IAGenWeb Project - Clayton co.
updated 04/16/2020

St. Joseph Catholic Church
Elkader, Iowa

The 'Old Rock Church'

19th century view of the original St. Joseph's Church in Elkader, Iowa. The building still stands on the church property and has been converted into a parish hall. It, along with the present church, are listed on the National Register of Historic Places (source: public domain photo from Wikimedia Commons)

above: vintage photo postcard, undated


St. Joseph's Church, It's Early History - Laying of the Corner Stone

The early history of the church shows that in the 40's the spiritual wants of the residents of this locality were attended by Father Lynch, of Holy Cross. The first mass celebrated here was by Father Lynch in the old house on David Livingood's corner, then the residence of P. Keenan. The first baptism recorded is that of Julia Anna Barrett, now Mrs. Jos. Collins, on March 6, 1855, by Father W. Emmonds. Among the first priests who labored here at different times were Fathers Emmons, Phil Laurent, Orth, Nagel, Foley and DeCailly.

Early in 1856 Father Peter McGinnis took charge of the mission and commenced the erection of the church building, the walls being put up that year, but it was in 1858 before the roof was added. Ned Donovan appears to have been the stone mason, while Peter Mayen had charge of the carpenter work. April 9th, 1861, Father McGinnis was called away and Rev. Michael O'Beirne came, serving until Nov. 26, 1867, when he died. His remains were interred under the church. During his pastorate he erected a small dwelling back of the church and purchased the cemetery.

On Dec. 14, 1867, Father Quigley took charge of the mission, and in his twenty years of service made many improvements to the church and its property. He died Sept. 11th, 1887. Rev. J.F. Reilly was then transferred from McGregor to this parish, and under his pastorate, the congregation has grown to such an extent that the movement for a new building came as a matter of necessity.

Last year the matter was thoroughly canvassed by the society and when it was found that the necessary amount could be raised, the decision was made for a new church building. The following building committee was appointed. P.J. Cain, Ed. Hofer, Wm. Bauer, Jas. Foran and M. Fitzpatrick, treasurer. Guido Beck, of Dubuque, is the architect, and while we shall not at this time go into details regarding the new structure, suffice it to say that it will compare with any church building in northeastern Iowa.

Thos. Byrnes, the constructor of the Elkader bridge and of Hotel Bayless, has the contract, while J.L. Schneider has the carpenter work. The contract price was $11,800. The church will be a handsome stone structure, 116 feet long by 50 feet wide, of a pure gothic style, and surmounted by a tower and spire 150 feet high.

Mr. Byrnes commenced work last fall and has completed the foundations, so that the corner stone could be laid as we now relate.

Sunday, April 24th, 1898, will long be remembered by the people of St. Joseph's parish, not alone for its beauty and the pleasant sunshine, but as the date on which the laying of the corner stone of the new church was celebrated. About 2 o'clock p.m., over 1,500 people had gathered on or about the site of the church, and soon the Foresters, lead by F.J. Uriell, Chief Ranger; and D.D. Murphy, Past Chief Ranger; with the K. of P. band, added their presence to the assembled concourse.

The ceremony was conducted by Rev. Father Rowe, of Strawberry Point, as the representative of the archbishop; Rev. O'Donnell, of McGregor, Deacon; Rev. Dullard, of Elkport, Sub-deacon; Fathers O'Dowd, of Independence, Raedler, of Garnavillo, and Hogan, of Monona, chanters.

Rev. Father Coyle, of Cedar Falls, delivered the oration, taking his text from Chron 2, VII, 12-15:

"And the Lord appeared to Solomon by night and said unto him, I have heard thy prayer and have chosen this place to myself for a house of sacrifice.

If I shut up heaven that there be no rain, if I command the locusts to devour the land, or if I send pestilence among my people.

If my people which are called by my name shall humble themselves and pray, and see my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from Heaven and forgive their sin, and will heal their land.

Now mine eyes shall be open and mine ears attent unto the prayer that is made in this place

The reverend gentleman referred to Solomon's temple and the beautiful words of God in relation to the house erected for Him, and to God's promises in relation to it. He stated that the offering of the day was a building for God, a sanctuary for the people in the day of sorrow, or when scourges came. He spoke feeling of the old church building which had served the need of two generations, and now the people of the parish under a beloved and revered leader was engaged in the great work of erecting a house for God that would be pleasing in his sight. He exemplified on the power, wisdom and goodness of God. Incidentially he referred to the war and said it was the duty of all Christians to pray for the soldiers, many of whom might lay down their lives, to pray that the war might soon be ended and settled to the satisfaction of our country. We regret that in writing from memory we are unable to give but a brief out-line of Father Coyle's excellent oration.

