St. Joseph's Parish


Browns, Sugar Creek and Riggs, Waterford Township, Clinton County, Iowa

Compiled by Lorraine Houghton and Marilu Thurman, updated August 2006.
Thank you so much to Lorraine and Marilu for sending this information to us. 

St. Joseph’s Parish in Sugar Creek, Iowa
From the St. Joseph’s Church Sugar Creek 1855 - 1980

Henry Nurre, himself a Catholic, had an eye for the building of a Catholic Community. He himself attracted Catholics to the community. In the early days, pioneers worshipped in their homes, with passing missionaries celebrating the Mass and administering the Sacraments. When a priest was not available to say Mass, the people gathered at the Nurre home, or some other private home to recite the rosary. These worship services were held by William Franzen, Sr., who upon his death, bequeathed $1,000.00 to the Sugar Creek church to use the interest thereon to buy candles and supplies for the church. This bequest is still used today.

After the donation of the forty acres by Henry Nurre in 1855, a small frame church costing $1500.00 was erected by Sebastian Hahn, Nicholas Eckel, Bernard Underberg, and James Kirwin. A postcard indicates the name as Grus aus Sugar Creek, (Greetings from Sugar Creek) Browns Station, Iowa. A county public school was built on the church grounds, where the children could learn their basic letters and introduced to the tenets of their faith. Mr. William Wangler was the first teacher, followed by Henry Brown. Soon, with the abundance of children, a new and larger county public school was built on the site of the present rectory.

(Footnote from Marilu Thurman. William Franzen did not come to the Sugar Creek area until about 1859, and he led the rosary in the homes. If Bernard Underberg helped build the first church, he was only 8 years old in 1855, and still living in Galena with his family. The Underberg family did not come to Sugar Creek until after 1860. It seems likely that the first church was not built until much later then 1855. The first pastor appears to be in 1863.)

By the year 1888 the St. Joseph’s parish had grown so much, that the full time services of a pastor were required. Reverend Wm. B. Sassen was the first pastor to take up his residence in Sugar Creek. His first important task was to build a rectory, which he felt should be on a site near the church, so the school was moved to a spot across the road from the church grounds. Michael and Mary Burken Reuter moved to this converted schoolhouse when they left their farm, until 1916 when they built a new home to the west of this schoolhouse. The schoolhouse is no longer there, but the Reuter home still proudly stands. This is the farm across the road from the St. Joseph’s Church in Sugar Creek. The rectory was built on that old school location. Unfortunately, fire destroyed that rectory. Undaunted, in 1892, Reverend Sassen directed the building of the present brick veneer rectory. In 1896, he directed the building of the present St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, which still stands.

At one time, there was a strong controversy about the merits of building a church on the present church grounds, or in the then flourishing Browns Station. It is believed that Sebastian Hahn was very influential in keeping the church in its present location.

Eventually, Reverend Sassen and the parishioners saw the need of a more thoroughly Catholic education for the younger generation. The Sisters of St. Francis of Dubuque were secured to teach in the county public school, and later in the parochial school until 1967.

After the success of Reverend Sassen in building the rectory and the church, he was given a new assignment. Reverend John Haubrich was the next pastor. In 1902, with the pioneering spirit of Reverend Haubrich, a new school was built, at a cost of $6,000.00. Eventually an addition to the school was built to serve as the convent for the Sisters. This school still received support as a county public school. In 1954, county support was withdrawn from this school, but the residents of Sugar Creek supported the school until 1967 when the diocese of Davenport ordered all parochial schools with an enrollment under 100 closed. The enrollment at Sugar Creek was 54. The school building is now known as "Nurre Hall".

The church ground donation from Henry Nurre, included the land to the west and north of the church. That land is now rented out as farmland, but in the early 1900’s, there were two large barns, located west of the church. Families would travel to church, either walking or using horses with sleds, wagons or buggies. Then they would, without unhitching horses, just guide the horses into stalls, and tie them until the church services were over.