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Issue 14 – Christmas 2022

Brass Rubbings

Great Plains Burrito

On a Nebraskan parish.


Before I can describe Sacred Heart Parish of Saint James, Nebraska, I have to tell you about the runza. A runza is a compact, brick-like foodstuff of Germanic origin, but native in its current form to Nebraska. It’s a sort of Great Plains burrito, filled with ground beef, spices, and chopped cabbage (cheese optional). Its appeal to Midwestern farmers is perhaps obvious: it’s a warm, portable meal with the caloric value of a plate loaded high at the buffet. A runza is not much to look at, but it fills you to the brim. The same could be said of Sacred Heart Parish.

The first white person born in Nebraska (according to some reports at least), Victor Vifquain, is buried in the Sacred Heart cemetery, and his name adorns a stained glass window in the church. The initial white settlers, who arrived just before the outbreak of the Civil War, were primarily of German extraction. Though this of course meant plenty of Lutherans, there were enough Catholics that by 1873, Crete, a town twenty-five miles southwest of Lincoln, needed a permanent church to house them. On Christmas Day that year, the first Mass was offered in Saint James church, Crete, presumably by Father Ferdinand Leichleitner, who had been acting as priest for the Catholics in Crete since 1871. In addition to serving Crete, many of the early priests would ride the newly laid railroad west, ministering to the various “alphabet towns” along the route—Dorchester, Exeter, Fairmont, and down the line.

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About the author

Asher Gelzer-Govatos