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Rev. Nils P. Xavier

Nils Paul Xavier (1839-1918) served the Fort Ridgely and Dale Church during the first years of Theodora Cormontan's membership.  Rev. Xavier kept a log of his activity at the church, and several visits to Theodora are noted there.  These entries may be found on the Ft. Ridgely/Dale Book page under the menu bar heading "Theodora Cormontan" on this website.  Notably,  Xavier apparently became the first Saami trained for church ministry here in the US rather than in the Norwegian (Lutheran) State Church.   The Saami, as an indigenous Arctic people of about 100,000 in number, live in a multi-border (or transnational) society, and make their home at the top of the Nordic and Russian territories. I have included several entries below detailing the life of Rev. Xavier.


From: Curtiss-Wedge, Franklyn.  The History of Renville County, Minnesota, Vol. 2.  Chicago: H.C. Cooper, 1916.

Nils Paul Xavier served the Fort Ridgely and Dale church from July 31, 1876-May 12, 1891.  Rev. Xavier was born in Kautokeino, Norway September 26, 1839, graduated from Springfield, Illinois.  On Sunday, 4/8/1888 he preached the first Norwegian Lutheran sermon for the Morton congregation in the schoolhouse in Morton, MN.  He preached his first sermon in Palmyra, MN on July 31, 1876 in the town hall.  Rev. Xavier and his family moved into the Ft. Ridgely and Dale parsonage on Christmas Eve, 1878.  The cornerstone for the church was laid on October 29, 1886, and the church was dedicated on May 28, 1893. 


From: Norsk lutherske prester i Amerika, 1843-1913 ... By Olaf Morgan Norlie, Knut Seehuus, Mons Olson Wee, Arnliot Mattias Arntzen, Amund Larson Wiek, Lars Lillehei


Rev. Nils P. Xavier served Ft. Ridgely and Dale church and other area Norwegian Synod churches until 1891. From there he traveled to Ridgeway, Iowa, where he pastored from 1891 to 1904.  He subsequently worked as a "home missionary" in Parkland, Washington. 


From: A Saami-American Experience: the Extended Xavier Family

A Saami-American Web Blog by John E. Xavier, begun on 12/2/2010 

Nils Paul Xavier (1839-1918), godson of Paul Gaimard and Xavier Marmier, was born in Sapmi under the name of Nils Paul Xavier Tornensis in Guovdageaino (Kautekeino). He was born of the second marriage of father Johan O. Tornensis (1780-18??), his mother being Marit Qvanegan (18??-18??). Nils Paul Xavier carried out his own name change before attending the Tromso school in the 1850s for teacher training. Nils Paul (N.P.) had multiple links by bloodline and marriage to several extended families, including Tornensis, Balto, Gaup, Haetta, Keskitalo and others. These links carried over to North America, during N.P.'s life span and up to contemporary times.

Prior to the main Scandinavian rush for emigration, known as Amerika Fever, the family of N.P. and Amanda Magdalena (Norum) Xavier (1849-1933) first appeared in North America in 1873. N.P. had excelled in school at the Tromso Seminar and at teaching and by his late twenties met his future wife, Amanda. Married in 1868, N.P. and Amanda soon had three childen, Karl, b. 1869; Johan, b. 1870; and Anna, b. 1872. The family emigrated, crossing by steamboat on the Sverre in 1873. 

In Chicago, N.P.'s sister, Ellen Tornensis Severtsen, lived with her tailor husband, having arrived in the US more than a year earlier. After a brief stay in Chicago, N.P. and Amanda moved to Spring Prairie, Wisconsin, and became associated with the family of Rev. H. A. Preus, an historic figure in the Lutheran church, old Norsk (Norwegian) Synod, generally referred to as The Synod. H.A. Preus was instrumental in evaluating, encouraging, and later including, N.P. in various roles in The Synod.

In The Synod and beyond that church group, N.P. would ultimately become an historic figure of some note, as the first Saami to come to the United States and to be trained here as a Lutheran Pastor in The Synod. The Synod was a dominant organization in Norwegian-American religious and ethnic matters for decades, from the 1850s until its merger with other Norwegian church groups in 1917. Saami-Americans, including many of the families and friends of N.P. and Amanda Xavier, were active across all the Nordic ethnic and religious communities.

N.P and Amanda were not alone in The Synod in their Sapmi background. In The Synod, and other Norwegian church groups, there were other Saami active in the mid- and later 1800s, notably Rev. Bernt Julius Muus. Rev. Muus, an upper-crust product of the high-powered State Church of Norway, was a colorful, controversial, and prominent Synod organizer.    

In contrast to Muus and most rather elite Synod leaders, N.P. Xavier's niche-claim to a certain renown (as referred to above) comes not from high status in Norway, but from his early days in the U.S. It was in 1874 that he was recruited to The Synod through the influence of Synod co-founder Rev. H. A. Preus, who always was ever on the lookout for worthy candidates for the rank of Synod pastor.

