In Mendota, archdiocese’s oldest parish turns 175

| Maria Becker for The Catholic Spirit | July 1, 2015 | 0 Comments
At 175, St. Peter, Mendota, is the oldest parish in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit file photo

At 175, St. Peter, Mendota, is the oldest parish in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit file photo

What began in 1840 as a group of 185 Catholics with a log cabin and a strong desire to take part in the sacraments is now known as the oldest Catholic parish in Minnesota.

With a community of more than 1,100 families, St. Peter in Mendota will celebrate its 175th anniversary this summer.

“In my opinion, it’s a treasure for the whole state,” said Pauline Legendre, a St. Peter parishioner for more than 40 years, who called the history of the church a “living thing.”

St. Peter will commemorate its milestone July 12 with a prayer and a procession from the cemetery to the old church and into the new church where Auxiliary Bishop Andrew Cozzens will celebrate Mass.

“I think this anniversary will draw back people who have had some kind of experience here, as well as people who have an interest in their Catholic roots,” said Father Steven Hoffman, the parish’s pastor since October. “As a diocese, it is beautiful to be able to celebrate our roots and the founding of the church here.”

Significant history

In the mid-19th century, Dakota Native Americans largely occupied the current area of Mendota around Fort Snelling. The land was also part of the Diocese (now Archdiocese) of Dubuque, Iowa, established by the Vatican in 1837. In 1840, Bishop Mathias Loras sent a newly ordained priest, Father Lucien Galtier, to Fort Snelling to minister to a small but growing group of Catholics. He was the first Catholic priest assigned to serve in Minnesota, taking up residence in “St. Peter,” today known as Mendota.

Around 1858, Father Augustine Ravoux, Father Galtier’s successor, commissioned the building of a limestone chapel, and besides a few renovations, that same stone chapel is now known as the “old” or “historic church.”

Father Hoffman loves not only St. Peter’s community, he said, but also the presence of God in the old church.

“I like the people here, all the families. For many of them, their history goes way back, and they’ve been here for several generations,” Father Hoffman said. “Many of them have records in their home of marriages, events and memories of their lives at St. Peter’s.”

Civic honorTo acknowledge all that St. Peter has done for the city of Mendota, the mayor and city council plan to declare July 12 “St. Peter’s Day.”

Ralph Wohler has been a parishioner at St. Peter for 66 years. He and his wife, Marci, a parishioner at St. Peter for 91 years, attend daily Mass and have been involved in the parish and school community. Marci used to teach religion at St. Peter, and both were on the parish board.

“We were there every day,” Ralph said, “and our family history is very attached to the parish. My wife’s great-grandparents were married in the historic church 153 years ago, along with her grandparents, parents, her and myself, five of our children, and three of our grandchildren.”

According to Father Hoffman, the main way many parishioners stay connected to the parish’s legacy is through prayer and sacraments in the old church. It is open during the day for prayer, eucharistic adoration on Tuesdays, and smaller weddings and funerals.

“We draw people from all over to our daily Mass at 9 a.m. Monday through Friday,” Father Hoffman said, “[with] somewhere between 70 and 90 people.”

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