The corner stone is the gift of Ed. H. Prior, of Postville, artistically cut from Bedford stone with "1898" in relief on the front. In it will be deposited documents of the church, a list of the civil officers of the nation and state, the town papers describing the ceremonies of its laying, coins of 1898, etc. These will be covered with a copper plate on which is stamped:

Built by
Thos. Byrnes
J.L. Schneider

Our account of the ceremonies was delayed that we might present to our readers the illustrations here given. During his labor here, Rev. Father Reilly has won for himself the respect and regard of all our citizens independent of creed or religious belief and as our illustrations show they turned out in a body to rejoice with him and with his parishioners over the first great ceremony connected with the new church. [transcriber's note: the illustrations did not reproduce well on the microfilm image this article]

All speak highly of the order that was maintained and the attention given by the vast crowd many of whom were unable to hear what was spoken.

~source: Elkader Register, May 5, 1898
~transcribed by S. Ferrall for Clayton co. IAGenWeb, July 2017


In January 1976 the State Preservation Program nominated this church to the National Register of Historic Places. It was placed on the Register on November 21, 1976.

photo source: National Park Service website; National Register of Historic Places



Elkader, St. Joseph's - First built in 1856, It's now used as gym for newer edifice
by Verna O'Connor

Elkader - The first Catholic church building in Elkader, which is still in use as a gymnasium, was built in 1856 under leadership of the Rev. Peter McGinnis. Now known as the Old Rock church, the first building was remodeled in 1944-46 under leadership of the Most Rev. Edward J. Fitzgerald, auxiliary bishop of the archdiocese of Dubuque, who was then pastor of St. Joseph's. Bishop Fitzgerald supervised the redecoration and remodeling of the old building, converting it into a church hall and gym.

The present church was dedicated Thanksgiving day, 1900. Cornerstone was laid April 24, 1898, with a crowd of about 1,500 persons attending the ceremonies.

A high point in the history of St. Joseph's was the purchase of three bells in 1876. The bells were cast in Cincinnati and weighed 5,400 pounds. Names of 72 donors who contributed a total of $1,800 to buy the bells were inscribed on them. They are still in use and the inscriptons are still readable. The bells were bought during the pastorate of the Rev. J.J. Quigley. He served the church for 20 years - from 1867 until his death in 1887. Built during Father Quigley's pastorate were a parish home and a convent for sisters teaching at St. Joseph's school.

Plans for the present church were first made in 1897, when a building committee of five church leaders was appointed. It included P.J. Cain, Ed Hofer, William Bauer, James Foran and M. Fitzpatrick. The Gothic style building was constructed of stone, quarried from a hill almost directly behind the edifice. At church dedication services in 1900, the Rt. Rev. Msgr. Roger Ryan was in charge of the ceremonies, and dedicatory sermon was preached by the Rev. John Fitzpatrick.

Priests who served St. Joseph's included the Rev. J.F. Reilly, the Rev. J. Campbell, the Rev. J.P. Taken. Present pastor is the Rev. B.H. Skahill, assisted since January by the Rev. J.W. Blackburn. Six Presentation sisters, headed by Sister Mary Callista, and Father Blackburn make up the faculty of St. Joseph's school.

Present church school was built in 1911, with St. Joseph's first school erected in 1858.

~source: Cedar Rapids Gazette, September 17, 1949; series article "Eastern Iowa Churches"
~transcribed by S. Ferrall for Clayton co. IAGenWeb, July 2017



Rt. Rev. Msgr. James P. Taken

The Very Rev. James P. Taken, pastor of St. Joseph's church, was one of the nine priests in the Dubuque Archdiocese to be appointed Domestic Prelate with the title of Right Rev. Monsignor, by the late Pope Pius XI.

