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Mendota Mdewakanton Newsletter

Historial Saint Peter’s Church in Mendota.

Minnesota’s oldest church in continuous use. In 1837 the Vatican established a new diocese (The Diocese of Dubuque) which encompassed Iowa, Minnesota West of the Mississippi, and parts of both North Dakota and South Dakota. The parish of Saint Peter’s pre-dates any permanent place of worship. Father Lucien Galtier had built a log church which later became the cathedral of the Diocese of Saint Paul. Galtier relocated across the Mississippi River to Mendota where he was given a one room cabin by Jean Baptiste Faribault, which had been Faribault’s previous residence. The cabin, though, collapsed one summer night in 1842 and Father Galtier was invited to stay at Faribault’s new home. Father Galtier conducted mass from the Faribault house while he worked on the construction of a new chapel, the first Church of Saint Peter, which came into use in October of 1842. While the wood structure wasn’t much of a building it served its purpose and one piece did survive: the altar (a simple rough cupboard) is still preserved at the museum of the Saint Paul Seminary. Galtier stayed at Saint Peter’s until 1844, when Bishop Loras sent him to Iowa.

Galtier’s successor was Father Augustine Ravoux. He made the structure built by Galtier his residence and headquarters in the area. The wood structure remained in use even after the stone church was finished, serving as a rectory and then as a school before being demolished to make way for a railroad line. The current stone church was built in 1853 from locally quarried stone with hand-split shingles. The cost for construction was $4,425.80. While the exterior of the church remains much as it did in 1853, a number of interior changes have happened over the years including the addition of side galleries (1877); a sacristy-sanctuary was made by converting the old rectory quarters, a new steeple and belfry were built to replace those lost in a storm, and the side galleries were removed (1881); new pews and a different aisle arrangement, a three foot elevation of the floor near the entrance for better visibility from the back rows, a choir loft was added, and the church’s first furnace was installed(1902); stained glass windows (1904); side altars, statuary, and new stations of the cross (1909); and brown wallboard was finally added (1940). The steeple was again destroyed by a storm in 1951 requiring the construction of a replacement which was completed in 1954, when the original furnace was also replaced.

Historic Church of St. Peter circa 1890 Courtesy Minnesota Historical Society
Historic Church of St. Peter circa 1890 Courtesy Minnesota Historical Society