By Father Julius De Vos
First resident pastor of St. Eloi Church Ghent, MN - 1883
The first question asked by Catholics intent one migration is
whether or no they can receive the consolations of their religion. After
starting his colonies, Right Rev. Bishop Ireland of St. Paul met those
wishes, and attracted to our state many rich and moral people. In order to
organize divine worship, the enterprising bishop tries to put the Catholics
all together, and also he enables them to support their priests and build
In Lyon county he reserved the five northwest townships
for Catholics. He made from Nordland and Eidsvold the colony of Minneota for
the Irish and English people; and from Grandview, Westerheim, and Vallers
the colony of Ghent for the Flemish and Canadian people. Here we will speak
for the latter colony. It was only in 1881 that the colonists began to
arrive in Ghent. Over the immeasurable ocean lies a small land the most
thickly settled and the best cultivated in the world. It is the kingdom of
Belgium. No larger than 10 counties of Minnesota it contains nearly
6,000,000 inhabitants, 462 in a square mile, so that on an average each
Belgian should not have two acres of land. Every spot of land is cultivated
with extreme care, and whole Belgium seems to be the agricultural garden of
But such a dense population makes great concurrence amongst
the laborers. Heavy rents and taxes are to be paid, and manure, weeding and
toiling are very expensive. The enticing pamphlets about the Catholic
colonies reached those active people. Many were moved on hearing from that
immense fertile prairie land which claims willing hands to become very
fertile. But the old people, feeling themselves very comfortable at home, do
not move as quickly as the bold Americans. There came about 50 Belgian
lamilies, and others are preparing to follow.
The pioneer of all
these settlers was
Mr. Angel VanHee. He was conducted here by Right Rev.
Bishop Ireland and by his brother
canon Peter VanHee, a well informed man
living in Liverpool. He was so much pleased with the appearance of the soil
of Ghent that he made immediately his choice on the very land where he is
now living. Though he traveled through the whole country, he did not find a
better place; and he bought half a section. Immediately he hired more than
20 teams, and before starting he saw 100 acres broken. Then he went to
Flanders, a county of Belgium, to get his wife and nine children, and to
give good information to his friends. Returning, he built a large farm
house, which still remains the largest of the country.
attract the Flemish people as to a new Flanders, the former name of the
village of Grandview was changed to the name of the old city of Flanders,
The family of Mr. VanHee,
Mr. David VanHee and the
Mr. [Benedict] VanHee, bought large tracts of land, and built fine store houses
in European style. Mr. De Zutter took half a section of land; Mr.
Vandewoestyne, Mr. Decock and Messrs. Vergote and Foulon bought improved
farms of 160 acres.
In January 1883 Father Cornelis, pastor of
Minneota, went to Belgium and Holland and gave lectures on the colony of
Ghent. Many were moved. With him came Father Y. Devos, who was appointed
pastor of Ghent; Mr. J. Lambert, several farms; Mr. Princen, who purchased
an improved farm near town: Messrs. Schreiber, Haerts, Maertens, Depuydt,
Messine, Dicken, Sandy and they all settled on large farms, and built
Messrs Clayes, Peters, VandenBogaerde, Crombez,
Baumans, Delmele, Hendrick, Riviere, have been looking around till now for
Nearly every week there were new-comers buying
railroad land or improved farms; for instance, Messrs. Dereu, Vanden Abeele,
VanSprundel, Vankeulen, Engels, Dobbeldere, Blauwette, Browers. Mr.
Maenhoudt has moved to Marshall to rent an improved farm. There is now an
impulse given, and many more will come, provided the emigrants continue to
enjoy this country.
Meanwhile there was rapid immigration of French
Canadians from Kankakee Co., Ill. Finding themselves too thickly settled in
that state, those courageous people were looking around not only in
Minnesota, but also in Iowa and Dakota, but they preferred our state. Two
energetic men, Mr. Letourneau, and Mr. Regnier, came during the summer 1882.
