VALIER — Belgian homesteaders landed in Pondera County, Montana, in the early 1900s. War-stricken Europe was enough to ship out west. An eleven-day journey across the Atlantic and another ten by train to Montana – they settled near present day Valier.
The first settlement built was a Catholic church. Formerly known as Sacred Heart Church, and now referred to as the Belgian Colony Church.
Thirteen families helped build the small mission, calling it home for generations, eventually closing its doors in the 1960s.
It sat vacant until the turn of the 21st century when descendants of the founders appealed to restore the historical landmark.
“I would not let this church go down. There's no way because my grandfather, which lived across the coulee over here, came over straight. He was one of the instigators that came over… and he was one of the settlers here that homesteaded here,” said Gerald Miller, a member of the restoration team.
Nestled at the base of Belgian Hill 10 miles from Valier this building is a symbol of the strength it took to endure the prairie. Once in shambles, now built sturdy to last another generation of descendants.
“When all this reconstruction was done, they would have been 100% in there to help,” said Dennis Ghekiere, relative of a founding family.
Former Bishop of the Diocese of Helena granted permission to the committee to rebuild the church, donating $5,000 to the fund.
It took 20 years for the dream to come to fruition. Today - families, friends, and worshipers graced the newly renovated church.
Bishop Austin Vetter, current head of church for the Diocese of Helena, performed a service, reinstating the holy sacraments to the landmark.
He said, “It's the easiest thing to do is to restore the church building. It's much harder to allow the grace of God to restore his image in us. That they built some real solid foundation here. They're buried here. And without them coming, we wouldn't even be here.”
The solid foundation lies next to the church, in the cemetery. Names that still ring through Pondera County and throughout Montana.
“It means so much to the settlers that came here. The kids of the settlers that, you know, their grandparents and parents who showed up here. It's just a memorial to them,” said Ghekiere.
It means most to Agnes Fowler, treasurer of the Restoration Committee. Her mother mowed the cemetery lawn well into her 90s, instilling many values into her that can never be forgotten.
“It was my mom's dream. She's happy. So that makes me happy. Even if it's tears. But it's happy.”
Belgian Colony Church can be found heading east off Interstate 15 toward Valier – make a right on Belgian Church Road and you’re there.
It is open every day for worshipers and visitors alike.
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