THE SETTLEMENT OF ST. PETER'S COLONY

                     Hand Sketched Map of the District

Immigrants began to settle in Western Canada a very long time ago. Some of these immigrants had come from Stearns County, Minn. They were German speaking Catholics and felt the need of German speaking priests since the missionaries in Western Canada were French speaking members of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate. Some of these immigrants wrote of their concerns to the pastors of parishes they had left, and asked if it were possible to obtain German speaking priests. Among those who received such a letter was Fr. Conrad Glatzmeier, OSB, the parish priest at Albany, Minn. He spoke of this petition to his superior, Abbot Peter Engel, OSB, abbot of St. John's Abbey, Collegeville, Minn., and suggested to him to study the feasibility of establishing a German Catholic colony in Western Canada. Abbot Peter wanted to have more information about the region in which such a colony could be located.

In order to provide such information a small group was organized to explore Western Canada and find out if there was a place which would be suitable for such a colony. On Aug. 12, 1902, Fr. Bruno Doerfler, OSB, at that time the rector of the college at St. John's Abbey, H.J. Haskamp, of St. Cloud, M. Hoeschen of Freeport, and H. Hoeschen of Melrose, set out for the Canadian West. Since they had not yet found an area which they considered suitable and large enough for their purpose the rest of the group decided to continue their explorations and took the train to Rosthern. They continued by team and wagon to the east and south, crossing the Saskatchewan River by ferry, passing Fish Creek, a village on the east bank of the river. They continued their journey north and west, past Wakaw Lake, Batoche, and Duck Lake and finally returned to Rosthern convinced they had found the place for which they were looking. Fr. Bruno wrote a detailed account of this memorable journey. It is now available at St. Peter's Press under the title, Quest For A New Homeland.

 

After their return to Minnesota in the early part of September the men of the party gave their report to the interested parties: they had discovered a place with good soil for agriculture. Homesteads and other land for purchase were available for settlers. This report was satisfactory to those interested in establishing a colony and plans were then made to proceed.

The German American Land Company was founded by Haskamp and Hoeschen with the intention of buying 100,000 acres of land which would be available for purchase. The Catholic Settlement Society of St. Paul, Minn., under the direction of Messrs. Lange and Costello, agreed to advertise the colony and provide settlers. An agreement was made with the federal government to the effect that 50 townships would be reserved to the company on condition that it bring in 500 settlers per year for three years. In the same month, later in September, another party which included Frs. Conrad and Herman, both monks of St. John's Abbey, Fr. Bruno and other promoters of the colony, went to examine the area recommended for the colony. They made a thorough tour of inspection of the area selected by the first party and were themselves satisfied with the choice.While most of the group returned to the United States, Fr. Bruno and Mr. Hoeschen continued their explorations. When Fr. Bruno was about to return to Minnesota he met a party of 26 German Catholics who were anxious to pick out homesteads at once. Hence he accompanied them as they selected homesteads. Thus by the late autumn of 1902, the location of the colony had been definitely decided, plans for its settlement had begun and homesteads actually taken up.

Cluny, named after a very ancient and influential monastery in France (present site of Taize), was begun by monks from St. Vincent's Archabbey, Latrobe, Penn., in 1892. A monk of that abbey, Fr. Oswald Moosmueller, OSB, was appointed the first prior. He died unexpectedly of Pneumonia in January 1901. The man appointed for a five year term was Fr. Alfred Mayer, OSB, a monk of St. John's Abbey. He accepted the appointment and some time after he arrived at the priory became convinced it was not a good place for a monastic community. Cluny had made little progress since it began due to a number of difficulties such as a poor climate which seemed to be conducive to malaria, marshlands and thick forests not suited for farming, a sparse Catholic population and very few students in the school. One of the ventures to raise money, publication of the Lives of the Saints, proved unsuccessful. At the same time Abbot Peter Engel was wondering how he could spare enough priests for the colony which was about to begin. Hence he suggested to Prior Alfred that the monks of Cluny transfer to Canada and at the same time look after the spiritual needs of the new settlers in the colony. The latter accepted the suggestion and when the proposal was presented to the chapter of Cluny on Dec. 22, 1902, it was decided to transfer to Western Canada. In January 1903 Prior Alfred and Fr. Bruno travelled to the site of the proposed colony, for the prior wanted to see it for himself. They went to what is now the northwest part of the colony where they offered holy mass. They then decided to go to Prince Albert to see Bishop Pascal, OMI, at that time the vicar apostolic of the vicariate of Prince Albert, to ask his permission to establish a monastery in the vicariate.On Jan. 16, 1903, an agreement was signed by Bishop Pascal and Prior Alfred. In it the bishop agreed to give to the Benedictines the pastoral care of the Catholics in 50 townships.

