A SHORT SKETCH OF ST. PETER'S COLONY AND ST. PETER'S ABBEY

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In the year 1903 Canada, especially what is now known as Saskatchewan, witnessed a great influx of settlers. Among these early settlers were a godly number speaking German who came in great part from the United States of America, while a much smaller number hailed from Germany, Austria, and southern Russia. These Germans settled principally in Central Saskatchewan, now known as the Humboldt District, or St. Peter's Colony. It comprises fifty Townships, each being six miles square.

A number of Catholic laymen from Minnesota formed in 1902 the plan of investing in Canadian railway lands and sell this land to German Catholic farmers. The lands in the Canadian North-West are laid out in Townships of six miles each way. These are again divided into thirty-six Sections, each one mile square. Finally each section is subdivided into for quarter sections called homesteads or farms, comprising 160 acres. Every even numbered section was free for homesteading, costing only the ten dollars filing fee, and requiring six months residence there on every year for a period of three years, and putting a certain number of acres under cultivation, when after three years, the settler having become a naturalized citizen of Canada, would have a free title to the land. Every odd number section was Government, or railway land, selling from three to ten dollars an acre.

Abbey's First Site near Muenster, SK

Previous to buying up land, these Catholic laymen interviewed the Benedictines of St. John's Abbey, Collegeville, Minnesota, and begged them to look after the spiritual care of the future settler, and thus make the undertaking a success. The Benedictines enjoyed the utmost confidence of the Minnesota people on account of their great and successful pioneer labors in that State, and naturally, new settlers were sure to flock to any colony which was recommended by these good Benedictine Fathers and of which hey would have spiritual charge.

Accordingly the Rt. Rev. Abbot Peter of St. John's Abbey sent one of his Fathers, the Rev. Bruno Doerfler, with these Catholic laymen on an inspection trip to the Canadian West in August 1902. Father Bruno was a good judge of soil suitable for farming, and had otherwise a good practical insight into business affairs. After an extensive trip through Manitoba, Southern Saskatchewan and here found the ideal location where farming should prove a paying proposition. Here was a district well-suited for mixed farming. his tract of land was entirely uninhabited and offered unparalleled opportunities for a compact settlement of German Catholics. The south-western part of the Colony was open, rolling prairie, whilst the northern and eastern part was partially covered with poplar groves. Here was material for constructing houses, wood for heating the houses during the long severe winter, without however having timber of such a heavy growth as to make the clearing of the land to arduous.

St. John's Abbey having a sufficiently large field for their labors, Abbot Peter Engel proposed the Father Mayer, O.S.B., superior of Cluny Priory near Wetaug, in the State of Illinois, that his community look after the spiritual wants of the future settlers. The Cluny Priory was situated in a material district that made it impossible to conduct a successful college, and as moreover, the Rt. Rev. Bishop did not have any parishes that he could place in their care, the community had no future and were compelled to look elsewhere for a location. They had nearly decided to transfer the priory to beautiful California, when this new mission field was offered them. This new mission field a great future, there could be no doubt; but what great hardships and trials they saw looming in the distance, before a comfortable home would again be theirs! What a difference between sunny, smiling California and the cold, icy, Canadian North-West.

Prior Alfred accordingly set out with Father Bruno on an inspection trip through the proposed Colony in January 1903. He was well satisfies that the Colony could be made a success, and therefore went to pay the Rt. Rev. Albert Pascal, O.M.I. Vicar Apostolic of Saskatchewan, a visit in his episcopal city, Prince Albert. The dear bishop received the two Benedictine Fathers with open arms, elated at the prospect of such a large influx of sturdy, german Catholic farmers as was here promised him. The Rt. Rev. Bishop and Prior Alfred drew up a written agreement, signed by them with Fathers Bruno Doerfler O.S.B., and W. Brueck, O.M.I. as witnesses, according to which the pastoration in perpetuum of fifty Townships, comprising Townships 35 to 40 inclusive in Range 18 to 22 inclusive and Townships 37 to 44 inclusive, in Range 22 to 26 inclusive was assured the Benedictines. This document was duly ratified by the Holy See under the date of September 12, 1904. The name of Cluny was changed to St. Peter's Monastery in honor of the patron Saint of the abbot of St. John's Abbey who had offered this new field of labor to the monks of the Cluny Priory. The next step was to find a suitable place for the monastery in the proposed colony and then the most important of all - that on which all would defend - the bringing in of a large number of Catholic settlers in a very short time so as to assure a compact Catholic Settlement.

