St. Ignatius / Sacred Heart Catholic Church

1857-1910 / 1912-2000

Located at (present day address) 1400-1406 Stanley Avenue, Lawler, IA 52154

In the year 1855 many young people immigrated to the U.S. from Emerald Isle [Ireland] to begin life in the new world. Many landed in Boston, while others wound their way westward, some settling in Wisconsin, while still others kept going. They crossed the River at Prairie du Chien and kept going northwesterly until they settle in the area of Reilly Ridge. The first of these settlers was Sylvester and Bridget Reilly and their seven children.

Lacking a place of worship, people would congregate in private homes. Priest would come from as far as Dubuque once a month or whenever it was possible. They came by mule or often on horseback to minister to the needs of the people. On hearing of a priest in the community, people would assemble at Reilly’s for receiving the sacraments and baptizing their children, who sometimes were several months old.

Soon the brothers and sisters of Sylvester and Bridget, with their wives and husbands came to settle nearby. Andrew Winters, Joseph Trout, John and Patrick Carlon also settled here. Owen Galligan and wife Mary, William Galligan and wife Nance, and Terrence Commerford and wife Mary also came. A cousin, Anne (Reilly) Smith and husband Matthew also came here.

Logs had to be procured for building homes and none of the people had any log chains or iron wedges. Richard McDonnell heard of an iron foundry in Decorah where they could be had, so he ventured forth to secure the necessary tools. He crossed the Turkey at the place where Andrew Winters lived, and traveled over the Spillville prairie and a point where Conover now is, he struck the creek and followed eastward because he knew Decorah was situated at the junction of this stream and the Upper Iowa River. He made the journey in safety and got the log chains and wedges. On his return he was caught in a stinging and blinding snowstorm. His mission on behalf of the settlers was successful, but in so doing was frozen severely and suffered from these effects until his death.

Work was begun immediately on a new church, since homes were too small for the fast growing community. Sylvester Reilly and Terrence Commerford each deeded 15 acres of land. The members of the parish busied themselves in drawing lumber for the church. In a short time, a shell-like structure was completed. This stood but a short time as a heavy windstorm demolished it the same year it was built.

Immediately they began working on a new building. In August 1857, in the center of the cemetery now, St. Ignatius church was completed. George Arnold hewed the timbers and did the carpenter work. Amos Smith, who lived nearby, mounted the Cross. On the occasion of the dedication, 100 members were present. Rev. Louis DeCailly celebrated the first Mass. The first child to be baptized was Ellen, the daughter of Sylvester Reilly. The first marriage was that of Catherine Sullivan and Francis Clarken. The first burial was that of Mrs. Duffry.

In 1858, a girl of a Catholic family who had moved south and west of Bassett became ill and died. The parents wished to have her buried in consecrated ground. St. Ignatius cemetery was the only consecrated ground northwest of Dubuque. Two uncles of the child brought the body 43 miles across the prairies by foot until they reached Amos Smith. He summoned Sylvester Reilly and Terrence Commerford and Matthew Smith. No priest was present, but these men buried the girl. Sang a requiem for her and knelt in prayer on that cold autumn day.

The parish was growing and was attended from as far north as Lourdes and as far south as Lawler. In 1871 additions were made to the existing church, which gave it the form of a cross. Lumber was transported from Auburn in Fayette County. James Scally did this work. Plain and unattractive as the building might seem to the new generation, it was not so regarded by its builders. To them it was beautiful. They had given freely of their time, money and labor.

As time went on, different priests came from Dubuque to say Mass on Sunday. Then when St Rose near Waucoma had a resident pastor, he would take care of St. Ignatius. The men of the parish furnished grain and hay for the horses, which provided transportation to and from St. Rose.

In 1877, a rectory was build north of the cemetery. A resident pastor was required for the fast growing parish. The first priest who occupied the new home was Father John Reilly with his sister, Mary Ann, as housekeeper. Within a few years he was transferred to New Hampton and Father Murphy, a newly ordained priest replaced him. Because of poor health, he returned to Dubuque and died in 1882. The parish was again without a resident pastor and the rectory house fast becoming dilapidated. It was sold to John Manley and moved to his farm south of the church for his home (owned by Kjarvick Bros.). It was later destroyed by fire.

In 1899, a petition was made for the erection of a larger church. The property of John Carlon was selected and a $10,000 edifice and rectory were erected. This building was beautifully decorated, with white altars, it was truly a modern home for divine worship. People donated much time, energy and money and they were proud of their new church. The new building was 40 X 80 feet with a tower 100 feet high. It had beautiful stained glass windows donated by the parish. The church was dedicated May 8, 1901. The first child to be baptized in the new church was Francis W. Gorman. The first marriage was Neil Mulcahy and Rose Whalen in 1903.

