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Church Lady

Kathleen Backer has purchased the former St. Peter’s Episcopal, plans to turn it into event facility

Kathleen Backer stands by the front door to former St. Peter’s Episcopal Church. She purchased the property back in October.

NEW ULM — St. Peter’s Episcopal Church at 125 S. Broadway no longer has a congregation, but it remains in good hands.

In October, Kathleen Backer purchased the property and over the last three months she, with the help of family, has been working to fix up the 115-year-old church.

Backer said owning the church may have been her calling. She had initially planned to make an offer on the building last spring, but someone else beat her to it by a day. However, this offer fell through and she was able to make another offer.

“I made a reasonable offer based on the work I knew was needed and they took it.”

Her first bid was accepted and Backer became the proud owner of the former St. Peter’s Episcopal Church.

The property has had four other owners. The land was first owned by the German Land Association before it was sold to the Mueller family. Then it went to the Juni family. In 1904, the church took over the property and St. Peter’s church was built on it in 1905. Now, it is in Backer’s hands.

In a way, the property has come full circle. Backer’s family is related to the Juni family, which owned it before the church.

After taking over as owner, Backer’s priority was fixing up the deferred maintenance issue. The church exterior has new rain guards and the grounds are being re-landscaped. Additional exterior work is needed but will wait until spring.

Inside the church, the focus is on cleaning and painting. Most of the interior work is focusing on the basement level.

The goal is to maintain the look at the property. The little church is famous in the community for its big red door and black hinges. Backer is committed to sticking with the red, black and white color scheme.

The property has been inspected by electricians, plumbers and fire inspectors. Overall, the building is in good condition. Backer said the sanctuary was especially well maintained. New storm windows are being fabricated, but the stained glass windows are still intact as are the pews.

“It is a gorgeous property,” Backer said. “It is a wonderful example of a church from that era and is in wonderful condition.”

She said the historic aspect of the church appealed to her. As the Executive Director of the Brown County Historical Society, Backer had a strong impulse to preserve it as a historic building. As for what the building will be used for in the future, that’s still up in the air. Backer did not have a specific plan when she purchased the property.

“One year ago I didn’t know I would own a church,” she said, “I am adventurous that way.”

Backer was taking suggestions on what it could be. Some suggestions were more grandiose. Ideas suggested include microbrewery or bed & breakfast. Despite the difference between a microbrewery and a B&B it was suggested “Sanctuary” be the name for both.

A music hall was a popular suggestion. Last spring, during an initial assessment of a property one potential buyer considered it as a music hall. Three other musical groups have since asked about using it as a venue. The acoustics of the church could be beneficial.

Backer is still considering options, but want to make sure the property can still be used for church functions, like weddings or celebrations of life.

Backer said she has received five wedding inquiries already without any kind of promotion. There was also a request to host a graduation party.

Since the wedding venue option is popular, Backer has started collecting names of area officiants. She even became ordained in the Universal Life Church to ensure there was someone available to perform the wedding.

There is a demand for smaller wedding venues. The church holds around 100 people. Backer said some couples want religion in the ceremony, but not necessarily a specific denomination. This location appeals to a wide range of couples.

Backer said the next step is the promotion and letting people know the church will be available for events. She warned the building is not set up for food preparation. Users will need to hire a caterer or bring food from elsewhere.

Backer was grateful for her families to help in fixing up the property.

“I don’t have a cabin, but I have a church,” Backer said. “It is a great way to gather my family, and my children know they will one day inherit a church”

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