Thus it was that Nils Paul Xavier apparently became the first Saami trained for church ministry here in the US rather than in the old-school and largely elitist Norwegian (Lutheran) State Church. His wife, Amanda, was herself the daughter of Karl Norum, an Arctic-based Lutheran State Church pastor in Alta. She had held employment in the Sapmi areas of Norway with a post office and churches. In Wisconsin in 1874-1876, Amanda energetically engaged in farm work, housekeeping, and child care. She gave birth in 1874 to Marit Xavier, the first Xavier born in North America. Amanda also helped arrange for some of her own siblings to come to the US during N.P.'s two years of theological training in St. Louis [Concordia Seminary, 1874-1875] and Springfield, Illinois [Concordia Seminary, 1875-1876]. 

Following N.P.'s theological studies in 1876, he and Amanda found themselves bound for southern Minnesota, along with N.P.'s sister, Anna Johanessen, and Amanda's brother, Arne Norum. Locating upriver near New Ulm, on the north ridge of the lush valley of the Minnesota River, N.P. and Amanda spent better than year in a hillside dugout, in what became known locally as "Finntown," due to the large number of immigrants from Finland.

N.P. would assume his pastoral role at the historic Fort Ridgely and Dale parish in Renville County, near Franklin. As the first Lutheran parish in that county, Fort Ridgely and Dale was a rarity for the times: a truly multiethnic church and thus a good place for the multilingual N. P. Xavier. N.P. would perform pastoral duties in Norwegian, Finnish, German, Saami (he conducted a funeral for the newborn son of his sister, Anna), Swedish, Danish and English. The Synod parish had substantial members at Fort Ridgely and Dale, but lacked both church building and parsonage when N.P and Amanda arrived in 1876. 

The Xaviers awaited the construction of a parsonage, but nonetheless carried on their work in the Minnesota River valley, primarily Franklin and Fairfax. And it is there we leave them on this blog post, in 1876, at this stopping point for the story of the Xavier Family in the Saami-American experience. 


In the June15, 1944 edition of the Sacred Heart News the third and last installment of the memoirs of Bolette Marie (Stub) Bergh were published.  She was the wife of Reverend Johannes E. Bergh, a long time pastor in Sacred Heart who also for a time served Ft. Ridgely Church.  Her recollections include the following:

Our first neighbor-minister was Rev. N.P. Xavier of Fort Ridgely.  I longed so to meet a "prestefamilie," but even when Xaviers came, we could not visit them very often, as it meant a drive of 40 miles on poor roads.  But {Rev.} Bergh was relieved of these long drives as part of his missionary work, when Xavier came.


From: "Norwegian-American Studies, Volume
 34" published by the Norwegian-American Historical Association (NAHA) in
1995. This entry discusses Xavier's activity after he moved to Parkland, Washington in 1904.

Johan Ulrik [Nils Paul's son] and Nils Paul Xavier built a large house in Parkland. Here 
Nils Paul and Amanda Magdalena lived for the rest of their lives. Father 
and son worked together in an editorial capacity. For many years they
 were editors of The Pacific Lutheran University Herald, published in
 Tacoma. It was a sort of home mission paper for the pastors of the 
Norwegian Synod living on the West Coast. The inlets and bays must
 have reminded them of northern Norway. Small settlements of their
 countrymen were to be found along the coast, emigration from the coastal 
districts of northern and western Norway having begun in earnest. But one 
could not yet talk of established communities. For one thing the
 religious needs of the settlers were not being met. Nils Paul Xavier
 could not stand idly by.
  Thus the third phase of his life as a minister began. It was reminiscent
 of the first, on the Minnesota frontier. He became a "visiting pastor," a
 kind of "home missionary," with missions scattered over a wide area, a 
couple lying more than 200 miles from his home. He visited them
 regularly, preaching the Word of God and administering the sacraments. He
 used all means of transport — railway, steamship, fishing boats, and his
 own two feet. He carried on this activity for fourteen years, down to his
 death in 1918. Even in his seventy-eighth year he spent the whole of
 Easter week in visiting the "mission," traveling long distances on foot.
  He delivered his last sermon only two weeks before his death, in spite of 
the fact that now he showed the effects of failing health.  Nils Paul Xavier was buried in the cemetery at Portland, by the side of
 his daughter who had died before him. The cemetery was already in
 existence when he first visited Portland in 1904. He said then that here
 was the place he wished to be buried. On visiting it at that time, he
 wrote in his diary, according to Karl Xavier: "the cemetery lies
 surrounded by beautiful pinewoods, truly a peaceful resting place for 
those who have passed on. God’s peace lies over it!" Anna Magdalena
 outlived her husband for many years, dying in Parkland in 1935. 



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