Aug 04, 2023

Lava rock church remains icon of Wibaux history

WIBAUX — Fifteen miles from the North Dakota border, Wibaux brims with Montana history.

“If people are history buffs, they definitely should stop in and visit us for a couple hours. There are a lot of things that would interest them," said Rob Bushman, a retired history teacher from Wibaux schools.

A sentinel of the town is the old St. Peter's Catholic Church, which was built in 1895 by Pierre Wibaux himself.

The original church was white and wooden, but during an expansion project in 1937, Father John Leahy and a group of parishioners hauled lava rock from nearby fields and covered the exterior of the church in thousands of stones.

Lava rock is common around Wibaux, but the stone exterior makes the church truly one-of-a-kind and has made the steeple a staple on the National Register of Historic Places.

“It meant a lot to Wibaux back then," said Gilbert Quade, a Wibaux resident. "Back then, a lot of homesteaders had come in here and there was a lot of Catholic families and there was a lot of children back then. And I remember this church was full."

Quade got married in the church in 1961 and daily use of the church ended in 1965, when a new Catholic church was constructed.

Bushman says the stone church holds a lot of memories for the community, and the church and the museum keep it preserved.

“I grew up in this church, I was baptized in this church, I had my first communion in this church, I had my confirmation in this church, all of that. It was here," Bushman said.

John Sokoloski is a member of the St. Peter's Parish Council and says the church is kept locked, but any visitors can ask to be let in.

“There was a wedding last summer that was held here. So it gets a little bit of use, but it's mainly for the tourism and the museum type," Sokoloski said.

New to town is the new leader of the Wibaux Catholic community, Father Jijo, who is originally from India.

Father Jijo sees the historic church as one of the most endearing and enduring parts of town and one that will leave every tourist with an unforgettable visit.

“Every time the visitors come here to see the lava rock church, they will say to me that they feel something alive inside," Father Jijo said. "I believe it is the old generation, the praise that they have done, to build a Catholic church in Wibaux.”