German-Speaking Faithful Have Long History in City

Article excerpt

German-speaking people have a long history of establishing and attending churches in the Winnipeg region.

Winnipeg boasted fewer than 90,000 people in 1904 when excavation work on the first St. Joseph's Roman Catholic Church was carried out by horse-drawn scrapers and blocks were moulded on-site by the German parishioners.

There were 186 people of German descent living in Winnipeg in 1881. By 1911, there were 8,912, and the numbers rose to 26,710 in 1971. According to the 2006 census, Manitobans of German background make up the second-largest ethnic group in Manitoba.

The earliest German immigrants came mainly from Austria-Hungary and Russia, wrote Arthur Grenke in The German Community in Winnipeg: 1872-1919. They soon established Lutheran, Baptist, Reformed, Catholic and Mennonite churches. By 1913, there were at least 17 churches serving the German community in Winnipeg. Today, only a handful of the city's churches offer services in German.

Perhaps one of the most historic German churches is St. Joseph's, a Roman Catholic parish in the North End. Their first church was built in 1904.

Fires in 1908 and 1947 destroyed the original building. "I remember the old church, after it burned -- they tore the second floor down," says former parishioner Wolfgang Kubisch. After 60 years, the building was in need of repair and so in 1970, construction began on the current church on the corner of Mountain Avenue and Andrews Street.

The uniquely designed building, with its four enormous pillars and huge bell tower soaring above the skyline, was built in the 1970s.

"All of us were involved in canvassing from house to house," says Kubisch of the combined efforts of the parish members in building the new church.

Adolf Kussman, who has been a member since 1959, estimates there are about 700 families in the parish now. About 100 people attend the German mass and 1,200 attend the English masses, he says.

Both Kussman and Kubisch are members of the Kolping Society, which meets at St. Joseph's and has about 75 male and female members.

Money raised through the group's activities, such as the annual Schlachtfest to be held today, goes to sponsor two foster children in Africa and the Philippines and to the Salvation Army, Siloam Mission and other non-profit organizations.

Like many German Roman Catholic immigrants, Rose Vetter arrived in the 1950s and settled in the neighbourhood near St. Joseph's.

"(It) became our spiritual, cultural and social home," she says. "My husband, also a German immigrant, and I met and married in the church."

Although she now lives in Vancouver, she remains in touch with old friends from St. Joseph's.

Today, the aging German parishioners welcome a large Filipino membership and the church has evolved to reflect the multiculturalism of the larger community.

Inside the fan-shaped building, the pews curve around an altar lit by streams of light pouring through the sky dome above it.

Three large hand-carved wooden figurines of Jesus, Mary and Joseph on the walls were imported from South Tyrol, Italy, as part of a community effort by the volunteers who worked at the Majestic Alps Pavilion during Folklorama. …