The Rt. Rev. Msgr. James P. Taken was educated at Columbia, later Grand Seminary, at Montreal, and St. Francis Seminary, Milwaukee, Wis. On March 19, 1892, he was ordained at St. Raphael's Cathedral by the Most Rev. John J. Hennessy. From 1898 to 1917 he was pastor of St. Mary's of Mount Carmel church. For the past twenty-two years he has been pastor of St. Joseph's church in Elkader.

~The Echo, published by St. Joseph's School, Elkader; March 24, 1939 (news article & photo)
~contributed by S. Ferrall

Note: Rev. Taken was born in Dubuque June 4, 1863 and served as a priest of the Archdiocese of Dubuque for 53 years, 28 of them as pastor of St. Joseph's. He retired in February 1946. He died on July 12, 1948 and is buried in Mount Olivet cemetery, Dubuque.


Rev. Father E.A. Fitzgerald

Father Fitzgerald has served Sacred Heart church in Osage since May 1941 and previous to that he was dean of studies and registrar at Loras college, Dubuque. A native of Cresco, he took under-graduate work at Loras before attending theological school in the University of Montreal. He was ordained to the priesthood in Dubuque, July 25, 1916.

~The Echo, published by St. Joseph's School, Elkader; February 11, 1946 (news article & photo)
~contributed by S. Ferrall


Misc. Items
~contributed by Reid R. Johnson unless otherwise credited

Catholic Order of Foresters
C.O.F., St. Joseph's Court 424, at its last meeting elected the following officers.
C.R.- D. D. Murphy.
V.C.R.- F. J. Uriell.
R.S.- M. Fitzpatrick.
F.S.- Jas. McLaughlin.
Treasurer- F. A. Niemeyer.
Trustees- P. J. Mahr, D. E. Gleason, R. F. Quinn.
~Elkader Register, Thur., Dec. 10, 1903
Women's Catholic Order of Foresters
The ladies of the W.C.O.F. elected the following officers at the recent meeting of the court.
C.R.- Mrs. M. Meyer.
V.C.R.- Mrs. C. Neimeyer.
R.S.- Mrs. M. Roach.
F.S.- Mrs. M. Canada.
Treas.- Mrs. K. Quinn.
Trustees- Mrs. L. Fitzpatrick, Mrs. A. Costigan, Mrs. M. Dunn.
Sen.- Mrs. M. Flaherty, Mrs. M. Lambert.
Con.- Mrs. M. McLaughlin, Mrs. M. Liddy.
Med. Ex.- Dr. W. J. McGrath.
Delegate to Convention- Mrs. M. McLaughlin.
Alternate- Mrs. K. Quinn.
~Elkader Register, Thur., Dec. 24, 1903. Local News page

Catholic Order of Foresters

St. Joseph Court of Foresters, No. 424, held their installation of officers last Saturday evening. The following were installed:
Past C.R. - M. Regan
C.R. - D. D. Murphy
V.C.R. - P. J. Cassiday
R.S. - M. Fitzpatrick
F.S. - J. W. McLaughlin
Treas.- F. A. Niemeyer
Trustees - J. K. Molumby, W. J. McGrath, P. J. Mahr and J. P. Donlon
Conds. - D. E. Gleason and F. J. Uriell
I.S. - R. F. Quinn
O.S. - P. J. Cassiday
Medical Examiner - Dr. W. J. McGrath
~Elkader Register, Thursday, January 11, 1906
Catholic Order of Foresters - Lady Foresters
Saturday evening Mrs. Mary Cain installed the following officers of the local court of Lady Foresters:
C.R. - Mrs. James Dunn
V.C.R. - Mrs. J. K. Molumby.
Fin. Sec. - Mrs. J. Canada
Rec. Sec. - Mrs. W. Roach
Treas. - Mrs. M. Roach
Treas. - Mrs. M. Niemeyer
Sr. Cond. - Agnes Harding
Jr. Cond. - Mrs. D. E. Gleason
O.S. - Anna Keleher
I.S. - Mrs. P. Flaherty
Trustees - Mrs. Peter Dunn, Mrs. John Dunn, Mrs. M. Regan
Auditing Committee - Mrs. John Quinn, Mrs. D. Mahr, Mrs. Pat Ryan
~Elkader Register, Thursday, January 25, 1906

