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St. Patrick's Church, Garryowen


Posted By: Anne Hermann (email)
Date: 6/24/2008 at 14:50:20

Rev. M. M. Hoffmann, 1938


During the years 1838 and 1839 Irish emigrants, mostly from county Cork and Limerick, began settling around the country now known as Garryowen, but then called Makokiti. These pioneer families formed the nucleus of what was afterwards to develop into the congregation and parish known as St. Patrick’s Garryowen. The Memoirs of Father Samuel Charles Mazzuchelli, O.P., the great pioneer missionary of the Middle West disclose very definite details as to the beginnings of Catholicity in this rural center. The first church, a log-cabin structure, was built in 1840 and sometime in the summer of that same year the first Mass was offered probably by Father Mazzuchelli himself. The Memoirs on page 254, Chapter 28, contain this very interesting entry. “Among the most remarkable places whereon the tide of Catholic emigration had checked itself might be considered that section of country called Makokiti, so called from the river that borders it. The place is situated about 20 miles from Dubuque. Many Irish families had settled there to gain with the sweat of their brow, that bread which was denied them in their own oppressed native land. Therefore, in the beginning of the year 1840, the missionary considered it his duty to go to this settlement, and to do his utmost towards the building of a little church, and this, on account of the poverty of the people and the abundance of timber, could be built only of this material. He distributed among the 42 men of the settlement the labor of preparing a great number of beams, from 20 to 40 feet long; in the spring each of these men carried to the site of the church his own handiwork. As they were not in a position to contribute money, they gave their assistance in many ways to lessen the expense of building. Bishop Loras gave the sum of six hundred dollars out of the contribution from the Propaganda with which to procure some building materials and pay the workmen employed by the missionary for the erection of the church, which was dedicated to Saint Patrick the Apostle of Ireland. The wonderful results of this feeble beginning were a sudden increase in the number of settlers in the neighborhood of the church, so much so that the section whereon it stood was very soon occupied entirely by Catholics. When Divine Service was first held there in the summer of 1840, there were no more than 100 Catholics; three years later the parish of St. Patrick, where the zealous Reverend J. C. Perrodin regularly attended and officiated, counted 600 souls and possessed a school.” A little further on Father Mazzuchelli adds: “Throughout the area of 36 square miles, forming what the American surveyors calls a Township, wherein Saint Patrick’s parish is situated there is not, at present, on Protestant proprietor.”

From entries in the Metropolitan Catholic Almanac and Directory for the Laity from the year 1840 onward and from the yearly parochial statements sent by the first resident pastor, Father John Claude Perrodin, to Bishop Loras it is not a difficult matter to trace the history of St. Patrick’s and its development from the humble beginnings set forth by Father Mazzuchelli. The Almanac for the year 1840, under the heading “Diocese of Dubuque” has this to say about St. Patrick’s: - “Station at Makokiti settlement, Jackson County, St. Patrick’s attended by Rev. Joseph Cretin, visited once a month, sermon in English.” Again the same publication for the year 1841 contains the following entry on page 138: -“Makokiti, Dubuque County, St. Patrick’s built in the year 1839, -260 Catholics attended every second Sunday of the month.” Two errors appear in this entry; first, Makokiti was not in Dubuque County but in Jackson, and second, St. Patrick’s was not built in 1839 but in 1840 as is clear from Father Mazzuchelli’s Memoirs. From these records however, two facts impress themselves on the attention of the reader; first, the increase in the number of Catholics since the summer of 1840, and second, Divine Services are now held twice monthly instead of once, - things pointing to a growth and development.

