Psalm of Glass and Brick
Beautiful Landmark Church Prepares to Celebrate 75th Anniversary
"Psalm of Glass and Brick." Prairies 9, no. 1: June/July 1985, 6-10.
Yellow sunlight, so bright and warm, sparkles off the pale rose-colored
brick of the majestic, singularly beautiful Saints Peter and Paul
Catholic Church in Strasburg, North Dakota. It is June. Trees are
decked with new green foliage. Strasburg’s lawns are fresh with
colorful flowers and soft carpets of grass. In such a lovely setting
stands the magnificent church, the beauty of God’s handiwork
and men’s handiwork a complement to each other.
Patterns of delicate
brickwork cast interesting shadows on walls of one of the
most beautiful churches in central Dakota region.
For decades, the spires of Sts. Peter and Paul have graced the
prairie skyline around the pleasant town. Next year, the Strasburg
church will celebrate its 75th birthday.
The poetry of brick, mortar, and steel we now know as Sts. Peter
and Paul began with a dream that he pastor of the Strasburg congregation
had in 1909. His name was Fr. Alois Strigl. And he foresaw that
his growing congregation would soon need a larger structure for
worship than the frame building they then had. But he worried at
first whether his people could afford to build a newer church possessing
the grandeur he envisaged. Nevertheless, the dream caught hold.
Indeed, many became so enthusiastic that some even proposed grandeur
proportions and higher towers until older and wiser heads put the
brakes on. They reportedly complained that if some of the younger
people in the parish had had their way, they would have built another
tower of Babel!
Construction of the church’s basement finally began in September
1909. By the spring of 1910, the foundation was completed and was
ready for the laying of the building’s cornerstone. And by the
middle of October of that same year, when Fr. Strigl was recalled
to the abbey in Richardton, North Dakota and was replaced by Fr. Max
Speckmeier, the outside of the church stood almost completed.
|Shimmering colors of the rainbow are
duplicated in Strasburg church’s magnificent stained-glass
windows. This window portrays nativity scene.
By the beginning of November, 1910, Fr. Speckmeier had started to conduct worship
services in the new church’s basement. Shortly
before Christmas, the splendid high altar, oak pulpit,
communion railing, and pews arrived and were hurriedly
installed for the celebration of midnight Mass on
Christmas Eve. As was recorded in the church’s
jubilee book, “No more beautiful occasion could
have been chosen for the first Holy Mass. With great
joy and pride, the people gathered from far and near
for the beautiful midnight service.” In fact,
the church was so crowded that many wondered whether
the building should have been larger!
The church’s measurements are astounding. It is 128 feet
long, 50 feet wide, has a 70-foot transept, and has a tower 85 feet
Sts. Peter and Paul was built at a cost of about $45,000. When it
was completed, approximately $24,000 remained, but the debt was paid
off in a few years. On June 29, 1911, the church, named after the
patron saints of the parish, was blessed by Bishop Vincent Wehrle
of Bismarck. The ceremony was attended by both church and government
dignitaries and by crowds of people from the Dakotas and other states.
“It was the most festive occasion the parish ever witnessed,”
states the jubilee book, “[with] a long procession wending its
way to the new church.”
Inside the sanctuary of Sts. Peter and Paul continues the ancient
tradition started by the Old Testament Jews and followed by Christians
for the last two thousand years: that tradition is to let magnificent
art help declare the glory of God.
The ceiling of Sts. Peter and Paul’s sanctuary is painted blue.
On it are four ceiling paintings, each approximately 15 feet high
and wide. One of the paintings depicts Christ healing the sick; another
shows Christ preaching; the third depicts Christ giving Peter the
keys to heaven; and the last shows Christ preparing the conversion
|Vaulted ceilings in blue are decorated
with large-scale paintings of Biblical themes. High altar in
white is flanked by two smaller altars.
Two large crystal chandeliers hang from the ceiling, one from the
sanctuary’s center and the other toward the entrance.
Beautiful stained-glass windows further tell the Christian story
of forgiveness, love, and hope. There are two mammoth stained-glass
windows with two somewhat smaller ones on each side. These are joined
by eight more stained glass windows.
But, appropriately, the most breathtaking sight is the very beautiful
high altar. It is white, and has carvings and statues of numerous
saints. On either side of the high altar, there are two smaller altars,
both ornately carved and both white. The three white altars are the
focal point of the whole gigantic room. At once the human eye is drawn
to them. Perhaps it is because their white color contrasts sharply
against the beige walls and vivid color of the stained-glass windows,
the exquisite 14 stations of the cross, and all the other rich art
celebrating the Christian life. At any rate, the altars are strong,
visual reminders of the sacrifice God made by giving Himself. They
are eloquent reminders too of the sacrifices His followers sometimes
must make to care for the world’s poor and suffering.
|Close-up of center altar
with cross made of wheat.
To the left of the altars is a wonderful high pulpit made of solid
oak. The pulpit, along with the railing and row upon row of pews,
are all made of the same lustrous golden-brown oak. Their wood adds
further majesty to the place of worship.
Sts. Peter and Paul is presently served by Fr. Jerome Kautzman and
Dominique Pereira, the latter a parish worker from California. In
addition to assisting in the growth in faith of their members, the
two men see a variety of ways in which members of the Strasburg church
can reach out to others. One is a pantry, a collection of canned goods
and used clothing for people from the region and from the Bismarck-Mandan
area who could benefit from assistance.
|Fr. Jerome Kautzman, present pastor
of Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic Church.
“It is important [for any congregation] to have its members
involved,” said Pereira. Some of those areas of church involvement
include spiritual needs, social concerns, and the financial aspects
of the church.
By that kind of involvement, the parishioners of Sts. Peter and
Paul are living out the words of Christ which are painted above
the archway over their church’s central altar: “Tu Es
Petrus Et Super Hanc Petram Aedificabo Ecclesiam Meam.”
(“Thou art Peter the Rock, and upon this Rock I will build
Parish worker Dominique
Pereira holds cross of wheat made for Pentecost by parishioner
Close-up of cross
shows detailed workmanship.
high pulpit amidst beauty of sanctuary.
Ornate and massive
doors at church’s entrance continues artistic theme
of solidity observed elsewhere in Sts. Peter and Paul Church.