Annual celebration held at Grosswerder church

Generations of parishioners have celebrated the Feast Day of St. Anthony of Padua June 13 at St. Anthony Church, Grosswerder. (Submitted photo)

By Fr. Binu Rathappillil VC, Pastor at Macklin, Denzil and St. Donatus

The annual pilgrimage to the historic St. Anthony Church at Grosswerder, SK, was held on June 13, 2023 to honour St. Anthony of Padua and the pioneers who built the church in 1912.

A group of volunteers continues to preserve and maintain this beautiful cemetery site and the church building, which was closed in 1982.

This year, a procession led by three flag-bearing horse riders, followed by a St. Anthony shrine statue and a vintage tractor pulling a trailer carrying Bishop Mark Hagemoen and five priests from the area, who traveled from the Ollenberger farm to St. Anthony Cemetery.

After the cemetery blessing, the procession continued on to St. Anthony’ Church and was greeted by bells ringing and a full church, where everyone gathered, worshipped, and enjoyed fellowship following Mass — just as in the pioneer days.

Five area priests joined Bishop Mark Hagemoen for the annual celebration at St. Anthony Church, Grosswerder June 13, 2023 (l-r): Fr. Ed Gibney, pastor at Biggar and Landis; Fr. Dan Yasinski, pastor at Kerrobert, Major, Dodsland and Luseland; Bishop Mark Hagemoen; Fr. Binu Rathappillil, VC, pastor at Macklin, Denzil and St. Donatus; Fr. Greg Roth, pastor at Unity and Tramping Lake; and Fr. Santhosh Thekkekulam, VC, pastor at Wilkie, Leipzig and Handel. (Submitted photo)

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History of St. Anthony Church, Grosswerder

By Naden Hewko, St. Mary Parish, Macklin

[Excerpts from a report by Naden Hewko about the 2019 celebration, previously published on Catholic Saskatoon News – LINK]

The annual celebration Catholics at Grosswerder has been around since 1907 when the settlers arrived. These were brave souls who left their homes in southern Russia and immigrated to Grosswerder, SK.

These pioneers were part of a larger group known as St. Joseph Colony, which settled in the area from Leipzig, through Tramping Lake, to Grosswerder and across to the Alberta border.

This particular district of the St. Joseph Colony was named Grosswerder after the home village in southern Russia of some of the settlers. The families in the area were devout Roman Catholics who gathered in their homes to pray. As they wished to have a church to worship in they built a small, sod church and named it in honour of St. Anthony of Padua, the patron saint of settlers from another village.

The men hauled poplar poles from Sounding Lake with their wagons and oxen to build the roof. This was covered with sod and leaked when it rained. A lumber addition to the building was built, but that also became too small. The people realized they needed a proper church so they applied to their bishop for help. At that time this area was part of the Prince Albert diocese. With a loan from the bishop and many sacrifices on the part of the parishioners, enough money was raised to build.

On July 10, 1912, the cornerstone of the new church building was laid. Max Kasberger was the chief carpenter. St. Anthony church was built by volunteers who walked many miles from their homes to help with the construction.

The church was officially consecrated on Nov. 13, 1912. It still needed interior work but Mass could be celebrated. Three bells were ordered from the Bell Foundry of Fritz Hamm in Germany in 1913 and were hung on a stand for display until 1915 when they were raised with horses and pulleys up into the bell tower, firmly attached and covered with the steeple. Their special sound could be heard for over two miles.

The church became the centre of the district, with a rectory built for the priest. The first parish priest was Father Palm after whom the school was named. The school was moved closer to the church and a teacherage provided for the teachers.

This beautiful church served the district for 70 years until 1982, when it was closed due to a shortage of priests. The parishioners chose between attending Sacred Heart Church at Denzil or St. Mary Church in Macklin. But the people of St. Anthony parish wanted to keep alive the memory of those early settlers who brought the faith here with them.

It was decided to hold an annual Mass in memory of the pioneers and in honour of St. Anthony of Padua, on the patron saint’s Feast Day of June 13 if possible, or a date closest to that day. Local volunteers work hard to clean and prepare for this celebration.