A History of St. Peter's Parish Church by Father Paul Paproski

St. Peter’s Church is an active parish of 100 families in the Muenster district within the Diocese of Saskatoon. The Romanesque church, with its twin towers and beautiful worship space, is a witness to the presence and majesty of God.  

 

St. Peter’s Parish was founded in 1903 when the first pioneers came to open homesteads and establish businesses. Among the settlers were Benedictine monks of the Order of St. Benedict (OSB) who came to provide German-speaking priests for the pioneers, most of whom were second-generation German-Catholics from Minnesota. The first parishioners built a log church east of the parish. The Benedictines built a log monastery nearby that was soon replaced by a wooden structure. In 1904-05, the Canadian Northern Railway passed through and established a train station. Businesses and homes grew around the station and in 1908 they were incorporated into the hamlet of Muenster.  

 More German-Catholic settlers arrived from across the United States, Canada and Europe and formed St. Peter’s Colony, a religious jurisdiction of the Roman Catholic Church. The colony eventually numbered 12,000 Catholics who lived in 50 townships, stretching in an east-west direction from Watson to Peterson and a north-south route from Cudworth to LeRoy. (One township is 36 square miles.)

 

St. Peter’s Church was built in 1908-10, under the supervision of parishioners August Wassermann and Theodore Fleskes, both immigrants and skilled carpenters. Volunteers helped raise the structure that seats more than 400 and measures 120 ft. by 56 1/2 ft. The two towers on the front rise to approximately 70 ft. The official opening of the church was July 10, 1910. The interior and exterior were painted white.

 

Count Berthold Imhoff painted the inside of the church in 1919. He covered the sanctuary with 80 life-sized figures and frescos. His work was a personal gift to his friend, Abbot Bruno Doerfler, OSB. The project cost the parish only $3,000, the value of the material. The parish became known as a cathedral on May 6, 1921, when St. Peter’s Colony was raised to a territorial abbey (diocese), St. Peter’s Abbacy (Diocese of Muenster), with the abbot as spiritual leader. The church became the focal point of religious celebrations in St. Peter’s Abbacy. The monastic community, in 1921, moved to its present location south of Muenster. The abbacy was discontinued in 1998 when it was absorbed into the Diocese of Saskatoon. St. Peter’s is officially a parish church, but many local residents still refer to it as a cathedral.

 

The art within the worship space depicts scenes from the Gospels and persons of faith. The walls at the west entrance, above the Confessionals, display Jesus in: ‘The Crucifixion’ and ‘The Agony in the Garden’. In the centre (ceiling below the choir loft) is ‘Jesus, The Good Shepherd’. Rising above the nave at the entrance is ‘The Ascension of Jesus’, commemorating the first Mass in the district, held on the feast of the Ascension, May 21, 1903.

 

Other illustrations above the aisle depict: ‘The Sacred Heart of Jesus’, ‘The Annunciation’, and ‘Eucharist’ (above the altar). ‘The Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary’ (titles of Jesus and Mary) adorns the left and right aisles. Disciples line the archways of the nave and west wall in the choir loft. The 14 Stations of the Cross on the north and south walls depict scenes of Jesus on his way to be crucified, His crucifixion and burial.

 

The Heavenly Court, in the apse of the church, features eight arches with saints who were important historical figures to the pioneers of St. Peter’s Colony. In the centre is St. Peter (holding keys) and next to him (in black habits) are St. Benedict and his twin sister St. Scholastica. Above St. Peter are four faces depicting the authors of the Gospels: Mathew, Mark, Luke and John. Mary (the New Eve) is standing on a globe and crushing the serpent who tempted the first Eve. The Latin text around her reads: “You are beautiful, Maria. And there is no stain of sin in you.”