During the year 1842 Father Perrodin, a native of France, was sent to Garryowen by Bishop Loras, as resident pastor and to his pastoral care were also assigned several neighboring stations, among them being Bellevue, Charleston (now Sabula), the Falls (now Cascade) and South Fork (now Temple hill). Toward the end of 1843 we find Father Perrodin sending to Bishop Loras a combined annual statement of the parishes of Makokiti and Bellevue containing statistics covering the years 1842 and 1843. According to this document there were in 1843 about 500 souls in Garryowen. With the church as a center the parish had a radius of about 12 miles. In the same year there were 100 Easter communions, 25 baptisms, 3 marriages and 13 candidates confirmed. The reference to confirmation, of course, suggests the presence of Bishop Loras during the year 1843, but we are not to conclude that this was the Bishop’s first visit to St. Patrick’s. He had already visited the settlement in 1840 in certain, because the first 3 recorded baptisms in the registry bear his signature and are dated August 31st, 1840.

Already in 1843 we find a school in Garryowen close to the log-cabin church, in charge of a layman, but conducted under the direction of Father Perrodin. Later on we find this school referred to under the ambitious title of Academy, although we know from one of Father Perrodin’s comments in his annual statement of 1845, that it was only a one classroom affair. This school probably started in 1842; we find reference to it in the Metropolitan Catholic Almanac and Directory for the Laity in 1843, and although the funds for its maintenance were derived from the public treasury, the pastor exercised a controlling influence in the appointment of teachers and the direction of studies. Although not so called, it was to all intents and purposes a parochial school. After cautious inquiry and investigation, we feel we are not presumptive in claiming this institution to be the first school operated in connection with a church in what is now the Archdiocese of Dubuque, with the single exception of St. Raphael’s. The school is frequently mentioned in contemporary writings. Here the distinguished Mr. Dennis A. Mahoney, afterwards editor of the old Dubuque Herald and later State Senator, taught for a number of years. Under his tutorship the school attained distinction in Jackson and Dubuque Countries.

Mention of Mr. Mahoney recalls the fact that it was due to his initiative that the name Garryowen was substituted for Makokiti. While most of the members of St. Patrick’s congregation were Corkonions, not a few hailed from Limerick; among the latter was Mr. Mahoney. The name Garryowen recalled to him the older section of his native city, redolent with memories of the past. Accordingly under his influence, several meetings were held to discuss the new name. According to local tradition these discussions were not always harmonious; there was much bickering and heated argument until finally the Mahoney influence prevailed and the named Garryowen was adopted. The change however, was a gradual one. In 1853 the statistics for St. Patrick’s sent to the Metropolitan Catholic Almanac and Directory for the Laity by Bishop Loras himself were entered under the name St. Patrick’s, Garryowen or Makokiti. By 1855 the name Makokiti was definitely dropped and Garryowen retained.

From 1842 to 1851 the history of St. Patrick’s Garryowen, is largely the history of Father Perrodin’s pastorate. In this section of Jackson County in those early years, there were no roads; the merest trails and bridle paths led across the prairie. This fact coupled with Father Perrodin’s lack of horsemanship, considerably handicapped him in his exercise of the ministry. In a note to Bishop Loras, at the end of the 1844 annual statement, he pleads for the wherewithal to purchase a horse and gig: - “If his Right Reverence has money to spare, would please me to get a horse to go regularly to Dubuque and attend the sick.” This request he repeats in a later communications. In spite of these handicaps we find Father Perrodin making occasional visits to South Fork and in 1845 and 1846 going regularly to Cascade to exercise his priestly ministry. He built the first church in Cascade, St. Mathias, about 1848. His annual statement to Bishop Loras in 1848 contains this entry: “In loca vulgo Cascade dicto, ecclesiam aedificavi quae nondum finite est; Pro parietibus et tecto $700.00 expendi ea quibus $570 solvem potui. Novam et haud parvam contributionem requirere audio superadictam ecclesuam perficere valeam ea enim est habitantium indigentia si quinque vel sex excepias est aedificare non possunt simulque pastorem alere.” (In the place commonly called “Cascade,” I have built a church, which is not yet completed; for the walls and the roof I have spent $700.00, of which I have been able to pay $570.00. I fear to request an additional contribution, because with the exception of six, they are not able to contribute more in addition to their contributions for the subsistence of this parish.” In a letter to Bishop Loras in 1851 Father Perrodin states that he has cancelled all debts and obligations on the Cascade Church. In the midst of this busy program of building, financing and ministering to the spiritual needs of his people, the scholarly Father Perrodin found time to translate several books from the French dealing with catholic Apologetics, - a much felt need in the growing church of the Middle West. In addition to his literary work he was a convincing speaker. In 1851 he delivered a series of lectures to mixed audiences in Iowa City, covering a wide field of Christian Apologetics. At home at Garryowen he endeavored to cultivate with patience and tact the virtue of temperance among his parishioners. His interests extended even to the betterment of the homes and living conditions of these Irish settlers, while he himself was content to live in a mere log-house. That the rectory at Garryowen from 1842 to 1852 was a simple log-house we know from a letter written by Father Perrodin to Bishop Loras in 1850 asking for a vacation in his native France. “Si vous pouvez me permettre d’aller faire un voyage e France c’est alors que je dirai de bon Coeur adieu á ma chér loghouse.” (If you will permit me to make a visit to my home in France, it will be to return to the home of my heart in the log cabin at Garryowen.)