The site selected for the new Monastery was about 85 to 90 miles from Rosthern Sask., the nearest railway station. Near this site flowed a little creek called the Wolverine, insuring a sufficient supply of good water to a large community. The monks from Cluny reached their new home on Ascension Day, shortly before noon, May the twenty-first, 1903. Although weary and worn out after a trip that had lasted many days through mud, and snow and rain, a tent was hastily put up and Prior Alfred celebrated the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass during which the little community received Holy Communion.

Many were the difficulties and hardships the new community as well as the settlers had to contend with. Generous as the new settlers were that came with them or shortly thereafter, they could offer the priests very little remuneration for their arduous labors. Many a new settler, after having paid his ten dollars required as a fee for filing on a homestead of 160 acres, had first to earn some more money before he could buy a team of oxen, a plow, etc., and be in a position to move out on his homestead. Others, perhaps the majority, had indeed, sufficient to buy all necessaries, but then their money was gone. The priest had to travel far and be days on the way to visit his scattered flock, read Holy Mass, catechize, baptize, etc. Coming home, his bed would be - some hay on the ground floor, with a pair of shoes wrapped in a coat for a pillow whereon to rest his weary head. Such like discomforts must be added the inclemency of the weather, traveling across the trackless, snow-bound prairie, with the thermometer at 30 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit below zero.

Now that the Benedictines were in the Colony, settlers poured in from every State of the United States. Mission Stations or perished from every State of the United States. Mission Stations or perished sprang up rapidly. Soon there was one every ten or fifteen miles. Little log churches were built which shortly gave place to somewhat larger churches built of boards, or lumber. These in turn made way, or are making way, for real large churches of brick or lumber.

Parish, or Parochial Schools, the only ones of the kind in Saskatchewan, were opened up in those early days in the little log churches. Gradually separated building were erected for that purpose, and now every where in the Colony one finds Parochial Schools. They are not only large schools, but a few even handsome brick buildings.

As the Colony grew larger, the need of a good hospital was felt. Rt. Rev. Bruno Doerfler, the Abbot of St. Peter's Abbey and the spiritual head of the Colony, went to Europe, and induced the Sister of St. Elizabeth from Klagenfurt, Austria to come over and open a hospital at Humboldt, six miles of the Monastery. They erected a large brick structure, with the hearty cooperation and support of the settlers and of the Benedictine Fathers. This building was enlarged last Autumn to more than twice its former size. The community numbering now twenty sisters, is independent of Europe, receiving candidates and novices.

In a similar manner the Benedictine Fathers felt the necessity of Sisters for the Parochial Schools in the Colony. Abbot Bruno applied to various sisterhoods, until finally he succeeded in obtaining the Ursulines of Haseluene to locate in the Colony. Last year they completed the erection of an imposing brick Convent & Boarding School, at Bruno, Sask. in the western part of the Colony. This community is also independent of Europe and has now about twenty members. These nuns have charge of four parochial boarding schools in Muenster, Dead Moose Lake, Bruno, and Leofeld. The Schools in Muenster and Bruno are fine brick structure. The other parochial schools in the Colony are in charge of teachers and take no boarders. Brick churches are found in Humboldt and Pilger, whilst in Dead Moose Lake a brick church is in course of erection. At Bruno a solid stone foundation 50ft. x 160ft. is used as a church and next year a brick structure will be reared on this. At Watson plans for a brick church are complete an the basement is to be built this year.

There are resident priests at the following places: The Abbey church at Muenster, Humboldt, Annaheim, Dead Moose Lake, Fulda, St. Benedict, Leofeld, Bruno, Engelfeld, and Watson. Besides his perish each resident priest has at least one Mission Station are attended directly from the Abbey. The largest parishes are those of Humboldt, Bruno, Annaheim, Lake Lenore, Muenster and Pilger. These parishes number from 400 to 600 souls. The other parishes or mission stations number fro 150 to 300 souls.