Catholic Order of Foresters
At a recent meeting of St. Joseph's Court No. 424, C.O.F., the following officers were elected for the ensuing term:
Chief Ranger - D. D. Murphy
Vice Chief - P. J. Ryan
P.C. - M. Regan
R. Sec. - M. Fitzpatrick
F. Sec. - J. W. McLaughlin
Treas. - F. A. Niemeyer
Conds. - To be appointed
Med. Ex. - Dr. W. J. McGrath
Trustees - J. K. Molumby, Dr. J. P. Donlon, P. J. Mahr
Delegate - F. J. Uriell
Alternate - D. E. Gleason
~Elkader Register, Thur., December 27, 1906
Catholic Order of Foresters - Lady Foresters

The following officers were elected by St. Joseph's Court No. 108 at their regular meeting last Saturday afternoon:
C.R. - Mary Dunn
V.C.R. - Maggie McLaughlin
R.S. - Margaret Roach
F.S. - Maggie Canada
Treas. - Cora Neimeyer
Trustees - Mary Uriell, Maggie Dunn, Lizzie Fitzpatrick
S.C. Mayme Geraghty
J.C. - Lizzy Harding
O.S. - Anna Keleher
I.S. - Nellie Ryan
~Elkader Register, Thur., December 20, 1906

Catholic Order of Foresters
At the last regular meeting St. Joseph's Court No. 424 C.O.F. elected the following officers:
C.R. - D. D. Murphy
V.C.R. - D. E. Gleason
R.S. - F. J. Uriell
F.S. - M. Fitzpatrick
Treas. - F. A. Niemeyer
I.S. - R. F. Quinn
O.S. - M. B. Dunn
M.E. - Dr. W. J. McGrath
Trustees - P. J. Mahr, J. P. Donlon, J. K. Molumby
~Elkader Register & Argus, Thur., 02 Jan. 1908
Catholic Order of Foresters - Lady Foresters

The lady Foresters at their regular meeting Saturday, Jan. 18th, installed the following officers:
C.R. - Mary Dunn
V.C.R. - Margaret McLaughlin
R.S. - Margaret Roach
F.S. - Maggie Canada
Treas. - Ella Stence
Trustee - Mary Gleason
S.C. - Mayme Geraghty
J.C. - Lizzie Harding
O.S. - Mary Flaherty
I.S. - Anna Losch
M.E. - Dr. W. J. McGrath
Delegate - Maggie Canada
Alternate - Margaret McLaughlin
~Elkader Register & Argus, Thur., 23 Jan. 1908

Catholic Order of Foresters
At a regular meeting of St. Joseph's Court, No. 242, C.O.F. on last Saturday evening the following officers were elected for the ensuing year:
Chief Ranger - D. D. Murphy
Vice Chief Ranger - D. E. Gleason
Rec. Sec. - F. J. Uriell
Financial Sec. - M. Fitzpatrick
Treasurer - F. A. Niemeyer
Inside Sen. - R. F. Quinn
Outside Sen. - M. B. Dunn
Senior Cond. - J. W. McLaughlin
Junior Conductor - F. P. Nugent
Trustees - Martin Stence, J. K. Molumby, J. P. Donlon
M.E. - Dr. J. W. McGrath
Delegate - F. J. Uriell
Alternate - D. E. Gleason
~Elkader Register & Argus, Thur., 10 Dec. 1908
Catholic Order of Foresters - Lady Foresters

C.R. - Margaret Dunn
V.C.R. - Margaret McLaughlin
R.S. - Margaret Roach
F.S. - Margaret Canada
Treasurer - Ella Stence
S.C. - Mayme Geraghty
J.S. - Lizzie Harding
J.S. - Sarah Burns
O.S. - Lizzie Meyer
Chaplain - Sarah Molumby
Med. Ex. - Dr. W. J. McGrath
Trustees - Mrs. Mary Uriell, Mrs. Mary Gleason, Mrs. Margaret Dunn
~Elkader Register & Argus, Thur., 24 Dec. 1908

Catholic Order of Foresters - Lady Foresters
The following officers [for 1911] were elected by the Lady Foresters at their meeting held last Saturday: C.R. - Mary Dunn
V.C.R. - Mary Molumby
R.S. - Margaret Roach
F.S. - Maggie Canada
Treas. - Celia Kelleher
Trustee - Mary Gleason
S.C. - Lizzie Harding
I.C. - Mayme Geraghty
I.S. - Anna Losch
O.S. - Sarah Byrnes
Chap. - Sarah Molumby
Delegate - Margaret Roach
Alternate - Mary Molumby
~Elkader Register & Argus, Thur., 22 Dec. 1910