They traveled through some southwestern counties, especially through
Pipestone, and finally preferred the colony of Ghent. Immediately they
bought a great quantity of land, and acted with such activity that in 1882
they had more than 3,000 acres of R. R. land, and 1,000 acres more in the
following summer of 1883. Mr. Letourneau became agent of the depot, and his
oldest son agent of the elevator for Mr. Van Dusen, his two other sons
purchased land near the town. Mr. Paradis bought a store house and 240 acres
of land; his sons, Amilien and Cyrille, 240 acres; his nephews, Suprenant
Lord and Lord Paradis, more than half a section; Messrs. Antony Paradis,
Suprenant-Prairie and Metty entered large improved farms. Mr. Regnier and
son bought nearly a section; Mr. Carron has 400 acres; Mr. Lebeau now has
320, and both built a large and handsome farm house in American style. Mr.
Padnaud has 80 acres; Mr. Duchene, Mr. Nevell, Mr. Emilien Surprenant each
160; Mr. Carron has 200 acres in Vallers. Some others have bought land and
are expected next spring.
The arrival of these people in spring was
very encouraging. They filled a whole train, several freight cars and a
coach. There were furniture, horses and cattle enough to provide a whole
township. There were about 50 persons and more than one Illinois horse for
every one. We have also some Irish Catholics, Messrs. Cavanaugh, Ford,
Cassidy, etc. and some Germans, as Messrs. Schreiber, Haerts, etc. The
arrival of these new-comers was saluted with favor by all intelligent
Americans as being a great benefit for the country, for they brought in a
good deal of money; they raised the value of property; and they gave
occasion to sell improved farms dearer than anywhere on the prairies of
Minnesota. Hence they were always welcomed among the old settlers and
treated by nearly all like brothers.
The village though young and
small is very thriving, having a depot and an elevator; Mr. Soucheray has a
stock of general merchandise, and Mr. Emilien Paradis has also established a
store. Mr. Gets has a hotel and a tinware shop; Mr. Vergote has a blacksmith
shop; Mr. Cool is a carpenter and wagon maker; and Messrs. Lebeau, Paradis
and Carron were well-known carpenters in Chicago; Mr. Angel VanHee and Mr.
F. Gets are preparing a brickyard for next summer, Brick making is very well
known among the Flemish, who all live in brick houses in their fatherland.
The first house of worship was a Methodist chapel which still
remains. There are nearly three hundred Catholics around Ghent, but as
new-comers they cannot afford to build a church immediately. They are
preparing to build a large church next summer. The gentlemen of the town
have already given a concert to provide church furniture. They are preparing
a new one, mostly in English, so that everybody can understand them.
Since June 1883 Rev. Father Y. Devos has been among them. They are
so assiduous to divine offices that they attend not only the sacrifice of
the mass, but also the vespers, coming twice to the meeting every Sunday.
They feel very happy when then they can relish the ceremonies of their old
religion. Two very good musicians, Mr. Foulon and Mr. Vergote, furnish good
singing during the services. There are few congregations where so many
languages are spoken. When he addresses the people the pastor has to speak
Flemish French, English and German. The Latin used in divine office is the
only common language which is generally understood by all. As soon as they
hear the Latin language, which they heard in their younger days and in their
distant fatherland, they feel themselves at home in their old church, and
they are very happy to see and hear the pious ceremonies of their worship.
There is now a bad organization of the school districts. We have
three district schools, but the nearest school house is more than two miles
from town. Very zealous for instruction, Father Devos erected a free school
in town. It is taught by Miss Hanna Lester from England, and not only the
children but grown persons go to school to learn the English language, so as
to be able to converse with their American neighbors. In their love for
instruction the county commissioners are ready to make better arrangements
for the public schools of Ghent.
We hope in a few years to make of
Ghent a thriving and happy city, a new home as joyous as we left in our