Interview with Sister Philomena Marte (SP)
Conducted by Bob Dambach (BD)
July, 2000, Leader, Saskatchewan
Transcribed by Aaron Johnson
Editing and proofreading by Peter Eberle and Reverend Marvin Hartmann
Prairie Public Collection
BD: Ok well the first thing I always do is I ask people to tell me their names in case I forget later on we will have it documented. So why don’t you first tell us who you are?
PS: I am Sister Philomena Marte.
BD: And where are we right now?
PS: We are in the Blumenfeld church nine miles south of the little village Prelate approximately that many miles south.
BD: What province are we in?
PS: We are in Saskatchewan Canada. We are at the spot where the pioneers came out in 1908.
BD: Where did the pioneers come from?
PS: The pioneers came from originally they came from Romania, from Krasna there is that where my grandpa and my dad and then from there they came to the States and then from the States they moved to the Blumenfeld area.
BD: So where did both your grandfather and your father come from?
PS: From Krasna Bessarabia.
BD: So they were born over in Bessarabia then?
PS: Yes, and my mother was too.
BD: Where was she from?
PS: Same place, Krasna. See the most of these people came from the same village in the same area.
BD: And then you said they came to the States first, where did they go in the States?
PS: They went in North Dakota.
BD: Do you know why they left North Dakota to come up to Saskatchewan?
PS: I don’t know the exact time but they must have come I guess around 1910 or something maybe something like that.
BD: And do you know why they came? Why did they leave?
PS: My dad left because he didn’t want to go to the army that’s why he left.
BD: And how much of his family came over with him?
PS: Just he alone. See he had only two sisters. Evidently my grandma on my dad’s side had triplets but they never lived so it was only my dad and those two girls. But those two girls never came to Canada. They stayed over.
BD: And do you know what happened to them?
PS: Well when the war broke out they had to flee and they decided they had a choice to go to the northern part of Europe or to Germany and because originally they were from Germany they went back and that’s also where my relatives, on the Marte side are still there.
BD: So there is still some contact with them?
BD: Now when your father came here pretty much all by himself, did he have friends that were already up here?
PS: Yes, well see he worked with his dad’s uncle he and his cousins sold sewing machines and Bibles. They said it was such a combination. I don’t know how many they sold but that was what they did.
BD: So were they farmers too?
PS: Yes, well my great grandpa had a store were Krasna Church used to be. That is where he had the store there.
BD: Now what do you remember of being a little girl on the farm what do you remember?
PS: Yeah, until about four years. I remember on
the day my dad had the auction sale
there was a man that was at the auction sale, he was the auctioneer, Schumacher and I can see myself because they laughed at me I our kitchen coming in from the outside saying to my mom what are those men called Schumacher does he make shoes? And of course everyone in the kitchen laughed and I felt so stupid and so cheap. You know how little kids and I can remember going on the farm with visitors like with sisters that came like Ursula and sisters in Prelate. And she showed them this little family thing. The farm.
BD: So you said they were having an auction to sell it did they have to get rid of the farm?
PS: He sold his machinery, he didn’t sell his land but he sold the other stuff.
BD: Was that because times were hard?
PS: He then built a meat market in town that’s what he did.
BD: So he was more interested in being a merchant than being a farmer? So when you grew up you grew up in town then.
PS: I grew up in town.
BD: Which town was that?
BD: And which difference was there, now this we’ll say was like 1920 maybe when was this?
PS: Ok well lets go into the 20’s well in the 20’s Prelate had two banks, two drug stores, about four or five stores couple of garages, a school up to well in the first years up to grade 11 only. See there’s the convent and there’s the town. And we had a school downtown and we had classrooms in the convent so from grade one to grade eight was taught between the convent and the town. From nine up to 12 was taught in the convent, the high school.
BD: So this was a pretty big town?
PS: Yes we used to have over 200 students. Yes we had a big population.
BD: Now when you were a girl growing up what language did you speak did you speak English or German?
PS: Well German of course and English.
BD: Do you think there was much of a difference between you growing up in town and the kids that grew up on the farms?
PS: I know I didn’t grow up on the farm but I don’t think there was that much difference except for maybe for the younger children I remember my brother he went to a movie and he came back home and he was going to tell my mother the story so he started in German and he said, “Ach, Mom, if you want to hear the rest of the story I have to tell you in English. See he began to speak more and more English than German although every one of them understood German.
