On the patronal feast day of the parish, June 29, 1905, Father Charles H. Thiele entered upon his duties as St. Peter's fourth pastor. Like his predecessors, Fr. Thiele was born in Germany in 1862 and came to America at the age of three. He was ordained by Bishop Dwenger in 1888. From 1905 until his death in 1941, Fr. Thiele worked tirelessly for St Peter's and its people. His accomplishments were many. He worked with the City of Fort Wayne to have the streets surrounding St. Peter's extended and improved. He installed a central heating plant for all the parish buildings. He enlarged the convent and completed Fr. Koerdt's original plans for the school. His greatest accomplishment, however, was inside the House of God, St. Peter's Church. Exteriorly, the church was an architectural gem, but inside, much work needed to be done. Fr. Thiele had the entire church frescoed. He had installed the hand-painted Stations of the Cross and in the same year, 1908, he caused to have installed the three beautifully illuminated altars. These were designed and built by the Emil Hackner Company of LaCrosse, Wisconsin, at a cost of $8,000.00. Fr. Thiele was also fond of music. In 1929, he purchased a new organ, a Teller-Kent, made in Erie, PA. It was a gem, containing all the stops required for Church Liturgical accompaniment. It could produce most of the instruments found in a symphony orchestra. It contained a set of chimes of 21 notes, and a harp of 48 notes. In all, there were 54 stops and a total of 3,311 pipes. At the time of its installation, it was recognized as second to none in the city and one of the outstanding organs in the Diocese of Fort Wayne. This Teller-Kent organ served the parish well for some 70 years until its replacement in 1999. Also in 1929, Fr. Thiele was honored by Pope Pius XI for his many achievements with the title of Very Reverend Monsignor. In 1936, due to advancing age and failing health, Msgr. Thiele asked Bishop John Francis Noll to relieve him as pastor and Father John Bapst was appointed as St. Peter's fifth pastor. Msgr. Thiele died at St. Joseph's Hospital on April 17, 1941. In his funeral remarks, Bishop Noll said of Msgr. Thiele: "He was a real spiritual father in every parish in which he labored for fifty-three years: building, developing, working for others, but garnering very little for himself".
Fr. Bapst has the distinction of being St. Peter's first native born, American pastor, having been born in Garrett, Indiana on June 19, 1894. He was ordained to the holy priesthood by Bishop Herman Alerding in 1921 and served at a number of parishes in the diocese before coming to St. Peter's in 1936. It can be said that Fr. Bapst inherited a strong, vibrant parish from Msgr. Thiele and it was Fr. Bapst's duty to guide the parish through the turbulent years of World War II and the years following. Because of his zeal and outstanding capability as pastor, in 1945, pope Pius XII honored Fr. Bapst with the title of Very Reverend Monsignor. In 1949, Msgr. Bapst acquired the John Suelzer Homestead at 518 E. DeWald Street to serve as the parish rectory. The 1950's and 60's began to see a dramatic change in parish demographics. For the first time in its history, the parish began to lose membership and the neighborhood started a serious decline. In 1972, St. Peter's School, after 100 years of continuous operation, closed its doors. In 1970, due to declining health, Msgr. Bapst resigned as active pastor, but was named as pastor emeritus, a position which he held until his death in the rectory on January 11, 1972. He is buried in Fort Wayne's Catholic Cemetery. Since 1970, St. Peter's has been served by the following pastors: Fr. Lawrence Kramer, 1970-1971; Fr. Eugene Koers, 1971-1973; Fr. Richard Hire, 1973-1974; Fr. Jacob Gall, 1974-1988; Fr. John Delaney, 1988-1998; and by Fr. Phillip A. Widmann, 1998-present.
Restoration and Renewal
It was during the pastorate of Fr. John Delaney in the early 1990's that both the parish and the neighborhood started to return from their decline. In 1991, St. Peter's Church, school, and rectory were placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Beginning in 1992, and completed in 1993, on the 100th anniversary of the building of the church, the entire church interior was cleaned and redecorated. Additional work was also done to the church exterior and grounds. 1997-98 saw the forty-six stained glass windows totally restored. In 1998, St. Peter's acquired a 1958 model Aeolian-Skinner Opus 1337 Organ. The parish had this entire organ rebuilt and installed in St. Peter's organ loft. The organ has three manuals containing 37 ranks and 2,218 pipes. Some of the parts and pipes of the old Teller-Kent were salvaged and put to use in the new organ. The entire cost of this almost ten years of restoration was in excess of one milllion dollars. In 1997, in close cooperation with the City of Fort Wayne, Project Renew and nearby Zion Lutheran Church, St. Peter's entered into a partnership to help revitalize its neighborhood. Deteriorated housing and other structures have been removed from the neighborhood. New homes (the first in almost 80 years!) have been built with more scheduled to be built. A number of homes have been repaired and restored. At the east end of St. Peter's Square, a new branch of the Allen County Public Library, a new headquarters for the Fort Wayne Urban League, and new facilities for CANI Headstart and the Pontiac Youth Center have recently been built. In April 2004 ground was broken for the new St. Peter's Pavilion, which was dedicated by Bishop John D'Arcy on April 17, 2005. St. Peter's former school building has been renovated and reopened in 2005 as the Meetinghouse at St. Peter, with secure and comfortable apartments for senior citizens on low or moderate incomes. While times and faces and landscapes change, St. Peter's remains. The impact of St. Peter's Parish to revitalize itself should stand as an inspiration to others. The heritage of those early pioneer parishioners remains. The age-old Catholic belief that nothing can be too beautiful for God's House can be seen in St. Peter's, "the splendour of the South Side since 1872", "perhaps the most beautiful church in the Diocese, if not the entire Midwest".
--adapted from text originally published in St. Peter's Parish Directory, 2003.