionary.
However, through the memories which have been preserved in their community we learn of their encounter with another renowned missionary, Joseph Buh. Through Buh's baptismal records and his letters to Zgodnja danica we then learn of the early development of their settlements and parishes, of which St. Stephen is regarded as the first Slovene ethnic parish in the United States.
Still another prominent person who decisively contributed to the establishment of St.Anthony's parish was Bernard Ločnikar, who joined the Benedictines of St.John's Abbey in Collegeville and later also became their abbot.
Though the paper does not propose to examine the further religious development of the two parishes, it stresses the growth of the Slovene settlement in St. Stephen up to the First World War, while on the contrary the Slovene population decreased in St. Anthony.
The conspicuous compactness of the Slovene settlement in St. Stephen, besides its size, certainly aided the preservation of its ethnic identity, though it was also fostered by the Church. However, the attachment to the ethnic roots was also sustained by the persistence of rural values, so that even Slovene farmers in St. Anthony managed to maintain ethnic traditions by living on their historic farms.
In honor of the Slovenes in St. Stephen and St. Anthony since 1982 both the St. Stephen church and rectory as memorial of the establishment of the Slovene settlement and the Anton Gogala farmstead in Krain township as a significant representative of a Slovene pioneer farmstead are included in the National Register of Historic Sites in the United States.
Majda Kodrič is historian and professor in Trieste, Italy.