Never blessed with a vigorous constitution, the long severe winters, the solitude and isolation of his surroundings were beginning to tell on the health of Father Perrodin. In a letter to a friend at this time, written in a whimsical mood, he places Garryowen “in the extreme north of North America” and adds “I am determined to seek a warmer country.” Yet a year later, in April, 1851, to be exact, in his farewell letter to Bishop Loras, he refers in most affectionate terms to his dear Garryowen, “I could not very well describe,” he writes, “the feelings that agitated my soul on leaving a place where I had spent the nine best years of my life, the kindness of my good people literally brought tears to my eyes.” There is a temptation to quote and quote from this excellent priest’s farewell letter to Bishop Loras, but the scope of our present article forbids it. The letter is really one of the most human and touching documents in the Archdiocesan Archives.

Father Jeremiah Trecy succeeded Father Perrodin in Garryowen in 1852. He had come from the East in 1851 and had been attached to the Cathedral until 1852, when he was appointed to Garryowen. Under his direction the present stone church was erected. The land on which it stands was entered in the Government’s records in 1846 and later on was donated by local families. The foundation stone was laid on the feast of St. Luke, October, 1853, the corner stone on the feast of St. Joseph, March, 1854, and the building completed in the same year. The stone used in the construction was quarried 3 miles south of Garryowen and was hauled by oxen. The lime used was also kilned in the neighborhood. Mr. J. Boland was the architect and he also supervised the construction. While most of the unskilled labor was furnished by the parishioners, expert stone-cutters working with hand and chisel and expert stone-masons were employed on the foundation and walls. No rods or nails were used to join the great timbers supporting the roof and ceiling. These were held in place with rude pin notches. Local tradition has it, that the building funds were exhausted before the roof was reached, and to avoid any embarrassment 18 representatives of the more influential families walked to Dubuque to borrow one thousand dollars. They secured the loan on condition that their farms and holding be put up as collateral. This was done and the following day the 18 farmers returned to Garryowen in a very hilarious mood ready to finish the work.

Christmas Night at Garryowen in 1854 was a very joyful occasion. Midnight Mass was celebrated by Father Trecy in the new Church. Members of the congregation had come in oxen-drawn wagons from a distance of 20 miles south and west. The appeal of the Babe of Bethlehem, the bright moon-lit night with its untroubled sky (there was no snow), had brought a wonderfully large congregation together. After the Mass a basket-social was held; the baskets were auctioned, some bringing as high as 5 dollars. And then all sat down to enjoy the repast.

