Bohemian settlers came to this area of northwest Rawlins County in 1886. They had lived in Chicago, Omaha and Humboldt, Neb., after emigrating from central Europe. They continued to speak their native Czech language and found it difficult to take part in the nearby English-speaking Immaculate Conception Parish at Studer Settlement, located five miles north and nine miles west of Atwood. About once a year, a Czech-speaking priest would arrive at the parish to hear confessions and celebrate the Mass in their language.
In 1910, Father Placide Wolker was sent to Illinois to study Czech and then was assigned to both Immaculate Conception and SS. Cyril and Methodius Parish at Bohemian Settlement, located about 10 miles to the northeast.
Residents wanted to build a church of their own, so in 1916, with Father Wolker’s support, they began to raise the money. A site was selected about seven miles north of the town of Beardsley. By the time the brick church, dedicated to the Bohemian martyr St. John Nepomucene, was dedicated in May 1917, it was completely paid for.
Dwindling membership forced the closing of Immaculate Conception in 1921 and SS. Cyril and Methodius in 1979. Families from both parishes became part of St. John Nepomucene.
By 1937, English had become the predominant language of the parishioners, and during a redecoration project, the original Czech phrase “Svaty, Svaty, Svaty, Hospodin Buh Zastupu” stenciled above the altar was changed to the Latin “Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus, Dominus Deus Sabaoth,” or “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Hosts.”
Today, St. John Nepomucene Church still stands alone on the prairie, its 85-foot-tall tower topped by a silver dome visible for miles. Inside, stained-glass windows bear the names of donors written in Czech, and ornate statues of saints grace the original altars.
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