Cerro Gordo County Iowa
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Epiphany Parish
302 5th Street SE, Mason City
Mason Township, Cerro Gordo County, Iowa


Even before the appointment of its first pastor, the spirit of St. Joseph's was alive for almost a decade. Organized in 1864, the third religious congregation in Mason City to do so, the parish offered Mass approximately once a year and was celebrated in homes, the public school building and the old Court house. Attended by six to eight parishioners, Mass was said by various visiting missionary priests.

In 1869, the Mason City Parish was a mission of the Waverly pastor, Rev. J. P. R. MURPHY. After his untimely death, priests from Charles City served the Mason City parishioners. Father John URBANY served the parish in 1869, and Father Patrick FEELEY attended to the needs of an ever growing group of Catholics in 1870. The first rectory was located on the northwest corner of 6th and Jersey. The BURNES and Daniel J. FARRELL homes often hosted Liturgy services. Under the guidance of Fr. FEELEY, about two dozen families attended services at various locations.

Plans for a more permanent church were started shortly thereafter. Daniel J. FARRELL and Thomas EGAN played prominent roles in the building committee. A small frame building on a foundation of rocks hauled by parishioners and friends was completed in 1873 at a cost of $2,000 on the site of the present structure. The building was 30 by 50 feet in size, with a gallery. It had a seating capacity of 400.

First trustees were Timonty DOVAN, John GRIFFIN and William USLNER.

The Rev. D. J. FLANNERY was appointed as the first resident pastor in 1873. He was succeeded by the Rev. Thomas O'REILLY, who served as pastor from 1875 to 1877. These priests tended not only to parishioners in Mason City but also the surrounding communities of Carpenter Station, Northwood, Mitchell, Garner, Bristol, Dougherty, Stacyville, Forest City, Clear Lake, Nora Springs, Plymouth, Grafton, Kensett, Manly and Rockwell.

The year 1877 saw the beginning of the 40 year tenure of the Rev. Michael CAROLAN. With his arrival, the parish name became St. Joseph's. Each year, the St. Joseph's parish grew. It was at this time the seeds of the current parish festival were planted.

In 1883, St. Joseph's was officially out of debt. From here, grounds were purchased and plans were begun for a "Sister School." In 1890, St. Francis Academy was completed as a boarding school for girls and a day school for both boys and girls, which was staffed by the sisters of St. Francis from Clinton, Iowa. First classes were held at St. Francis in 1891.

In 1899, Fr. CAROLAN was assigned his first assistant Fr. Laurence HAYES. By this time the congregation had grown so large that plans were started to build a new church. Construction was begun in 1901 and completed in 1903 on the same location as the old St. Joseph's. In 1908, fire destroyed the school. The school was then rebuilt with basically the same architecture and reopened in September of 1910 as St. Joseph's Academy. Beginning in 1912, high school classes were added a grade at a time.

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The Globe-Gazette, Mason City, Cerro Gordo County, Iowa
Mason City Centennial Issue
Monday, June 01, 1953, Section 7, Page 26

Largest Project

Largest church building project of these first years of the new century was the St. Joseph's Catholic Church and school. The present [1953] large brick church was erected in 1901 under the direction of the pastor, Father Michael Carolan, replacing a church that was built in 1871 at a cost of $2,000.

The new St. Joseph's Church was part of a wave of church building that got under way in the later 90's. It proved for the rapidly increasing membership that has grown from 52 families in 1878 to 500 families at present [1953]. Succeeding Father Carolan was the Rt. Rev. Msgr. P. S. O'Connor who served the parish from 1918 to 1944 (sic, should be 1945), being succeeded by Father P. J. Behan and since 1947 by Rt. Rev. Msgr. P. F. Malone.

The church has undergone redecorating a number of times and in 1950 and 1951 the exterior was completely refinished and the interior remodeled to include a new sanctuary, altars and pipe organ. In early 1953, for the first time, the basement of the church was completely excavated and made into an auditorium. The St. Joseph's cemetery was established in 1875 and was enlarged in 1932.

NOTE: Father Michael Carolan was born December 2, 1844, and died December30, 1917. Monsignor P. S. O'Connor was born in 1863, and died in 1945. They were interred at Elmwood-St. Joseph Cemetery.

St. Joseph Cemetery and Elmwood Cemetery were both deeded to the city in 1949, hence combined to create Elmwood-St. Joseph Municipal Cemetery.

Build Parish School

In 1909 the St. Joseph's parish school, erected at an initial cost of $35,000, was opened with the Presentation Sisters from Dubuque in charge of teaching under the direction of Sister Mary de Pazzi. The school replaced the St. Francis Academy, a three-story red brick building. The academy, which was started in 1878, had a large number of out of town students.

In 1919 the school was remodeled at a cost of $14,000 and other improvements have been added since. In 1920 the shcool was accredited by the Iowa commission on secondary schools and colleges.

In 1927, due to increased enrollment a new wing was built on St. Joseph's school costing $75,000. This is now [1953] the present high school and auditorium.

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During this time, St. Joseph's had grown so rapidly that it was decided to make a second parish in Mason City. In October of 1908, Holy Family held its first Mass in the Public Library. Fr. E. J. DOUGHERTY was the pastor. On December 30, 1917, Fr. CAROLAN passed away. During his time here, most of what we know today as St. Joseph's parish was built. In fact, it was under Fr. CAROLAN that the Parish was officially named St. Joseph's.

His successor was Fr. Patrick S. O'CONNOR. In 1933, Fr. O'CONNOR was made a member of the Papal Household and as a domestic prelate, was given the title of Rt. Rev. Monsignor, the first priest in Mason City to receive this honor. During his time, the school was renovated so that the high school could obtain accreditation with the Iowa committee on Secondary Schools. Msgr. O'CONNOR retired in 1943 at the age of seventy-nine.

