BY Frank Flegel

ROWATT, SASKATCHEWAN……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 hop, skip and a jump south of Regina on Highway Six, the church is just on the east edge of the highway. Thousands of people in their vehicles would pass by the unobtrusive drab looking church with the curious square steeple with a cross on top as they approach 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 little community was settled by largely German immigrants. Early masses were held at Springdale School a few miles east of Rowatt on a grid road. Local farmers, after a meeting with then Archbishop Monahan, built the church in 1939.  The city slowly absorbed residents of the community, eventually leaving the church abandoned in 1992 when Father 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. 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,” lamented long time resident Tim Novak. The church interior appears well kept and is relatively new. The sanctuary was re-done in the 1960s following Vatican II, said Novak.

Archbishop Donald Bolen, in his brief homily, talked about the connections that many of the people in the Church that afternoon of the deconsecration ceremony had to the church, including his 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 began by relating a story told by an 18th century Rabbi about his grandfather that showed the power that stories have to transform. The grandfather was a cripple but got up to dance, leap about 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 crippled and danced and was cured. “Stories tell us about God,” said Bolen, “And in the telling we encounter the presence of God.” He then 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 cripple was instantly cured. Questioned later by the rulers Peter told them there is 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 here, Our Lady of the Prairies,” said the Archbishop.

The actual decree  of the church followed the archbishop’s homily and was brief because the church had been inactive for 26 years. Bolen blessed some water and sprinkled the 50 or so people in attendance then with Archdiocesan Chancellor Reverend 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 to other churches, if requested, or be 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.

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