BD: How big was your family?
PS: 12 living and if they all would have made it, it would have been 15. To of my brother and a sister are buried in the cemetery 1 died at 11 other was 13 or something like that. They died very close together.
BD: Was it part of that flu epidemic?
PS: It was flu and I think those two died more of whooping cough.
BD: Do you remember at time did you lose a member of friends because of the sickness?
PS: Not that I can think of.
BD: How much schooling did you have?
PS: I’m a teacher. I’ve taught every grade except kindergarten.
BD: Now is it unusual for someone when you were growing up for someone to go all the way to a university when you were growing up?
PS: No not really no. My on my mother’s side my grandpa and his two brothers over in Germany had more than a high school education. So that kinda keeps on going in the families.
BD: What made you decide to go into becoming a nun?
PS: First of all I knew them since I was about four years old and I went with school for them and I looked my life and I thought I would prefer it over getting married.
BD: Then you’ve obviously found this life to be very satisfying.
PS: Oh yes I’ve never regretted it.
BD: Where is the academy where is that located?
PS: Five years in Prelate. I taught five years in Prelate. The last school I taught at was 10 years before that I taught in another school I taught for six years. Most of the time wherever I went. In my first school I taught five years. And then I taught in a primary school. 52 people 17 of which were beginners I tell you that was work and I was a Sister then already and we were the first Sisters there after that and the kids were very disobedient. I remember this one boy he said, Sister me in the coal bin that’s what the last teacher did.
BD: So this was a lot of one room school houses that you were teaching out of.
PS: Oh yeah no I enjoyed everyone of my teaching years, everyone.
BD: You said your dad was a businessman, we hear a lot during the 30’s that it was really though for the farmers was it tough for the businessmen too?
PS: Oh yes it was, that’s why he finally gave it up. I mean who’s going to buy meat when you have nothing much else.
BD: So he gave it up what did you do after he gave it up?
PS: See he kept grandpa’s farm and we kept it up. And on that farm lived my grandpa my great grandpa my other grandpa and my dad and one of our one of the boys. And one of the boys has that farm now.
BD: So your great grandpa and grandma came here after your dad and settled here?
PS: No my great grandpa was here and my dad came and went over here.
BD: Ok now were going to ask you about the church here and this area here I know your very involved with eh church, why don’t you tell us the name of the church and a little bit of the history behind the church.
PS: Evidently they gave donations and when they came to decide upon the name what they were going to call it and what they said the one who gave the most donations. So they looked through and there were two people who were in the same denotation. There names were a Peter Rifle and Paul… that was his name. They both had the same amount and they had the names Peter and Paul so they called it the church of St Peter and Paul.
BD: And when was this church built?
PS: 1915 and when we went to Regina to ask if we could declare this as a heritage site they came to inspect the place we hadn’t touched one wire in this church since the way it was electrified that time that’s the way its standing. We had bulbs or something but else other than that and the church they couldn’t get over how solid it was. And how well built and you take the building with a pick-ax and shovel.
BD: Now there’s a very interesting Grotto behind the church, too.
PS: Built in the 30’s asking prayers, asking Our Lady to intercede with God for blessings on our fields.
BD: And what is the name of that?
PS: Our Lady of Sorrows.
BD: And where did all the stone come from?
PS: Ask my brother. My brother helped when they collected stones and he said now they had to build this in a place where there were no stones. They went far and wide with a wagon and picked up stones and he was one and he said they could of built the church where the stones were instead of hauling the stones.
BD: There are a lot of stones there they must have hauled a lot of stones?
PS: Yes and the man that was there engineered the thing also came from Bessarabia. And was the chief engineer and that Grotto was built in ‘36 as you know it we celebrated the 50th anniversary.
BS: Did you think that the people who came over here were very religious?
PS: Extremely religious I would say. I would say very religious.
BD: People went to church on Sunday?
PS: And doing they also besides building this church they built a barn 200 feet or something like that so when they came by horses in the wintertime they could put their horses in the barn. Until mass was over, you know.
BD: And how many people do you think in the ‘30s would have come here on Sunday for a mass?
PS: About maybe how many families am I saying 200 is that too many? How many people do you think this place would hold?
BD: I’d say about 200 is this the church you came to when you were a girl?
