Effort slated to take about five years
By Dan Russo
PETERSBURG — Despite their meager means at the time, members of the farming community that made up SS. Peter and Paul Parish in Petersburg in the early 1900s, many of them new German immigrants, spared no expense in creating a church whose physical beauty takes the breath away from all who enter it, even construction professionals coming to repair it over 100 years later.
“Every contractor I have visited with, for the first 15 minutes, walks into the church and stands there in awe before we get to any business of what they came for,” said Rick Domeyer, who with his wife, Karen, is general chair of the parish’s capital campaign committee.
The ravages of time have taken their toll on the magnificent structure, however. Built in 1905, it was the first church in the archdiocese to be consecrated. Now at a literal breaking point, parishioners are working hard to restore a building whose value is priceless to them. After discovering that the roof, stained glass windows, masonry, painted religious art and other aspects of the church were in dire need of repair, parishioners embarked in 2017 on a $1.5 million fundraising effort. Because of the critical state of the roof, repairs have already begun.
“We had a dozen meetings,” said Karen Domeyer. “(Parishioners of all ages) spoke very passionately and eloquently that we’re not just fixing the church, we’re fixing us. The church is the glue that holds our community together.”
The restoration effort started when parish cleaning volunteers found paint chips on carpets, which led to a greater inspection. At first Rick Domeyer hoped a paint job would fix the problem, but it was later found that moisture was getting in. After consulting with experts, the parishioners held meetings to decide what to do. The consensus was unanimous. The capital campaign launched in April. Responses began coming in from close to home and as far away as Florida and Alaska.
“One of the most inspiring aspects of this campaign has been the opportunity to witness the generosity of not only our own parishioners, but also of people beyond our parish who may not even have any ties to our beautiful church,” said Father Dennis Quint, pastor of the parish, part of the Spires of Faith Cluster. “Since we have only about 200 families here, the kindness of people outside our parish will be essential for us to maintain one of the most stunning churches in the Midwest.”
The unusual beauty of the church stems from the ornate elements it contains, all designed with the singular purpose of raising people’s senses toward the divine. The pastor at the time of construction traveled to Germany to acquire top of the line stained glass windows. A prominent painter of the era was brought in to complete biblically themed murals on the ceiling. The altar was made by Egid Hackner of La Crosse, Wisconsin, who was one of the most renowned artisans in the United States, known for his work in churches around the country.
The stone exterior of the building, particularly its steeple, offers a dramatic contrast to the flat fields and blue sky around it.
The history of the parish dates back to 1868. In those early years, a previous church and school were established. In the early 1900s, in order to afford the high-end elements for the new worship space, parishioners at the time made many sacrifices. Repairs and renovations were made over the years since 1905, but nothing on the scale of what is being attempted today. The Domeyers and their fellow parishioners feel they must save the church, which they see as a testament to the faith of earlier generations. They want to preserve this, so they can leave a legacy for those yet to be born.
“We’re a small community,” said Karen. “People don’t expect this in the middle of a cornfield in Iowa. We feel exceedingly blessed that all four of our children were married in our church. All seven of our grandchildren were baptized in this church. They come back to the church and worship with us on Sundays. We just want to keep this for them and for future generations, so they can have what we have.”
The restoration began with the roof repair. Next will be tuckpointing of the stone, and then eventually workers will move on to inside repairs. The entire process could take up to five years, according to Rick Domeyer. New issues are still being uncovered as the work progresses. The parish is still accepting donations to help with the expense.
Contributions can be sent to: SS. Peter and Paul Church, 1625 300th Ave., Dyersville, IA, 52040. For more information, call Rick Domeyer at 563-590-9275.
Pictured above is the inside of SS. Peter and Paul Church in Petersburg, part of the Spires of Faith Cluster. The building is currently undergoing a major renovation. (Photo by Sarah Seeley)
In second photo, workers with Joel Jaeger and Association perform roof repair on the exterior of SS. Peter and Paul Church in Petersburg. The church was the first to be consecrated in the Archdiocese of Dubuque. (Contributed photo)