Until this time, many priests had served at Reilly Settlement. Following Rev. DeCailly were: McCollough, McGinnis, Harrison, Lowery, Linch, Quirk, Hennessy, Reilly, Murphy, Hogan, James Hennessy, Wrenn, Hassett and Sampson.

In August 1907, the Golden Jubilee of Reilly Settlement was observed. Services began in the morning with the celebration of Mass at the church. Many priests were in attendance. Rev. Malley, from Sumner (later Msgr. from Cedar Rapids) delivered an appropriate sermon. Picnic festivities in the T. S. Reilly grove south of the churchy, a historic spot in the parish, and the homestead of the first settlers followed services at the church. The women prepared a great feast. During the day, more than 2000 people were served, and participated in the happy occasion. The speaker and former member of the congregation was Daniel E. Kelly of Valapraise, Ind. Quoting from the Tribune, “Mr. Kelly’s address was of special interest to the people of that community for two reasons; because of its historical character and because he is a young man who was born and reared in the parish and has gone out into the world and made a good record for himself and reflected credit on the community. His address was listened to with marked attention and at its conclusion he was a recipient of many grateful acknowledgements of appreciation.” The greatest tribute Mr. Kelly’s speech is the fact that after 30 years it was still remembers and talked about by the people who heard it.

On May 28, 1910 the Lawler vicinity was saddened to hear of the complete destruction of the St. Ignatius church at Reilly Ridge by fire during the night. The fire was discovered shortly after midnight and in a few hours, the beautiful church was a heap of ashes. It was only through the heroic efforts of the men of the parish who formed a bucket brigade that the rectory was saved. The church was insured for $4500. This did not cover half of the loss.

Again the people were called on to donate time and money. A building committee was formed. The committee were: Ed Smith, Charlie Commerford, John Commerford, George Winters, John Manley, Jim Whalen, Mike Kearney and Mike Carlin. Plans were made to build a church the same size as the one that burned.

During the erection of the church, Mass was celebrated in a part of the old one, which at that time was moved from its place in the cemetery to north of the church, where it served the purpose of a barn on the premises of the Tony Blazek farm today. Older members will remember going to Mass in this old church. The roof leaked like a sieve. If it rained during Mass, the priest at the altar was soaked. The make-shift pews were planks held up by kegs and they were so arrange that the people faced each other instead of the altar.

The parishioners labored on and when the church was half built, Archbishop Keane decided to erect a church in Jerico. This was a hard blow for the people of Reilly Ridge. They lost part of their people to Jerico. This left a heavy load on their shoulder. If they had known this before they started, they would have built a smaller church. Father Craney was the pastor and he donned his work clothes and worked with the men, installed the altars and laid the floors. His wit and humor kept everyone in good spirits. Finally the church was completed and in 1912 it was dedicated as Sacred Heart Church. Father Craney read the first Mass.

In 1932 the Diamond Jubilee of Reilly Settlement was observed. Rev. Emmett Kelly gave this address. The Rev. James Slowey (later Msgr. and now deceased) was pastor at the time.

In the early 30s the cemetery was badly neglected and about the year 1940 two former members of the parish, Patrick Galligan and John “Jack” Smith solicited funds from former members living in all parts of the country. A new fence was purchased and ground leveled so a lawn mower could be used. The young boys of the parish took turns in mowing the grass and the good Fathers helped out when possible. Perpetual care was obtained later.

For years, picnics were held on the first Sunday of August, drawing unbelievable crowds from many neighboring places. These were discontinued in 1950.

August 1957 marked the centennial year for the first church on Reilly Ridge. Rev Paul Evans was pastor at that time.

In 1964, Sacred Heart was made a mission of Assumption at Little Turkey. The priests who have served since Sacred Heart Church was built were: The Rev Craney, Neenan, Manternach, Mullany, Duggan, Sampson, McDonald, Meyerhofer, Slowey, Nees, Drummy, Phelan, Gerleman, Steiert, Holmberg, Showalter, Evans, Frana, White, Kruse, Karal, Ptacek, Ludwig, Cain, Gehling, McGovern, Pepper and Schmitt.

