Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

German-speaking faithful have long history in city

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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. Beautiful stained-glass windows, also of Mary and Joseph, can be seen on the back wall.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Cross is another historic church that serves the German community. Founded in 1905, it was first located on Alexander Avenue and Chambers Street.

The congregation's growth in the 1950s led to the construction of the large church that opened in 1965 on Arlington Street near Ellice Avenue.

Pastor Kolleen Karlowsky-Clark estimates "between 25 to 30 people" attend the German service and are "mostly older people who came from Europe."

Roughly 50 to 60 attend the English service. Many German people attend the English service as well, Karlowsky-Clark says. "We are one congregation, not two separate ones.

"Congregations aren't growing the way they did before and people aren't staying in the same area anymore," she says. However, Karlowsky-Clark considers their attractive and spacious building to be a great resource.

"We are in a rental and ministry partnership with the Lutheran Urban Ministry that offers a community meal to up to 150 people three times each week," she says.

The urban ministry also has a men's support group and cooking ministry.

Church of the Cross offers space to Prairie Fire, a campus and youth ministry worship band and Luther Village offices. It also provides space for school and community concerts and fundraising events.

"We're learning to be a church in a new age, a new time," Karlowsky-Clark says.

The Mennonites find their spiritual roots in a movement that began in Europe in the early 1500s. They came from Germany, Russia and Paraguay and have been an important part of the German-speaking community in Manitoba since 1874. Many settled in places such as Steinbach, Winkler and Morden. Others came to Winnipeg to look for work.

A Mennonite church in Winnipeg that still offers services in German is the North Kildonan Mennonite Brethren Church.

"This church started in 1928 with about 30 members, all immigrants, from Russia," says Associate Pastor Paulhans Funk.

"The services were all in German at that time... In 1929, they built their first church on Edison Avenue," Funk says.

The membership kept growing and so in 2001, work began on the huge new building at Springfield and Gateway roads. Today, there is one service in English and one in German. Funk, who looks after the German ministries, estimates 400 to 500 members and non-members go to the English service and 130 to 150 attend the German one.

"Some are newer immigrants, in their 30s... mostly from Paraguay, and some are from Germany," says Funk, who emigrated from Paraguay about 10 years ago. The busy church offers a German Bible study group, choir and a men's group.

River East Mennonite Church, Springfield Heights Mennonite Church and the German Church of God are among other churches that provide German services in Winnipeg.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 27, 2012 J14

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