History of St. Peter's
By David Martin
It is easy to assume that St. Peter's Church has always existed. Several members of our parish lived in the area well before the church was built in 1968, and their memories go as far back as the early 1900's. These memories allow us to better appreciate the dedicated people who worked the land and helped to build our church community — and give us "roots" at St. Peter's. Other sources of information can even help us to reconstruct the landscape thousands of years ago - well before these families lived in the area. The next time that you come to church, look for clues that will help you to reconstruct and appreciate our roots, and what the area and life were like before St. Peter's Church existed.
One clue - Cherokee Marsh - is easy to spot. The origin of the marsh takes us back thousands of years. Imagine coming up over the hill on North Sherman Avenue in 8,000 B.C., and gazing out over the landscape to the north. Back then, the marsh was actually a lake that was about ten feet deep. The lake likely lapped up against the land where St. Peter's Church is located today. It extended west over today's Cherokee Park, and east and south over the Dane County Regional Airport and Oscar Mayer's locations. This body of water connected with what are now the Madison lakes. A few thousand years earlier, a thick sheet of ice had scooped out all of the area lakes, and grounded off many of the higher hills that once existed in the area. The glacier eventually melted and filled the lakes with water. It left the soils for the area farms, and the boulders that early farmers had to pick from their fields. The glacier left the many rocks that would eventually be used in the landscape walls in Petrus Park (on church property) and Cherokee Park.
Another clue — the windmill in Petrus Park — is easy to spot, too. This windmill reminds us of the many farms and hard-working families that graced the area before the church was built. During the 1930's, dairy farms and cropland covered the area. Oats and corn grew where our St. Peter's Church is now located. Cows and outbuildings dotted the landscape. Farm families worked long hours in the fields, barns, and milkhouses. Many of the families (and their descendants) have long been members of our parish community — Back, Hornung, and Raemisch — are just a few of the important parish family names. In fact, it was from Peter Hornung (now deceased) that a parcel of his farm was acquired by the Madison Diocese where St. Peter Church's and Rectory were eventually built in 1968.
Other long-time members of St. Peter's Parish have been instrumental in developing the area and the church buildings. John Fox was instrumental in both advancing the concept and location of the new church, and in assisting with design and construction for the new church and rectory. Through the years, many others have contributed their spirits and energies to build St. Peter's Church and Parish into the vibrant, hard-working, closely-knit parish that exists today — in keeping with the tradition of the early farm families. Hundreds have served tirelessly, including Esther Hornung who has managed the St. Peter's Church kitchen for 35 years. In years to come, others will continue to build a record of similar dedication to the parish community. Our parish has also been blessed with two wonderful pastors — Fathers Lawrence Korback and Roger Nilles, as well as several associate pastors.
(Note: In late 2000 and early 2001, David Martin of St. Peter's Church interviewed several senior members of the church and prepared a detailed narrative of the area and the people interviewed. Father Nilles can provide a copy of this narrative).