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Father Peters is shown with the Sisters of the Presentation who were instrumental in developing his love of music.

Editor’s note: Father Paul Peters celebrated his final mass on June 25, 2017, at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, Elkader, capping off a career that covered nearly six decades. Lori Keppler shared his story.

Father Paul Peters was born October 18, 1936, in Fairbank, Iowa to Leo and Vera (Preble) Peters. If you have been to Elkader for St. Patrick’s Day in recent years you may have been able to enjoy his musical talent during the annual celebration. That is just one event that he has blessed us with his musical flair. 

His amazing gift of music began on the lap of his grandmother as she showed him how to chord music as a little boy. At a very early age, he had an ear for music. The Sisters of the Presentation who taught music at Immaculate Conception school helped him develop his love and God given talent. Sister Ellen Murphy and Sister Margaret Donnelly, both teachers at Immaculate Conception shared,” By the time Paul was in 5th grade, he could put a music program together and everyone received a specific part.” What a gift. 

This talent was developed despite challenges. Many people whom Paul met along the journey offered their generous gifts to him. When Sister Miriam Viola arrived at Immaculate Conception, Fairbank, it didn’t take her long to recognize the innate gift that Paul had for playing the organ. She realized teaching a young man organ lessons with such talent was not her expertise. So, she went a step further and contacted Mrs. Wahlert. She had attended classes in St. Louis and would come to Fairbank to hear Paul play. Mrs. Wahlert generously paid for Paul to receive weekly organ lessons from Father Carmen at Loras College.

All along his journey, people have been there to help foster Paul’s love of music. Sister Margaret Donnelly PBVM invited Paul to Mason City to play the Town House on Friday evenings. This was the place to be on the weekend, back in the day. Another claim to fame was playing the organ on the Bob Cavanaugh KGLO TV program. 

Paul graduated from Loras College in 1958, with a double major in philosophy and music. He accompanied the Vested Choir at Loras during his college days and was organist during his seminary days at Mount St. Bernard Seminary where he completed his theological studies in 1962.

Father Peters was ordained March 17, 1962, by Bishop George J. Biskup, D.D., at St. Raphael Cathedral. Most of his priesthood has been involved in teaching and music.

He was Associate Pastor of St. Matthew Parish in Cedar Rapids, 1962, Sacred Heart Parish in Osage, 1962, and St. Patrick Parish in Dubuque, 1962-1967, with a teaching assignment at Wahlert High School. In 1966, he began studies leading to a Master of Music Education Degree at the University of Miami, Coral Gables, Florida. 

In the summer of 1967, he was assigned to St. Edward, Waterloo, with a teaching assignment at Columbus High School. While Father Paul was stationed at St. Edward, he joined the Knights of Columbus and today is an Honorary Life Member, 4th degree.  While in Waterloo, he joined the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks, Waterloo Lodge #190.  He was State Chaplain of the BPOE for 17 years, Grand National  

Chaplain for two years and an Honorary Lifetime Member of BPOE.

Finishing his Masters of Music Education Degree in 1970, Father was assigned to chair the Music Department at Columbus High School, a position he held for 13 years. During this time, he was dean of the American Guild of Organists, chair of the Music and Organ Commission of the Archdiocese and member of the Waterloo Symphony Board.  He was the accompanist for the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Metropolitan Chorale and choir director at St. Mary and St. Edward Churches.  Father Peters has been the organist for the Varsity Men’s Glee Club, UNI Christmas Show for over 39 years. He gave instruction in piano, organ and voice at Columbus.  He studied organ with Dr. Carl Staplin, Drake University and voice with Charles Matheson and Dr. Les Hale at UNI. During his tenure at Columbus, he supervised the construction of an addition to the Fine Arts Department.

Father served as administrator of St. Patrick Parish in Monona, 1983.  In the fall of 1983, Father Peters became Pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in Eagle Grove. While pastoring at Sacred Heart, Eagle Grove, he directed the Eagle Grove Chorale.

Father became the Pastor of St. Mary Parish in Guttenberg and Superintendent of the Catholic School consolidated with Immaculate Conception, North Buena Vista from 1985-1997. During his pastorate at St. Mary, Father Peters added Kindergarten to the school curriculum and with the help of Sr. Jean Evelyn Menster, B.V.M. founded the Guttenberg German Band to play Polka Masses for Parish Festivals. The band is still in existence today. Both Sr. Jean Evelyn and Father Peters are proficient accordion players.

Aware of Father’s great gifts and skill, the Archdiocese of Dubuque and the greater communities he served often invited Father Peters to share his musical expertise. He was asked to oversee the rebuilding of the Tellers Organ and the installation of the 4 rank Wicks Organ on the main floor of the Cathedral to accompany cantors. Also, with the help of Father Phil Recker, he wrote the music for the “Jubilee song” at the Archdiocesan Centennial Celebration at the UNI Dome, Cedar Falls, Iowa.

Father Peters was appointed pastor of St. Joseph, Elkader and Sacred Heart, Volga, in July of 1997.  He received an additional appointment in July of 2005, as pastor of Saint Mary, Strawberry Point.  Since announcing his retirement in October of 2016, he has been serving as the sacramental priest for St. Joseph, Sacred Heart, and St. Mary.

Music has been an instrumental part of Father Peter’s life. It, without a doubt, has helped him in his 55 years of ministry.  Visiting families, anointing the sick, blessing marriages, baptizing children and restoring peace with God has all been enhanced with his gift of music. While music is important, Father Peters knows it is the relationship you have with God that comes above all things. He has allowed many people to grow in their service to Christ by allowing them to lead the congregation in Sunday celebrations, breaking open the Word of God and allowing them to find their individual talent to serve others.

On Sunday, June 25, 2017 Father Peters celebrated Mass at St. Joseph Church, Elkader assisted by Deacon James Pfaffly, from St. Mary’s Guttenberg. Afterwards, friends, family and parishioners attended a retirement party at Johnson’s Reception Hall. Some of the same Sisters of the Presentation that helped him in his musical beginnings were able to be with him and help him celebrate. 

Father Paul has touched the lives of countless people. In the words of Dag Hammarskjold, “For all that has been, we say, “thank you”. For all that is to come, “Yes!” These Catholic faith communities are grateful for his service and pastoral care, and wish him the best of luck and health in his retirement.

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