ROWATT, Sask. — Our Lady of the Prairies Catholic Church has probably been seen by more people than most other churches in Saskatchewan. Located in the hamlet of Rowatt, a few kilometres directly south of Regina, the church is on the east edge of Highway 6. Thousands of people would pass by the unobtrusive church with the curious square steeple topped by a cross as they approached the city — the first landmark that Regina was just a few minutes away.
Our Lady of the Prairies Parish was established in 1932 when the community was settled by largely German immigrants. Early masses were held at Springdale School a few kilometres east of the village on a grid road. Local farmers, after a meeting with Archbishop Peter Joseph Monahan, built the church in 1939. The nearby city gradually absorbed the residents of Rowatt, however, and the church was abandoned in 1992 when Rev. Emmet Mooney celebrated the last mass there.
“We tried to keep it going for community events, dinners, meetings, baby showers and the occasional wedding, that sort of thing,” said longtime resident Tim Novak. “A small group of us kept it up, even put in a couple of furnaces, but it needs a new roof and siding that’s going to cost thousands of dollars and we just couldn’t afford it anymore. So we held a vote last fall and decided to ask the archdiocese to take it over.”
The church interior appears well-kept and relatively new. The sanctuary was re-done in the 1960s following Vatican II.
Archbishop Donald Bolen, in his homily on the afternoon of the deconsecration ceremony, talked about the connections that many of the people present had to the church, including his own grandfather, who settled in the area. It wasn’t until years later that his grandfather’s family moved to the Gravelbourg area where Bolen’s father was born and where he grew up.
Bolen related a story told by an 18th century rabbi about his grandfather that showed the power that stories have to transform. The grandfather was disabled, but got up to dance and leap with joy as he told how the founder of Hassidic Judaism, Baal Shem Tov, danced when he was at prayers. The grandfather got so excited in retelling the story that he forgot he was disabled and danced and was cured.
“Stories tell us about God,” said Bolen, “and in the telling we encounter the presence of God.”
He referred to the day’s Scripture readings that told how Peter and John, on the way to pray at the temple, encountered a crippled beggar. Peter said they had no silver or gold to give but would give what they had, and in the name of Jesus of Nazareth told the beggar to get up and walk, and the disability was instantly cured. Questioned later by the authorities, Peter told them there was no other name by which we can be saved. There is salvation in no one else.
“That was the Gospel story that was at the heart of this little parish, Our Lady of the Prairies,” said the archbishop.
The deconsecration followed the homily. Bolen sprinkled the 50 or so people in attendance with holy water, then, with archdiocesan chancellor Rev. James Owalagba, removed the altar stone.
A reception in the church basement was held after the ceremony. It is not known what the future holds for the building, but it likely will be sold along with the land. The artifacts and vessels will be distributed among other churches, if requested, or placed in the archdiocesan archives.
Our Lady of the Prairies was a mission church for Holy Rosary Cathedral in Regina and at one time was part of a group of churches in communities along the CPR and CNR rail lines.