St. Peter in Mendota opens historic church for nostalgic evening

| January 9, 2019 | 0 Comments

From left, Rachael Salisbury Dimba, Ted Holien and his daughter-in-law Robin Holien stand outside the historic church at St. Peter in Mendota, Minn., wearing period clothing for an event Jan. 3 called Historic Church Victorian Christmas Open House. DAVE HRBACEK | THE CATHOLIC SPIRIT

As the glow of sunset faded Jan. 3, the historic church of St. Peter in Mendota was just starting to light up.

Parishioners and history buffs strolled past a row of luminarias and into one of the oldest existing churches in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. Inside, carolers in period costumes provided a musical backdrop that added even more charm to this quaint, intimate interior adorned with Christmas decorations. It was all part of an event called the Historic Church Victorian Christmas Open House. Held for the first time last year, its success motivated organizers to do it again.

Visitors like Marlena Hark pulled out their smartphones to snap photos. She was there with her mother, Maire Hark, and both were seeing the inside of the historic church for the first time. They had been to Mass at the current church several times, which made them interested in checking out the historic one.

“It deepens your faith by connecting to the old times,” said Marlena, a member of St. Maron in northeast Minneapolis, who has gone to Mass at many churches in the Twin Cities with her mother.

“Both of us, I think, have a love of art and history,” Maire said, explaining one reason they came. She added that she likes being able to see and touch historical artifacts, and doing so helps her feel connected to people who in previous generations saw and touched the same things.

One of the carolers, Robin Holien, was married in the historic church in 2016. Her father-in-law, Ted Holien, a St. Peter parishioner, also was a member of the trio who sang throughout the evening. They belong to a group called Tale of Twin Cities. Both were excited about the chance to sing carols inside the church, which was built in 1853.

“It has beautiful acoustics. We love singing here,” Robin Holien said. “It’s lovely to see all the ice [outside the church] with the candles [on the sidewalk], and it makes for a magical night.”

Even St. Peter members who have seen the historic church many times were excited to attend. Parishioner Tara Lanigan stood outside the church when she arrived and spent several minutes taking pictures with her phone.

“I came to look at the history again and just enjoy [the church],” said Lanigan, whose ancestors were founding members of the parish. “We were kind of going back in time.”

One couple decided to step more into the atmosphere and wear period clothing. Parishioners Karen and Chuck Dosh belong to the Living History Society of Minnesota, and they decided to attend to the event with an 1850s look.

“I just thought it would be fun to dress up, be part of the spirit of the event,” Karen Dosh said. “It probably, for other people seeing us, gives a little ambiance, which is fun for us, too.”

Event organizer Anne O’Keefe relived childhood memories as she stood near the back of the church before the evening began.

“I grew up here,” said O’Keefe, 42. “I’m the youngest of 12 kids. These were our pews — back row on the right. … My dad was always an usher and we were all altar servers. And, I remember Christmas morning we’d always get here early before 7:30 [Mass] and there’d be carols. It was just such a special thing to me.”

O’Keefe, the community life coordinator for the parish, started overseeing tours of the historic church five years ago. With weekend Masses all taking place in the new church, she wanted to create another opportunity for people to see the historic church, which is used primarily for weekday morning Masses.

She talked with the tour guides last year about having this event, and everyone endorsed the idea. Last year’s event drew people who had been parishioners at one time and left, and also people who had been married at the church.

O’Keefe said she hopes two hours inside the historic church can take “the hustle and bustle out of Christmas” for people who may have been experiencing a frantic pace in December.

“This is just simple,” she said. “There’s nothing to it. There’s no TV; it’s just walking around and enjoying it. And, I hope maybe someone who’s been away from the Church might come back here and find peace, too, you know. That would be a beautiful thing.”

 

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