One cannot pass over the history of the zealous Father Trecy’s pastorate in Garryowen without some reference to his colonization schemes. The vast unbroken lands beyond the Missouri, full of promise and future possibilities, lured his attention from the very beginning. He regarded them as ideal locations for enterprising settlers, and if settlers, he argued, why not Catholic settlers. And so, in 1855, with the new church completed, he began agitating a plan to found a colony at Jackson, Dakota County, Nebraska. He was not only a builder, but an organizer. Things shaped themselves so rapidly that in April 1856 a colony of 25 families under the leadership of Father Trecy gathered at Garryowen and made preparation for the journey. A long train composed of 18 covered wagons and about 60 persons, - men, women and children, - made its way westward to the Des Moines river, which was crossed after much difficulty. “Tediously winning each mile of progress the company arrived at the Floyd river after a 5 week’s journey. After a 10 days encampment, set out again for the Missouri river.” This they crossed on a large barge arriving the 2nd day of June 1856 at Jackson and settling on a spot they called St. John’s. The terrible hardships and handicaps suffered by the colony during the severe winter of 1856-1857, the ever-present fear of unfriendly Indians, and the total failure of their first crops form a keenly interesting chapter in the early history of Garryowen and her Nebraskan colony. Undaunted by this apparent failure, Father Trecy a few years later founded another colony near Burbank, South Dakota, where he built another church, to which he gave the name St. Mary’s, Garryowen. This church exists today.

In September 1853 a group of Sisters of Charity of the B. V. M. arrived in Garryowen at the invitation of Father Trecy. They immediately took charge of the educational needs of the parish. In 1856, due to lack of equipment and finances the school was temporarily closed. It was reopened in 1871 by Father James Kelly and again the Sisters of Charity resumed teaching until 1923. During the earlier decades of this long span of 70 years, these Sisters lived and worked under rather primitive and trying conditions. Today the rural church and community enjoy all the conveniences of city life, - hot and cold water systems, steam heat, electric light and refrigeration, but in those days these Sisters lived and worked close to the uncongenial surroundings of a log-house. They literally sowed in tears the fruitful harvest of later years. During their 70 years stay in Garryowen, the parish gave more than 70 vocations to the various orders and sisterhoods in Iowa; indeed, some of the most distinguished Sisters in the Sisters of Charity, including the late Mother Cecilia, were native Garryoweners. In laying deep the spiritual foundations of St. Patrick’s parish the impartial historian must assign these self-sacrificing Sisters a place side by side with the sainted Perrodin and the zealous Trecy.

Father Mathias Hannon succeeded Father Trecy in 1857. He in turn was succeeded by Father Michael Kinsella from 1863 to 1871. Father James Kelly’s pastorate from 1871 to 1905 was long and distinguished. Under his direction and leadership a graceful, Gothic steeple was added to the church and the present rectory built. The history of St. Patrick’s during the succeeding pastorates of Father Edmund Slattery from 1905 to 1910, of Father Patrick J. Coffey from 1911 to 1923 and of Father Daniel Mulcahy from 1923 to 1931 is too recent to need any comment. He was succeeded in that year by the present pastor, Rev. P. F. Malone. The present congregation, always generous and devoted, erected a new Grade and High School in 1932. This institute is modern in every respect. In 1935 it was fully accredited to the Iowa State Board of Education and is presently under the competent direction of the Sisters of Mercy of Cedar Rapids. The grounds have been recently lighted, landscaped, and planted. This group of buildings is now developing into a rural community center.

From the humble log-cabin church of 1840 to the substantial and well-ordered buildings of 1937 is a far cry. In that span of well nigh 100 years St. Patrick’s Garryowen has been the fruitful Mother of seven neighboring parishes: - St. Mathias, Cascade; which later developed into the twin parishes of St. Martin’s and St. Mary’s, Cascade; St. Joseph’s, Bellevue; St. Peter’s, Temple Hill; Assumption, Sylvia Switch; St. Aloysius, South Garryowen and Sacred Heart, Fillmore. This development has naturally bereft the Mother Church of a large number of her children but has in no measure impaired her vitality. She is old, but ever young; old in her history that stretches back across a century; old in the cherished memories that still cluster like the ivy on her walls, but young in her faith and hope and love for Christ and his Blessed Mother; and ever young in her children that still gather around her ancient altar, the altar of God that giveth joy to their youth.


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