 

On the ceiling of the apse is the sacrificial Lamb of God with the cross banner portraying the Lamb of Victory. (Rev. 5:12) A dove, above Mary, symbolizes the Holy Spirit which impregnated her with our Lord and Saviour – Jesus Christ. Christ the King is pictured nearby wearing a crown and God the Father is depicted with a triangle, representing the Trinity. God the Father and the Son embrace creation with their outstretched arms. St. Joseph (holing a lily symbolizing purity) is next to Jesus and St. John the Baptist is near God the Father. St. John the Baptist holds a banner which exclaims in Latin: “Behold, the Lamb of God.” (Jn 1:29)

 

The archway of the Heavenly Court has scripture in German, which reads: “You are Peter and upon this rock I will build my church.” (Mt. 16:18) Jesus changed Simon’s name to Peter (rock) when Simon correctly answered the question of Jesus: “Who do you say that I am?” (Mt 16:15) Jesus tells him further, “I will entrust to you the keys of the kingdom of heaven.” (Mt 16:19) St. Peter, in the centre of the apse, is holding keys which symbolize how Peter (rock) is given primacy in teaching, governing and sanctifying the People of God. Peter is the first leader, pope (father) of the Christian community. Angels are pictured at each end of the archway. The angel to the left holds an instrument used to flog Jesus during his passion while the other angel holds a cloth (Veronica’s Veil) used to wipe the face of Jesus while he was carrying the cross.

 

The faces of Benedictines are depicted on some saints. St. Paul (southeast pillar) is a portrait of Abbot Bruno who died at the age of 53 on June 12, 1919. Abbot Bruno was the first abbot of St. Peter’s Colony. The community of Bruno, west of Muenster and Humboldt, is named after him. Saints Gregory (tiara) and Jerome (red hat) beneath St. Peter are portraits of Frs. Bernard Schaeffler and Peter Windschiegel, respectively. St. Chrysostom (arch 3) has the facial image of Fr. Chrysostom Hoffmann.

 

The church sanctuary is highlighted by a marble altar where the Sacrifice of the Mass takes place. The Sacrifice of the Mass is the “re-presentation” in the Eucharist of the perfect sacrifice of Christ’s death and resurrection. The Mass is the daily offering “in memory of” and “re-presenting” what happened once and for all on the first Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday. There are many Masses but only one sacrifice. The candles to the sides of the altar symbolize the light of Christ. The celebrant at the altar is the priest, the person in the community who has been set apart to be the celebrant at Mass. There are two side altars in the north and south corners of the sanctuary. Side altars are traditionally used to hold the Tabernacle (tent) or to become an altar of repose (rest) on Good Friday. In some churches, Masses are celebrated in front of side altars.

 

The large statue on the north altar is Mary, the queen of Heaven and New Eve, crushing the snake that tempted the first Eve to disobey God. The statue of St. Joseph, holding the infant Jesus, dominates the south altar. St. Joseph holds a white lily, a symbol of purity. Statues and church art are designed to bring forth the stories of the Bible, to make us aware of the holy and to teach us our faith.   

 

The Word of God is proclaimed at the pulpit and ambo to the north and south of the altar. Behind the altar is the presider’s chair that is used by the priest who celebrates Mass. Altar servers who assist the priest use the chairs to the sides. The crucifix (figure of Jesus) on the wall, represents our suffering lord and illustrates the extent to which God is willing to offer us love. Every Mass recalls the passion, death and resurrection of Christ. Crucifixes are placed above or near altars where Mass is celebrated. The chair directly beneath the crucifix symbolizes the authority of the bishop. The name, cathedral, comes from the Latin cathedra (chair). The church with the bishop’s chair is the cathedral. The chairs beneath the south altar are reserved for the church choir. Nearby is a grand piano and organ.    

 

St. Peter’s Church was restored and renovated to repair water damage. The first restoration, in 1971, involved removing loose plaster in the sanctuary and replacing it with approximately 1,200 lbs. of plaster. The canvass paintings were cleaned and varnished to make it possible to wash them in the future. The inside of the sanctuary was re-painted using more than 30 varieties of paint colors.

The second restoration, in 1984, followed a windstorm that caused damage to the outside building and inside sanctuary from water leakage. The walls were stripped of plaster and covered with one-half inch Gyproc and then painted. New R24 insulation replaced the original lathe shaving and wool filling. Leakage continued to be a problem on the roof, however, and in 1993-94, the asphalt shingles were replaced with green metal sheeting.