The people of Lawler were often complimented on their fine assistance and attendance given to the struggling parish for many years, which all went to show the good neighborliness which existed between the two parishes. Then on December 9, 1962, Frank Eichoff of Lawler passed away. He was a very wealthy man, leaving about 2 million dollars to charitable institutions all over the U.S. Mr. Eichoff did not forget Reilly Ridge. The parish received $10,000 to be used for improvements as needed. We will be forever grateful and remember Mr. Eichoff in our prayers often for his king generosity. In the nine years following, this gift has made possible many things for the parish. Among these, the church received a new roof, new interior paint job, an exterior paint job, new cement steps and walks, new porch railings, a new property fence, a hard-surfaced parking lot, a new rectory rood, new trees were planted and the basement of the church was renovated and named Sacred Heart Hall. All these things would have taken many years for a small parish like this to accomplish, so the kind generosity of this man is doubly appreciated. The kindness of other people, dear to the hearts of everyone at Sacred Heart, cannot be overlooked. Tony Blazek and George Sabelka each remembered the parish with a considerable sum of money. These benefactors have added much to the church at Reilly Ridge, and their generosity will never be forgotten.

Religious education of the children of the parish should not be forgotten in this history of Sacred Heart. In 1877, St. Ignatius was also used as a school. Patrick Kirby was the first teacher. The pastor gave religious training after the Sunday morning Mass for many years. Sometimes it was taught in the schools of the area. As the years went by, Sisters from Protivin were hired to teach on Saturday mornings in the spring and two weeks in June. Later the nuns from Lawler were hired. The parents of the children took turns in taking the Sisters and bringing them back after class. Classes alternated; one week they were held in Jerico and the next week in Sacred Heart, continuing thus until Jerico closed. In the fall of 1968, classes were taught in the rectory, since there was no longer a resident pastor. In the fall of 1969, nuns were no longer available, so the women of the parish took over the teaching duties of eight grades. These women spent many hours in training at sessions at New Hampton and Cresco. In 1968, the Valley Area CCD School Board was formed. Two persons from Reilly Ridge and three from Little Turkey represented our churches on the school board. Area coordinators (nuns) were sent to help the teachers in their endeavors. Reilly Ridge had a full staff of eight religion teachers, a coordinator and two substitutes. High School religion training has always been given at Assumption in Little Turkey and at St. John’s in New Hampton.

Two boys who belonged to the parish became priests, namely James Fitzpatrick and William Kirby, later Msgr. Kirby, both long deceased. Five nuns were also members of this parish. They were: Sister Xavier (Reilly) of the Mercy Order and Sister M. Calasanctiuis, Sister of Leonard Carlin, and later Sister Michael Marie, daughter of Leonard Carlin. Then as now, religion was first taught in the home. The early Catholic pioneers were true Irishmen as their names will show: Kelly, Casey, Seery, Kearney, Smith, Brophy, Purcell, Murray, McMaeley, Barry, McKurk, Lavelle, Nugent, Walsh, O’Halloran, Whalen, Ralph, Carlin, Sullivan, Condonm, Collons, Kirby, Gorman, Donovan, McGuinn, Stanton, Griffin, Murphy, McCarthy, Springer, Sheridan, Fitzsimmons, Commerford, and Rochford. As years rolled by, those of German heritage moved in, giving new life and vigor to the parish. In turn, other nationalities settled here. In 1972 the list of members would read thus: Amble, Blazek, Brinks, Dreckman, Franzen, Gebel, Hagerman, Halvorson, Hruska, Hurd, Jirak, Johnson, Maher, Manderfield, Nosbisch, Lechtenberg, Sabelka, Schoeben, Steinlage, Throndson, Vsetecka and Winter.

June, the month dedicated to the Sacred Heart, 1972, was the occasion of the 115th anniversary of the founding of Reilly Settlement. It was celebrated with former members and former pastors and many friends from neighboring communities, joining in a social gathering with the many faithful parishioners. In July 1989, Sacred Heart became an oratory under the supervision of Rev Pepper who resided at Mt. Carmel, Lawler. There were no Sunday masses held, but only weddings, anniversaries, funerals and a mass on Sacred Heart Day in June were permitted.

Sacred Heart remained an oratory until 1999 when the altars were sold to Holy Trinity Church at Protivin. It was then decided to have an auction to sell all the pews, windows, woodwork, statues and etc.

In February of 2000 a fire destroyed what was left of the church. The foundation and ashes were buried at the site where it once stood. The church grounds are now part of the cemetery. Members of the Sacred Heart Maintenance Club went to work and planned and built the present Sacred Heart Memorial Pavilion. It was finished by June of 2001 when Father Moser, who resides at Holy Trinity, Protivin, blessed it in a special ceremony. It was planned to have a Mass on Sacred Heart eve, but a rainstorm had us going to Little Turkey for the mass and potluck meal.

Source: This history is posted at a pavilion on the site of Sacred Heart Church, titled "History of Reilly Settlement". It was transcribed by IAGenWeb Coordinator for Warren County, Karon Velau. Its author is unknown at this writing (August 2019).

Church Granary

Sacred Heart Church