St. Joseph's was served by Rev. Patrick J. BEHAN from 1943 to 1947. He was replaced by Fr. Patrick MALONE, who remodeled the convent section of the school in 1947 and purchased the DUFFIELD home adjacent to the public library as a new home for the Sisters. On September 1, 1949, Fr. MALONE was given the title of Monsignor.

From 1950 to 1951, the church was completely refurbished and remodeled. In 1949, the St. Joseph Cemetery was deeded to Mason City. In 1953, the church basement was excavated and transformed into a social hall and dining room. Additional property for parking and playground was purchased and black topped. In 1960, preparations were made for purchasing land for the new central high school. Monsignor retired in 1960 and was succeeded by Rev. Paul J. MAGUIRE. Fr. MAGUIRE presided over St. Joseph's parish from 1960 to 1969. Due to his efforts the school enrollment increased, and Newman High School opened in 1961.

The Rev. Bernard G. COLLINS came to St. Joseph's Parish in 1969 and served as pastor until the Team Ministry concept was initiated in 1972. During this time a Parish Council was established in response to the decree of Vatican II. The first elected chairman of the council was Dr. Terry NETTLETON.The first Team Ministry consisted of nine priests and served the needs of St. Joseph's and Holy Family parishes, St. Joseph's Mercy Hospital, Newman High School, and Plymouth.

Team members included Rev. Raymond BOHER, Rev. Patrick GEARY, Rev. John HELES, Rev. Mel HEMANN, Rev. Robert HOGAN, Rev. Gordon HILSMAN, Rev. John McCLEAN, Rev. Marvin SALZ, Rev. John WALSH, and other team members were added throughout this time. The Team Ministry concept was in place from 1972 to 1985. Members of the team who were assigned administrative duties at St. Joseph's included Fr. John WALSH (1972-1974), Fr. Raymond BOHRER (1974), Fr. John HELES (1974-1978), Fr. Thomas McANDREW (1978-1980) and Fr. Herbert TEGELER (1980-1985).

In 1973, a Central Catholic Grade School was begun, with Kindergarten through grades five in the St. Joseph building and grades six to eight in the Holy Family building. Fr. Daniel KEPPLER was appointed pastor of St. Joseph's in 1985 and served as pastor until 1991. During this time, St. Joseph's underwent a major structural remodeling, which was completed in 1987.

Rev. Carl A. RIES was appointed pastor of St. Joseph's in 1991 and served until 2003. Under Fr. Carl, the St. Joseph's thrived, including the renovation of the church and purchase of the Garfield School lot. In 1998, the parish celebrated 125 years. A new elementary school was completed on the Newman campus in 2003, and the St. Joseph building was closed.

In 2003, Fr. Harry KOELKRE became pastor and served until 2007.

This history was adapted from the one compiled and recorded by Margaret WELLEN, which appears in the 1998 Parish Directory; addition information from Globe-Gazette, Mason City Centennial Issue, Monday, June 01, 1953

Transcription by Sharon R. Becker, February of 2011; updated December of 2014

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Globe Gazette
Mason City, Cerro Gordo County, Iowa
Wednesday, July 20, 2011

MASON CITY -- Employees of Dean Snyder Construction are replacing the front steps at St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Mason City.

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Globe Gazette
Mason City, Cerro Gordo County, Iowa
March 13, 2012, By Mary Pieper

Holy Family, St. Joseph’s parishes will merge

MASON CITY — The two Roman Catholic parishes in Mason City will merge.

The Most Rev. Jerome Hanus, archbishop of Dubuque, announced his decision to merge the parishes of Holy Family and St. Joseph’s in a letter included in church bulletins Sunday.

Pat Goedken, spokesman for a pastoral planning task force made up of lay representatives, deacons and pastors from five Roman Catholic parishes in Cerro Gordo and Worth counties, said both St. Joseph’s and Holy Family churches will remain open, but will be part of one parish instead of being separate.

Closing either church “was never discussed” as an option, Goedken said.

The two parishes already are sharing some staff and collaborating in other ways, so the merger is a “natural progression,” Goedken said.

The 24-member planning task force was formed in May 2010 due to the decline in both Roman Catholic church attendance and priests, which is happening not only locally but also nationally.

The archbishop made his recommendation based on the report compiled by the task force.

In addition to merging St. Joseph’s and Holy Family, the archdiocese also plans to reduce the number of priests serving the Roman Catholic churches in Mason City, Rockwell, Manly and Clear Lake from four to three beginning in July.

Goedken said priest assignments will be announced next month.

Currently the Rev. Michael Schueller serves as pastor at both Holy Family in Mason City and Sacred Heart in Manly.

The Rev. Craig Steimel serves as pastor at St. Joseph’s.

The Rev. Rod Allers is the pastor at Sacred Heart in Rockwell. He also is pastor at St. Patrick’s in Dougherty and Holy Name in Rockford.

The Rev. John Tilp is pastor at St. Patrick’s in Clear Lake. He has announced plans to retire.

Goedken said additional linkage options will be created between parishes.

He said Holy Family and Sacred Heart in Manly already are linked as they share a pastor.

Now the parishes in Manly, Rockwell and Clear Lake will be linked with the Mason City parishes or with each other.

Hanus has asked that the St. Joseph’s/Holy Family merger take place as soon as possible. However, Goedken said it will not happen before July 1.

“There’s a lot of work to come,” he said.

Although change can be painful, it also can create opportunities, Goedken said.

He noted some parishes have strengths that others lack, so collaboration will help everyone.

Goedken said although members of the task force did not always agree, “everyone was very respectful and understanding.”

Transcription by Sharon R. Becker, November of 2013; updated December of 2014



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