This birds eye view of the original church is believed to have been taken at some point in the 1950s according to church historian Betty Wannemacher - Putnam Sentinel
This birds eye view of the original church is believed to have been taken at some point in the 1950s according to church historian Betty Wannemacher.

OTTAWA — On Sunday, Sept. 23 Sts. Peter & Paul Catholic Parish will celebrate its 150th anniversary. The church’s cornerstone was first placed in 1868. Construction of the original 50 by 130 foot church was completed over the next few years at a cost of $18,000 and was dedicated in 1872.

To better reflect on the many changes that have occurred with the parish in the intervening 150 years, the Sentinel sat down with the Church’s historian, Betty Wannemacher and current pastor, Father Matt Jozefiak. The first question posed was a seemingly simple one, ‘Why does the church exist at all?’ This question is not meant in the grandeur sense of why the faithful wished to worship, but the more immediate sense of why this church was built, at the location it still inhabits, at the time it was built. Why there? Why then?

“The way I understand it,” answers Fr. Jozefiak, “St. John’s in Glandorf is the Mother Church. It was established to minister to the German speaking farmers who had settled in this area. But, as the Catholic population began to grow, the pastor (Fr. F. Schalk) used to come up this way and offer Mass. Not in the church, yet, but he would minister to the people of Ottawa. Eventually, then, it was decided to build a church [in Ottawa].”

It was also noted that although area farmers could be expected to own a horse and buggy at the time, those living and working in the town of Ottawa may have relied almost entirely on walking to get to church.

“The priest walked when they had the first school,” Wannemacher adds, speaking of Fr. Clement Roessner who served in 1876, living in Glandorf and traveling to Ottawa. “I don’t understand why he didn’t have a horse, but some days he had a horse and some days he didn’t.”

So, the creation of Sts. Peter & Paul extends from the founding of St. Johns in Glandorf. However, the history of Catholics in the area goes back even further.

“The Jesuits were here with the [Native Americans],” Wannemacher continues. “Right down the street they had what they called ‘The Lighthouse’…So they were already offering Mass in this little house…The [Native Americans] helped build the Glandorf church.”

This information surprised Fr. Jozefiak, as it would technically mean that the Glandorf Parish was founded by Jesuits, and he thought that it had always been the creation of the religious Catholic order to which he belongs.

“The Missionaries of the Precious Blood, the order that I belong to, C.PP.S.,” says Fr. Jozefiak, “We were founded in 1815 by Saint Gasper. And then, Father Brunner, who was the head of our congregation in Europe, was conscripted by the Archbishop of Cincinnati…He needed help to minister to the German speaking farmers who had immigrated here in the 1830s and 1840s…So that’s how [C.PP.S.] was introduced to minister in Glandorf, and it is why the first priest in Ottawa was from the Precious Blood order and was not a Jesuit. I did not know the history with the Jesuits.”

As to the question of why the church was placed at its location in Ottawa, the answer is much more straightforward.

“An acre of land was donated in 1861,” answers Wannemacher. “And then, the Civil War started. The men went off and prices escalated…That’s why it wasn’t until 1868 that the cornerstone was then finally laid.”

In addition to the original church and one-room schoolhouse, the four-room brick schoolhouse was built in 1887. The church was remodeled and enlarged in 1917, and a new school constructed in 1920. In 1922, Fr. Krull founded Sts. Peter & Paul’s High School. That school moved to its Locust St. location in 1955. The old convent was razed in 1960, with a new one built. For the 1961-62 school year, Sts. Peter & Paul and Ottawa Public began the process of becoming one public high school, with the Ottawa Board of Education leasing the Locust Street building for the new Ottawa High School. The final service of the original church took place in July 1966, with the building razed shortly thereafter. The new church was dedicated in 1968 in celebration of the parish’s 100 years since the cornerstone was laid.

In the scope of 150 years, it is impossible to count the number of people who have worshiped at Sts. Peter & Paul or were educated by its schools. Fr. Jozefiak and Wannemacher were asked if they could name any notable parishioners from throughout that time period.

“I just started by eleventh year,” begins Fr. Jozefiak. “In my estimation, we’ve had 4,300 notable parishioners…everybody participates in some way, and their contribution is always profound.”

“I don’t want to focus on one individual,” Fr. Jozefiak continues, “But, Fr. Hartke was the pastor here when the new church was being built. He was the one that ensured that the church be a foot higher than the highest flood level ever recorded here. And because of that, during the flood of 2007, there was very minimal damage to the church.”