Religious Education in early Dawson History

Religious Education in early Dawson History
By Bob Williamson
Religious education was another very important part of life of the pioneer families living in and around Dawson, as it was in all parts of our nation in those early days of our history.  Many times their faith in a loving God was all they had to depend on to keep alive in such a wild and remote part of the country.
   The first church service was held in the home of John Rothenberger when a traveling priest came to celebrate Holy Mass in his log cabin home in 1853. For quite a long time such opportunities came only once in many weeks.  Later when there were more people in the area, the group came together for worship services held in a home or school house. It was not until 1878 that St. Mary’s built their first church under the direction of Rev. C. J. Quinn.  At that time, there were 36 families in the parish.  The present St. Mary’s church building is the fourth to be erected by their congregation, all preceding structures being destroyed by fire or storms.
   In 1874 Henry Allen, who lived on a farm north of Dawson, organized the Union Sunday School.  They met in an empty granary near the elevator.  It was empty that summer because the grasshoppers had eaten the corn crop which they did again the following summer. Because there was no way to heat this building, they could not meet in winter.  Later, they met for worship in the I.O.O.F. Hall in the town. 
   Several ministers tried to organize a church with no success until Rev S. A. Petit came and organized the United Evangelical Church. In 1882 a building was erected and dedicated to the worship of God.  Later, this building was remodeled and enlarged but had the misfortune to be struck by lightning and destroyed, the present church building replaced it.
   The two church groups worked together for the good of the town and the community and hopefully the good of the nation.
The closing recently of the former United Evangelical Church which had become the Dawson United Methodist Church leaves only one church in the town of Dawson.  Such is the current religious education in small rural communities today.  Many artifacts were rescued from the closing of the Church and will be displayed in the chapel of the Pennsylvania Colony of Nebraska new museum addition soon to be erected. Locals and tourists from afar are invited to stop and tour the museum…it is free and fun to read of early history in the community of Dawson.
(Compiled and written by Bob Williamson, museum director)