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
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
BD: And do you know why they came? Why did they
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
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
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
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
BD: So he gave it up what did you do after he gave
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
BD: Changed the words from what, what was the original
PS: It’s German it’s happy about the
gypsy life because they don’t have to pay any taxes to the