Psalm of Glass and Brick

Beautiful Landmark Church Prepares to Celebrate 75th Anniversary Next Year

"Psalm of Glass and Brick." Prairies 9, no. 1: June/July 1985, 6-10.

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Patterns of delicate brickwork cast interesting shadows on walls of one of the most beautiful churches in central Dakota region.
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.

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!

Shimmering colors of the rainbow are duplicated in Strasburg church’s magnificent stained-glass windows. This window portrays nativity scene.
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.

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 high.

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.

Vaulted ceilings in blue are decorated with large-scale paintings of Biblical themes. High altar in white is flanked by two smaller altars.
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 of Paul.

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.

Close-up of center altar with cross made of wheat.
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.

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.

Fr. Jerome Kautzman, present pastor of Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic Church.
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.

“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 my Church.”)

Parish worker Dominique Pereira holds cross of wheat made for Pentecost by parishioner Teresa Reinboldt.
Close-up of cross shows detailed workmanship.
Ornate 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.

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