During its 100-year history, Immaculate Conception Chapel has been the site of more than 5,000 baptisms, about 1,500 weddings and one funeral for a Gypsy queen.
What may be the city’s most unusual funeral ever took place at the Catholic church on Fifth Street, when a requiem funeral Mass for Florence Mitchell, a prominent member of a Gypsy tribe and an Eastern Rite, or Uniate, Catholic, was held there Aug. 5, 1954.
Mitchell, 44, was in the area for a carnival at Ellsworth Air Force Base when she was killed in a car accident near Rapid City on Aug. 2. As word of her death spread, thousands of Gypsies from different tribes throughout the country came to Rapid City to pay their respects during a three-day wake. They arrived by car, plane and camper caravan.
According to news reports of the wake and funeral, her fellow Gypsies placed silver dollars between each finger of her hands and slipped keepsakes of all kinds into her coffin to pay their respects before departing almost as quickly as they arrived.
The funeral itself was a small, private family affair, but hundreds of local people lined the streets as her funeral cortege made its way from Behrens Mortuary on Mount Rushmore Road to the cathedral, led by the Rapid City Municipal Band playing Chopin’s “Funeral March.”
In addition to Mitchell’s, there have been 947 funerals held at ICC.
Other interesting historical facts about the church:
- It was built in 1909 on the site of the first Catholic Church in Rapid City — St. Mary’s — built in 1881 for $345.
- St. Mary’s was replaced by the current Gothic structure of native sandstone, with its 50-foot tall bell tower and Romanesque arches, in 1909.
- ICC was dedicated July 9, 1911, after three years of construction and $25,000 in costs.
- It has been, at various times in its history, a church, a cathedral and a chapel. It was the diocesan seat from 1930 to 1962.
- It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974.
- Its two main stained glass windows depict the Catholic doctrines of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary and The Annunciation.
- Since 1992, it has been a Latin Mass congregation.
- The image of a pelican, a symbol of the Redeemer, is found on a wall of the church because the bird was believed to wound itself to feed its young with its own blood, leading St. Thomas Aquinas to pray, “Pelican of Mercy, cleanse me in Thy Precious Blood.”