The entire Catholic population of the Colony is about ten thousand souls. Protestants of various denominations are to be found only at Watson and Humboldt. Watson is near the extreme eastern boundary of the Colony and furthest from Rosthern, the railway station at the time of the influx of settlers. At Humboldt near the center of the Colony, the railway company located its repair shops etc., and brought along its English Protestant employees, so that this town is largely Protestant. All other towns or villages as well as the rural population are Catholic. There may be perhaps one protestant every ten or fifteen miles. The Abbey church in Muenster is classed among the finest in Saskatchewan. Last summer B. Imhoff, an artist of high standing, decorated the church with most beautiful and artistic paintings. The painting in the sanctuary are especially admired by visiting priests and prelates. St. Peter, the patron saint of the church, is the central figure around which different Benedictine saints are harmoniously grouped.

In all parishes have been organized devotions to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, strong branches of the Confraternity of Christian Mothers, Young Ladies Sodalite, and Altar Societies. Every year numbers are invested with the scapular of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. The men and young men of the Colony have a strong organization, called the "Volksverein", modeled after the society of the same name in Germany.

Good parish libraries are to be found at Annaheim, Bruno, Muenster, Dead Moose Lake and Watson. That at Bruno is the largest. In these libraries there is a good selection of books in both the German and the English languages, by standard Catholic authors.

Besides the parishes already mentioned, The Benedictine Fathers of St. Peter's Abbey have charge of the following Mission Stations in Pilger, Willmont, St. Leo, Cudworth, Dana, Peterson, Carmel, Immaculate Conception, St. Scholastica's, Sinnet, St. Gregor, St. Oswald, Beauchamp and Spalding.

The religious family of St. Peter's Abbey is composed of thirteen priests, three clerics, and one lay brother. Two Benedictine Fathers from St. John's Abbey assist in Missions. One young man will finish his studies this summer and be ready to enter the Novitiate. There is also a secular priest at the Abbey intending to become a Benedictine. Another secular priest, Thorcis Schmidt is acting as chaplain for the hospital in Humboldt.

Great work was accomplished by the Benedictine Fathers in these seventeen years, but a great deal still remains to be done. The most pressing need now is the erection of a large college building. Some college work was always done by the Benedictines at Muenster. As far back as the fall of 1903 Catholic boys were taken thereafter, was naturally small. The country was just beginning to settle up. People as well as the Monastery were poor. But now that the country is well-settled and beginning to be fairly prosperous, the need of a larger Catholic college within the Colony is felt by all. Hence all the Colonists have pledged their hearty cooperation and support to the Benedictine Fathers towards bearing a part of the financial burden in the construction of a large and substantial brick college building. The plans are completed and work is to commence this summer. The cost is estimated at $120,000.00.

The colony is connected with the outside world by the main-line of the Canadian National Railway, from Winnipeg in Manitoba, to Edmonton in Alberta. From there the line continues to the Pacific coast, with Vancouver in British Columbia as its terminal. In the western part of the Colony there is a branch line of the Grand Trunk railway coming in from the south-west and passing northerly until it reaches the Episcopal City of Prince Albert. In the center of the Colony is a small branch line of the C.N.R. connecting Humboldt with Lake Lenore. This line is planned to become the direct route fro the Canadian West to Hudson Bay. This summer another branch line (Canadian Pacific) is being constructed through the eastern part of the Colony, also running north and south.