PS: Up to about age four when we left that’s one thing I can remember we stopped at the church and we came in here and I don’t remember anything else but I remember my dad leaving the rosary and I can see myself where he’s sitting about two further benches back there and watching there was something that struck me about my dad and don’t ask me what because as I said I must have been about four years old. And we were we had the rosary and I don’t remember going to town but I remember being in town.
BD: So this church is very special to you isn’t it?
PS: Very special see it was closed in ’62 and then I belonged to the museum association because and I had gone to one of these meetings and they had advocated very much to preserve the history. If you lose your history you lose your identity and so fourth. So I asked the priest who lives here and he didn’t say so but he kinda could a gone like that ya know. But when I saw he wasn’t for it I never argued with things like that then he was changed very shortly after and the new priest that came was interested like you people are and I remember talking like this and then I remember at one time I thought we should have this a heritage site and his name was and he looked at me and he said, “why don’t you?” Well there is the so and so said he said yeah go ahead. And I said where do I start. And he said start with the bishop and that’s how I got into it. See it was closed in ’62 and then reopened in’82. And then in between those 20 years look how this church stood.
BD: So really it was empty for 20 years?
PS: You see they used to come here once a year up to the shrine its really marvelous you know.
BD: Out in the cemetery in the back there are some really nice iron crosses out there.
PS: Yeah those are different
BD: So you remember as a child you know when we go to cemeteries were usually expecting concrete was it surprising to you to see the iron crosses?
PS: No I don’t think they ever struck me, not that I can recall.
BD: You were used to it so it really didn’t.
BD: I’m gonna ask you a little more about your family did you grandpa or your dad ever talk about Bessarabia did they ever talk about the old country?
PS: Yes well they had uncles and great uncles that came visiting to our place and then would rehearse things and talk and laugh and joke and all the rest of those things ya know.
BD: Were they sorry that they left or were they happy.
PS: Oh I think they were happy because you see we’ve visited Germany since and have talked to my cousins who were fleeing ya know to talk to people who have gone through this. Their little boy was about five years old or something lie that and they said and they were taught when the bombs were going to quickly go under shelter and when the bombing was over and they looked for the family they couldn’t find this boy so they thought well he got killed no doubt when it got dark here comes the little boy trottling along and they said his name was Adolph, where were you Adolph what were you doing I crawled in with the chickens and I was scared to come out and when it got dark out I got scared in there anyway so I came. They could tell stories you know.
BD: Any other stories you remember your dad or grand pa telling you?
PS: I don’t know. Now grandpa loved to sing and we used to be at grandpa’s a lot but I don’t know I can’t think of any right now.
BD: What kind of songs would he sing do you remember any of the songs he might sing?
PS: My mother’s cousin which is my first cousin once removed made a history book this thick on the Dirks side and he all the German songs he’s translated everyone of them.
BD: Now were they religious or were they folk songs.
PS: Most of the folk songs that were also religious songs and he described the customs and the, with the way the things were in example and so on.
BD: What would of the folk songs been about have you read the book?
PS: I don’t think I have he’s got dozens of them in there.
BD: Is there anything else you would like to tell us about the church or your family?
PS: I don’t think so nothing I can brag about.
BD: You can brag about anything you want.
PS: No I’ve really I think like when I first got this idea of changing this to a heritage site some people thin well why would you want to do this? And then something you begin to think you are crazy and you know. Anyhow as time went on we had no debt of anything we had the inside painted we’ve had the outside re done we’ve had the roof fixed we have no debt the last thing we did we did the outside of the church and we had to borrow some money, Delores and I, so one day I was talking to the rest of the guys on the board and we have a board and I said if Delores and I are in the pen you bail us out because bail or nothing you ask for a steak and a TV. And you see we’ve done all of and its because donations have constantly come n ever since we started in ’82 but its of people who really and the last two summers and especially last summer when we had about or close to somewhere over 600 or 700 people I am convinced people want this kept up because its all by donations.
BD: Thank you so much for talking to us.
PS: Well I, the bishop we have now was transferred
and we found out just a couple days before the pilgrimage so what
did we do we sang a little fare well song:
Lustig ist das Ziguiner leben Far-i-a
Braucht dem Kuiser Kein Zins bezahla Far-i-a
Great is the life of a Gypsy Far-i-a
not pay taxes to the Caesar Far-i-a
That’s the, we changed the words to how sad we are to lose our bishop.
BD: Changed the words from what, what was the original version?
PS: It’s German it’s happy about the gypsy life because they don’t have to pay any taxes to the Kaiser.