After his return to Cluny, Prior Alfred began at once to make the necessary arrangements for the transfer. By May plans were sufficiently advanced to allow a group to depart: Prior Alfred, Fr. John Balfrey, deacon Rudolf Palm, Br. Adolph Steiger, Br. Bruno Fuchs, a novice, and Alois Gleisner, a postulant. Frs. Bruno and Meinrad of St. John's Abbey decided to go along.Holy mass was offered on the spot which is now marked by a stone cairn. The party then proceeded further north along the banks of the Wolverine Creek, not far from the place where St. Peter's Cathedral now stands. There they built a log house with sod roof. A tent served as a chapel. Later in the summer lumber was brought from Rosthern and a frame house was built. A small church made of logs was ready by September.

By the end of 1903, then, the colony had begun. The priory, now named St. Peter's, because of the role Abbot Peter Engel played in its beginning, was there. Many settlers had arrived, and the following parishes had been set up: St. Boniface, St. Peter, St. Ann, Holy Guardian Angels and Assumption.Early in the next year, 1904, a German weekly newspaper, St. Peter's Bote, began publication. Prior Alfred was convinced that such a paper was necessary for the settlers in the colony to cover local news in the various parishes and towns and to give news of interest to the people in the colony of events in Canada and beyond, and to acquaint people elsewhere of the colony. The first number appeared under the date of Feb. 11, 1904. It was printed in Winnipeg, though edited in Rosthern at first, and then in Winnipeg.However, after the Canadian Northern Railroad came through Muenster in the fall of 1904, and after a press was installed at the priory, the paper was published there. The first issue from the new location was dated Sept. 5, 1905. St. Peter's Bote continued to be published until the final edition on July 31, 1947. By that time the number of subscribers had greatly diminished and no one was found to become the editor.

Beginning in 1904, Bishop Pascal made the first of many visits to the colony and the priory. He came for confirmations, ordination, blessing of churches and bells, or just to visit.Prior Alfred's five year term ended April 26, 1906. The chapter of the priory elected Fr. Bruno to succeed him. Five years later, in 1911, he was appointed abbot by the pope, Pius X, and received the abbatial blessing from Bishop Pascal on Oct. 18.Abbot Bruno had been rector of the school at St. John's Abbey, and so was very interested in education. Elementary schools were started in towns and Parishes. There was even some secondary education at the priory. Abbot Bruno continued as abbot until his death at the age of 53, on June 12, 1919.The chapter of the abbey elected as abbot, Fr. Michael Ott, OSB, of St. John's Abbey, on July 23, 1919. He received the abbatial blessing on Oct. 28, 1919, at the hands of Bishop Wehrle, OSB, of Bismarck, N.D.One of Abbot Michael's first decisions was to proceed with the building of a secondary school for young men, a project that had been on the minds of the monks from the beginning of the priory. A campaign to raise money spearheaded by the Knights of Columbus was begun. The cornerstone of the new building, one mile south of the priory, was laid on June 29, 1921. The community moved to the new building in November 1921. Students arrived and classes began on Nov 27.Education was also provided by the Ursuline Sisters who had come from Germany in 1913.Elementary schools taught by the sisters were in Muenster, Leofeld, Dead Moose Lake and Bruno. The motherhouse began in Dead Moose Lake but was transferred to Bruno in 1916. An academy for the education of young women began in 1919.Care of the sick was provided by the Sisters of St. Elizabeth who arrived from Klagenfurt, Austria, at the invitation of Abbot Bruno. They arrived in May 1911 and opened up their first hospital in Humboldt in 1912.

When Abbot Michael became abbot ordinary in 1921, then, very much had been accomplished since the beginning of St. Peter's Colony in 1903. Under the leadership of Prior Alfred and Abbot Bruno, and the ever generous cooperation of the many settlers, parishes and missions and towns had begun, education was provided in the schools and there was a hospital for the sick. A very good foundation had been laid on which to build in the future. In writing about St. Peter's Territorial Abbey (or Abbacy), 1921- 1996, it is convenient to divide these 75 years into three periods: 1921-1939 (the beginning of World War II), 1939 -1962 (the beginning of Vatican Council II), and 1962-1996.  

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