Catholic Order of Foresters
At the meeting of St. Joseph's Court, No. 424, C.O.F., held last Saturday, the following officers were elected:
Chief Ranger - E. C. Fitzpatrick
Vice-Chief Ranger - D. E. Gleason
Rec. Sec. - J. J. Finnegan
Fin. Sec. - M. Fitzpatrick
Treas. - F. A. Niemeyer
Speaker - F. J. Uriell
Trustees - J. W. McLaughlin, J. K. Molumby, Ed. Krauel
~Elkader Register & Argus, Thur., 11 Dec. 1913. Local News columns

Catholic Order of Foresters - Lady Foresters

At the regular meeting of Saint Joseph's Court, No. 108, W.C.O.F., held December 20th, the following officers were elected for the ensuing year:
C.R. - Anna Kelleher
V.C.R. - Maggie McLaughlin
R.S. - Maggie Roach
F.S. - Margaret Canada
Treas. - Sarah Byrnes
M.E. - Dr. G. F. Kelleher
Trustees - Maggie Dunn, Mary Uriell, Mary Gleason
Delegate - Anna Kelleher
Alternate - Kate Downey
Conductors - Mayme Garaghty, Sr., Kate Regan, Jr.
O.S. - Mary Nugent
L.S. - Anna Losch
~Elkader Register & Argus, Thur., 01 Jan. 1914. Local News columns

Ladies Aid Society
The Catholic Ladies Aid Society had their first meeting at St. Joseph's Hall on April 1st. Refreshments were served by Mrs. P. Dunn, Mrs. D. Gleason, Mrs. R. Leonard and Mrs. A. Eberhart. The ladies were very well pleased with the large attendance and hope that all present enjoyed it so much that they will all come again. The ladies were much pleased with the musical treat given them by the Edison brought down by Mr. George Lenth and his able assistant, Mr. Snyder. The proceeds of the afternoon were $10.55.
~Register and Argus, Thursday, April 6, 1916 ~contributed by S. Ferrall

Catholic Order of Foresters - Lady Foresters
At the regular meeting of St. Joseph's Court, 108, W.C.O.F., March 19th, the following officers were elected for the coming year:
C.R. - Mrs. Hannah Quinn
V.C.R. - Mrs. Sadie Dinan
Rec. Sec. - Mame Garaghty
Fin. Sec. - Kathryn Stence
Trustee - Mrs. Elizabeth Lynch
Con. - Mrs. Marie Eberhart, Miss Sa__tah Molumby
I.S. - Mary Nugent
O.S. Mrs. Calista Humphrey
Organist - Regina Uriell
Med. Exam. - Dr. W. J. McGrath
Delegate - Mrs. Hannah Quinn
Alternate - Mame Garaghty
~Elkader Register, Thur., 24 Mar. 1921
Ladies Aid Society

The annual meeting of the Catholic Ladies' Aid Society was held at St. Joseph's Hall on Wednesday evening, April 20. The following officers were elected for the year:
President - Mrs. A. Eberhart
Vice-President - Mrs. M. J. Poull
Secretary - Miss Anna Cain
Treasurer - Miss Frances Kaltenbach.
~Elkader Register, Thur., 28 Apr. 1921. Local News Notes column

Ladies Aid Society
At the business meeting of the Catholic Ladies Aid the following officers were elected for the ensuing year:
Pres. - Mrs. Mae Poull
Vice Pres. - Mrs. Clara Muensch
Secretary - Mrs. Margaret Canada
Treasurer - Miss Frances Kaltenbach
~Elkader Register, Thursday, April 17, 1924. Local News Notes column
Catholic Order of Foresters

St. Joseph's Court, No. 424, C.O.F., held their regular meeting last Tuesday evening, October 7th, and elected the following officers:
Chief Ranger - J. J. Finnegan
Vice Chief Ranger - Ed Krauel
Financial Sec. - J. C. Nugent
Rec. Sec. - N. H. Niemeyer
Treas. - P. J. Maher
Trustee - John F. Donlon
Med. Examiner - Dr. W. J. McGrath
~Elkader Register, Thur., October 9, 1924


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