ST. PETER’S COLONY, Sask. — In 1913, Rev. Henri Metzger looked at the sloped hillside of Manybone Creek near Kronau, Sask., and envisioned a shrine to the Blessed Virgin, similar to what he had seen at Lourdes, France.
He mobilized the tiny community of St. Peter’s Colony to dig into the hillside and haul rocks from the surrounding fields to build his dream. Four years later, on August 15, 1917, the first pilgrimage was held to the Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes. Archbishop Olivier Mathieu celebrated the inaugural mass.
One hundred years later the tradition of an annual pilgrimage to the shrine, on the second weekend of August, has lived on and flourished.
More than 1,000 people registered for the centennial celebrations this year. It was a two-day celebration — August 12 and 13 — and was well attended overall, but the highest attendance was on Sunday when Regina Archbishop Donald Bolen celebrated mass.
The weather co-operated for both days — cloudless skies, hot, but with a light cooling breeze occasionally rattling the canopy covering the registration and food area. Tables and chairs were set within a secondary large tent. The old Rostad School, located between the tents and St. Peter’s Church, contained a “Memory Lane” organized by Gordon Domm with help from local people. It contained photographs, artifacts, and some of Metzger’s paintings. It proved to be a popular attraction.
Tall trees shade most of the pews in the grotto; some who sat in the sun held umbrellas, while several participants sat beneath the shade of the trees bordering the creek.
“The faith of generations is what is watching over us today, and that faith is not something only of the past but is pointed toward the future,” Bolen began in his homily. “We have much to be thankful for, and it is a beautiful symbolic thing that we commission (today) three young men to continue their studies” — referring to three seminarians who were to be commissioned as acolytes at the end of the homily.
The Sunday afternoon mass with the archbishop was preceded by a smudging ceremony and an honour song performed by a group from the Kawacatoose First Nation. It took place adjacent to Metzger’s grave, which overlooks the grotto. Metzger had a special relationship with the local indigenous people and from the time the pilgrimages began, Aboriginal people of the area and family members of the original colony have led the procession down the hill from the church to the grotto carrying a statue of the Blessed Virgin to begin the commemorative mass. Decendents of those families — the Obrigewitsch and Frey families among them — continued that tradition Sunday.
Bolen focused his homily on the way God speaks to us in everyday life. Referring to the day’s readings, he suggested we would like God to come to us “in some overwhelming way so that we couldn’t possibly miss that it is God who is speaking. But our God comes to us quietly, our God comes to us gently, and that means we have to listen and listen deeply to the ways in which God is speaking to us.”
Bolen continued: “God comes to us and we go to him in times when we are overwhelmed, but then we have to keep our eyes on him and not on what is overwhelming, otherwise we begin to sink as Peter did in today’s Gospel.”
Peter became fearful of the waves when Jesus called him to walk on the water toward him.
“Peter calls to him again and the Lord reaches out his hand and lifts up Peter. In our case, he brings a sense of calm and it tells us that all is in God’s hands.”
God was speaking to all the people who came to this area and built this grotto, and his great grandparents were among them, said the archbishop. They settled in the area in 1891, and two years later his great, great grandfather, Joseph Ehman, founded St. Mary’s Colony (see below). Three of his ancestors are buried in a small cemetery three miles west of Kronau. The “Memory Lane” display in the Rostad School spoke to this history, and had a display titled “St. Mary’s: The Lost and Forgotten Colony.”
A variety of activities was scheduled over the two days, including benediction, the stations of the cross in St. Peter’s Church, eucharistic adoration, a concert with Deacon Bob Williston, a Saturday afternoon mass with pastor Rev. Ed Hengen as celebrant, and a Saturday night showing in the grotto of the movie, The Song of Bernadette.
An added event — unscheduled — was the Perseid meteor shower that played overhead in the clear night sky. The Archdiocesan Youth Choir provided the music for the Saturday mass and the polka group, A Journey of Faith, provided music for Sunday’s mass. The St. Peter’s Colony Heritage group organized the two-day pilgrimage.
St. Mary’s Colony was established by patriarch Joseph Ehmann, who arrived in the third wave of settlers in 1893. Plans to build a church were soon underway. A large store in Regina was bought and dismantled for the price of $200. The lumber was hauled to St. Mary’s Colony and the church was built in the summer of 1895. It was moved to Riceton in 1941 and became known as Sacred Heart Church.
St. Mary’s Colony seemed to have broken up after the death of Ehmann. He was known as der fromme Yosef (devout). Four of his great grandsons became priests and nine granddaughters chose the religious life. Regina Archbishop Donald Bolen is the great great grandson of Josef Ehmann.
The cairn at St. Mary’s Cemetery was erected and dedicated at a thanksgiving mass on August 1, 1971. The cemetery existed during the years 1892-1921. The original size of the cemetery was 124 feet by 92 feet. There are 41 persons listed as resting at the site. (Taken from Saskatchewan Cemeteries Project: Kronau Area.)