Renovations took place between 2008-2010 during the centennial of the parish. Improvements were made to the exterior foundation that was originally rock and limestone. Loose mortar and rocks were removed and replaced with mortar, and the remaining stones were coated with cement. New windows, doors and outside siding were installed, as well as new outside steps. Five windows that had leakage problems were removed from each of the church towers and sealed in. Adjustments were made to the roof to correct water seepage. New burgundy carpet was installed in the church. The carpet blends with the dark brown pews, dark wood finishing and fir floor boards of the sanctuary. The renovations include the installation of 28 stained-glass windows which were sponsored by families. Scenes, important to the families, are depicted on the windows. The final windows were installed in 2015.

 

Three religious orders sponsored one of the windows on the south wall. Benedictine monks, Ursuline and Franciscan (Sisters of St. Elizabeth) Sisters served the former St. Peter’s Colony. The Benedictines arrived in 1903 to provide German-speaking priests for local settlers. They opened a printing press and Catholic newspaper in 1904, a high school in 1921 and college in 1926. The Sisters of St. Elizabeth came in 1911 and, one-year later, opened the first hospital, St. Elizabeth’s Hospital, in Humboldt. The hospital became a public health care facility in 2007. The Ursulines were teachers who arrived in 1913. They taught in public, separate and private schools and in 1922, opened St. Ursula’s Academy (girls school) in Bruno. The academy closed in 1982. The Ursulines and Franciscans have retired to Saskatoon.

The Benedictines built their first three monasteries near St. Peter’s Parish. The first monastery was made of logs and the next two were constructed of lumber. In 1921, the Benedictines moved to their present location, south of Muenster where they continue to reside. The Benedictines operated a residential high school from 1921 until 1972. They began offering college classes in 1926 at St. Peter’s College. The Benedictine college continues to offer a two-year liberal arts program affiliated with the University of Saskatchewan. The printing press, St. Peter’s Press, and Catholic newspaper, Prairie Messenger, closed in May of 2018.

 

Count Berthold Imhoff was born, in 1868, in Germany. He studied art at prestigious schools and at the age of 16, Imhoff won the Berlin Art Academy Award for his painting of Germany’s Prince Frederick William mounted on a charger. In 1900, the nobleman moved to Reading, Pennsylvania where he and his wife, Mathilda, raised a family and he worked as an itinerant artist. In 1914, the Imhoffs, preferring the solitude of nature and rural life, settled in St. Walburg, Saskatchewan.

 

St. Walburg studio was used to create art on canvass that enriched more than 112 churches, public and private buildings. Count Imhoff returned, in 1934, to St. Peter’s Parish to do some cleaning and repair work on his canvasses. In 1937, Imhoff was knighted (Knight of the Order of St. Gregory the Great) by Pope Pius XI, for his outstanding work in churches. In 1939, Imhoff died at his home in St. Walburg at the age of 71, leaving more than 200 paintings in his studio alone. In 1983, the Imhoff art collection moved to Lloydminster, and is now housed and on display in the Barr Colony Museum Building.

St. Peter’s Church is registered as an historic site through the RM of St. Peter.

(This article was submitted by Fr. Paul Paproski, OSB. Fr. Paul is a Benedictine monk of St. Peter’s Abbey. He was ordained in St. Peter’s Parish in 2006 and has been pastor of St. Peter’s Parish since July of 2015.) 

Liturgy Schedule

Mass Times & Location

Sundays: November 1 – April 30
10 a.m. Mass, St. Peter’s Cathedral

Sundays: May 1 – October 31
9:30 a.m. Mass, St. Peter’s Cathedral

Tuesday to Saturday
8:15 a.m. Mass at Wolverine Heights in Muenster

Confession:
Sunday before church or for an appointment call: Fr. Paul Paproski, OSB at 682-1787.

Directions

St. Peter’s Church is located off of Hwy 5 - ½ km north of Muenster and ½ km east.


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St. Peter's Cemetery. 1/2 mile south of St. Peter's Church