By Scott Shephard
Hoven, SD, 81 miles northeast of Pierre as the car flies, has a population of of around 400. But they have a church befitting a town much larger. It has the nickname of "The Cathedral of the Prairie," but because it isn't the seat of a Catholic Bishop, it can't properly be called a cathedral. But the townspeople who inspired and supervised its construction in the early part of the 20th century had aspirations.
If you are wondering where Hoven, SD, is and ask a South Dakotan, they'd say, "Its up there by Tolstoy. Or Akaska. Or Onaka. Or Lebanon." If you're not from around these parts, you'll just have to Google it.
I know its location because for 30 years I've been driving by the turn that leads north to Hoven as I head to or from sailing at The River. And almost every time I've passed this point, I've thought, "Some day I'm going to go there and see the church."
Deb and I finally got there a couple of days ago and were more than impressed. If you're hearing about this place for the first time, please don't wait 30 years! I say this in part because it is that special. But I also am saying it because, as the rural parts of our state "hollow out," there will easily come a time when the local population can't sustain an architectural masterpiece like this. Consider this: Hoven's population declined by 20% between 2000 and 2010. Those of us who have lived in or wandered through the rural parts of our state have seen towns that have closed their schools and cafes, let their Main Streets revert to gravel and have shuttered their once essential and vibrant churches.
The Church of St. Anthony of Padua helped put Hoven on the map. But it isn't likely to keep it there. I hope I'm wrong. . . .
How about a few more photos of this amazing place: