At 75, St. Peter adapting to Richfield’s changes

| October 8, 2018 | 0 Comments

A sign for St. Peter’s church and school in Richfield from the 1950s lists five Sunday Mass times at the growing parish, which is celebratin its 75th anniversary this year. Courtesy St. Peter

When St. Peter in Richfield became a parish in 1943, all that existed around its present-day site was Academy of Holy Angels, open fields, a couple small buildings and a dirt-road intersection.

Seventy-five years later, St. Peter still neighbors Holy Angels, but it’s also amid closely-spaced houses and a shopping center. St. Peter has evolved with the greater Richfield suburb, which has changed from an all-Caucasian first-ring suburb post World War II into one of the most diverse communities in Minnesota. St. Peter now has Filipino, Latino, Togolese and Vietnamese members.

“It’s an interesting mix,” said Mike McNeil, St. Peter’s business administrator, of the different cultures it serves.

Archbishop John Murray founded the parish, with Father William Brand serving as the first pastor. It became the second of three parishes in Richfield.

“Archbishop Murray would establish a parish every 2 miles because people didn’t have cars at that time,” said Father Gerald Dvorak, St. Peter’s pastor.

St. Peter first used the chapel at Holy Angels for Mass at the invitation of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, which ran the then all-girls school. The parish purchased land in then-rural Richfield next to Holy Angels, which had been at that location since 1931. The school was founded in 1877.

Father Brand built an elementary school, which opened in 1946. When he built the church later that year, it was constructed as an addition to the school.

St. Peter continued to see growth among parishioners and added Masses to fill the need. By 1956, the parish held eight Masses on the weekend. By the late 1970s, the parish had grown to 1,100 families, and the parish held Masses in its church and gym simultaneously to accommodate the swell in attendance. At that point, parishioners undertook  a campaign to build a new church.

St. Peter built had its present-day church in 1981 on the same site as the previous one, again attached to the school. The parish later reoriented the church’s main entrance from the side facing Nicollet Avenue to the side facing the parking lot. The parish later reoriented the church’s main entrance from the side facing Nicollet Avenue to the side facing the parking lot.

With the new church, the parish also adopted some post-Second Vatican Council trends, including abstract liturgical art. An abstract depiction of the Last Supper that once hung in the sanctuary in lieu of a crucifix is still prominently positioned at the back of the church.

St. Peter’s membership is now 713 households, and 42 percent of parishioners are 55 or older. The parish’s new entrance accommodates aging members with two large, winding ramps leading to the church and the social hall.

“Mostly elderly people do our work here,” Father Dvorak said. “They’re not retired but rehired. I think the elderly people have a greater hands-on sense of the parish.”

St. Peter celebrates its diversity by recognizing the feast of Our Lady of the Pillar for Filipino Catholics and, during Advent, Las Posadas for Latino Catholics. McNeil said St. Peter’s diversity will help sustain the parish into the future.

In the 1990s, St. Peter’s school merged with the schools of Assumption and St. Richard in Richfield to form Blessed Trinity Catholic School. Grades four to eight attend classes on St. Peter’s campus. McNeil believes Blessed Trinity and Holy Angels next door will continue to draw families to St. Peter.

The parish’s 75th anniversary celebration will include displaying the crucifix from the original church building in the social hall. That hall will be renamed for Father Brand, who was named a monsignor after his time at St. Peter. A dedication will take place following Masses Oct. 13-14.

Archbishop Bernard Hebda will celebrate the 11 a.m. Mass Oct. 21, followed by the parish’s annual fall dinner.

St. Peter’s celebration will continue throughout the next year. Bishop Andrew Cozzens plans to speak on the spirituality of St. Peter the Apostle this winter. The parish also plans to have some intergenerational and intercultural events to build community with a focus on spiritual growth.

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