In order to further the work of Catholic Colonization, the Benedictine Fathers started a weekly newspaper, "St. Peter's Bote" in 1904. From the office of this paper thousands of devotional books, such as Catechisms and Bible Histories, Bibles, Goffine's Explanation of the Gospels and Epistles and ceremonies of the Church, Lives of the Saints, of Christ and His Blessed Mother, of St. Joseph; Church Histories, Prayer books and Books of Instruction on the Doctrines of the Church, have been sold and sent all over the Canadian West. Besides these were sold Catholic School books, candles, holy water fonts, crucifixes, statues, medals, rosaries and scapulars, holy pictures of all sizes, and many other religious articles too numerous to mention. The St. Peter's Bote has appeared regularly every week since 1904. Until Muenster obtained the mail by railway in 1905, the paper was printed in Winnipeg, but after that, until now, at Muenster. In maintaining this Catholic paper, the Benedictines succeeded to a great extent in excluding secular, sectarian, yellow press, to preserve and strengthen the bond which unites all the settlers with the Abbey. Every issue is like a weekly letter from the Abbey at Muenster to every settler or resident in the Colony. The Abbey is thus in a position to warn them of dangers threatening either faith or morals. Shortly before the signing of the armistice in 1918, the Dominion Government forbade all papers in an enemy language. Henceforth, until Dec. 31, 1919 the St. Peter's Bote was issued in English. With the New Year it again appeared in German. Whether English or German, the paper was pronounced by all, Protestants as well as Catholics, to be a first class publication, newsy, well-written, and wide-a-wake to Catholic interests. This issuing of a weekly paper assisted, as has been pointed out above, in uniting the Colonists closely with St. Peter's Abbey at Muenster. It has guarded the Colonists from unchristian and sectarian influences, whilst at the same time it has enabled them to follow closely the trend of events in the outside world. Each and every one was thus encouraged and urged on to do his or her "bit" to make this a better world to live in.

L. J. CH. et M. I.

Form of agreement between the Rt. Rev. Albert Pascal O. M. I., Ordinary of the Vicariate Apostolic of Saskatchewan and St. Peter's Monastery of the Order of St. Benedict.

I. The Ordinary Commits to the St. Peter's Monastery of the Order of St. Benedict located at Muenster, Saskatchewan, Canada, the pastoral care of all the parishes in the district comprising the following Townships: 37 to 41 inclusive in Range 23 to 26 inclusive, and Townships 35 to 40 inclusive in Range 18 to 22 inclusive, all west of second Principal Meridian.

2. The said Monastery assumes in perpetuum the charge of all the parishes within the said district, with the strict obligation to provide for the spiritual want of the same, in such a degree as the actual circumstances may require.

3. The Ordinary reserves for himself and His Successors every right in the said parishes as may be granted either by canon law or by a lawful custom.

4. The Monastery will be Owner of all churches, and all other buildings, such as may be erected on the ground belonging to that same Monastery - either with their own funds of the offerings of the faithful or both together.

5. The Ordinary assumes no responsibility whatsoever with regard to any debts or obligations that may be contracted by the said Monastery; be it that such obligations have been necessitated by erecting or supporting the buildings, or in any other way.

6. The said Monastery will be the sole administrator of all the revenues of the churches and the offerings of the faithful, and shall dispose of them with full liberty for the benefit of the parishes.

7. The Ordinary moreover reserves for Himself the right to ordain the same collections to be taken up as in the other churches; to receive from the church-revenues that part to which He may be entitled by ecclesiastical regulations or special Indult, such as may exist now or be obtained in the future.

8. The said Monastery will present one of its members to be accepted and approved by the Ordinary as Rector of each church. Such a rector will be amovable and Nutum Superiorum.

9. To the Priests presented by their Superiors and accepted by the Ordinary, the Latter shall confer the faculties required for the administration of the parishes.

10. The priests of the said Monastery shall have to fulfil all the duties attached to the office of Pastor curate within the limits of the diocese. The acting pastor of each church shall, in accordance with the constitution of the Order enjoy all the rights and privileges granted to any other parish priest. Hence he will receive all the revenues of the Parish, such as the offerings of the faithful, priest-dues spontaneous offerings, Jura Stolae, Christmas Easter collections and the pew-rents.

11. For any point not mentioned or contained in the present document, the contracting parties agree to rely upon the constitution - Romanos Pontifices - of Leo XIII, and for such matters as cannot be clearly defined at present, both parties agree to abide by mutual agreement such as they many make in the future.

Signed and dated at the Episcopal Residence at Prince-Albert, N. W.
Ty.

Witnesses
Bruno Doerfler, O.S.B.
Albert Pascal O.M.I.
W. Brueck, O.M.I.
Alfred Mayer, O.S.B. Prior.

I the undersigned hereby solemnly affirm to be a true and correct copy of the original document in the archives of St. Peter's Monastery at Muenster, Sask, this twenty-fifth day of March, Nineteen Hundred and Twenty.

P. Chrysostom Hoffmann O.S.B.

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Used with permission of St. Peter's Abbey
Box 10, Muenster, SK., S0K 2Y0
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