The St. Ann's Catholic Church
Many of the early Catholic settlers at Vail came from eastern Iowa and Illinois. Fr Scanlan of Dewitt had visited here at an early date, and by word and example encouraged Catholics from Clinton County to take advantage of the low priced lands to be had in the vicinity of Vail, and establish farms.
Among the early Catholic settlers include M. McAndrews, Thomas Ryan, J. Barrett, B. Langan, M.J. Keane, D. McCollough and others. Prior to 1878 there was no resident priest, however Fr. Garrihan from Dunlap and Fr. McGuiness from Council Bluffs did come occasionally to offer Mass in the farm homes, as well as Fr. Pope and others from Carroll County.
In 1878 Bishop Hennessey of Dubuque appointed the first resident priest at Vail, because of the large number of Catholics in the locality. The first pastor was Fr. Roger McGrath, a typical Irish gentleman, full of life and manly vigor, standing full six feet, weighing 225 pounds, the friend of every man, the Catholic, the Protestant, the Free Thinker, generous to a fault. The memory of Fr. McGrath, Vail's first pastor will never fade. It was during his pastorate that plans were made to build a church, and for that purpose seven acres of land were purchased on a commanding knoll east of town.
Before the plans were completed, however, Fr. M.C. Lenihan was sent to Vail to succeed Fr. McGrath. He came to St. Ann's parish in March, 1880. It was under his direction that a frame church was erected. The first baptism in the new church took place on September 5, 1880 and a little over a year later on September 29, 1881 a cyclone completely demolished the structure.
Fr. Lenihan was a young priest, with commendable zeal, and not one to be discouraged. He began immediately to bring order out of chaos. The debris was cleared away, the grounds were graded nicely. The old church lumber was carted to a suitable spot and a set of plans were ordered for a new brick structure. He was a great worker, and one day like all ambitious men, he did too much. Almighty smoke rose over our little city. Men lost their way to Barrett's store and Ryan's cafe, so intense was the darkness. Women prayed and called for help so great was their fear and terror. Oh what consternation! In burning off some withered grass, the future bishop did some things he willed not. Thus perished the lumber of the cyclone wrecked first church ediface of Vail.
April 7, 1882 notice was published that bids would be received from April 8th to April 22nd for the mason work, brick work, cut stone and carpenter work of the new Catholic church, about to be erected. Plans and specifications could be seen at Langan's real estate office in Vail. The building committee retained the right to reject any and all bids.
March 17, 1882 the Catholic Society, through the generosity of the late Father Scanlon of Dewit, came into possession of 4 1/2 acres of choice land one and a half miles southeast of town in a picturesque valley, for cemetery purposes. The same was platted and improved that spring.
The work of hauling the 100,000 brick for the new church from the yards to the church grounds was completed principally by the farmers of the congregation on August 2nd, 1882. The Messrs. Servoss Bros. were pushing the brick business along rapidly and able to supply them as fast as needed. The following week the stone and brick work were expected to commence on the church. The cornerstone was laid on the anniversary of the destruction of the old building. It was completed in December, 1882.
At the dedication, June 21, 1885, it was said to be the largest church structure in the County. When the church bell arrived sometime later in February, 1886 it too was said to be the largest in the County. It was furnished by McShane and Company of Baltimore, and its musical tones could be heard for many miles. This bell of the old church is still in use here at St. Ann's-operated by electricity.
In the summer of 1887, Marshalltown and Vail exchanged pastors. Naturally, it was felt that Father James Murphy who came to Vail, got the best of the bargain. He was a man of great modesty and sincerity of character and was pleased with the prospects Vail presented for a life of undisturbed piety. He labored alone during the greater part of his pastorate, yet on occasion he was relieved, and during his later years because of failing health, assistant priests were appointed by the Bishop.
One to remain the longest, as his assistant, was his nephew. Father Peter Murphy of Emmetsburg, who was in Vail from late in the year of 1910 till 1916. A completed parish residence, a parochial school with five sisters and 115 pupils, a church in good repair and a congregation of 800 souls speak well for the efficiency of Father James Murphy during the 33 years spent in Vail. The Vail branch of the Knights of Columbus was also formed in April, 1911 with a membership of 55.
In the fall of 1920 Fr. Murphy retired, because of poor health and Father J.W. Ryan was appointed pastor, only to remain until 1923 and during that time had Fr. Charles O'Malley as an assistant.
Fr. Ryan was succeeded by Fr. J.J. Sullivan in June 1923, who was to be the pastor for the next six years. In 1929 Fr. Sullivan was ordered by his physician to go to a milder climate for his health, and Fr. A.J. Lynott was sent in his place in January of 1930. He too, remained in Vail for a period of six years when he became ill in the fall of 1936. He never recovered from this illness and passed away in an Omaha hospital.
Father D.L. Clark, our present pastor, succeeded Fr. Lynott, assuming his duties on January 1, 1937. He came to us, a young priest full of vim and vitality, from our neighboring parish at Manila.
It would be difficult to put on paper the many, many things he has accomplished here in Vail. We need only to look at the beautiful church property, which took countless hours of planning, anxiety and manual labor on his part, but which he completed with help and cooperation of his parishioners and friends, Catholic and non-Catholic alike.
The contract for the present modern English Gothic church and rectory, which takes the place of the old brick church built by Fr. Lenhan in 1882, and the old parish rectory which was moved across the street, was let on April 4, 1950. On Sunday, August 6th the cornerstone was laid, and that same month construction of a Grotto was started on the grounds.
The Grotto was built by Mr. Simonich, a former Notre Dame football star and then Coach at Heelan High of Sioux City, and Father Clark with a little extra help from some men of the parish. This Grotto was a promise to the Blessed Virgin Mary by Father Clark for the success of the enormous building project he was undertaking here at St. Ann's. The statue "Our Lady of Grace" purchased from Italy at a cost of $600.00, all the new materials used at the Grotto totaled $1,000.00 which amount was donated by Father Clark. The altar stone at the Grotto is the threshold of the old church. The cornerstone, the cross and stone that supported the outside walls of the old church was incorporated in the Grotto.
The church and rectory was completed in the fall of 1951. The dedication ceremony was held the following Tuesday on October 16th. Since that time a much needed Sisters convent had been erected.
The majority of Father Clark's time in Vail has been spent without the aid of an assistant however at various times the Bishop did send one to help out. Among those for only a short period of time were Fr. Robert Quinn, Fr. Conway and Fr. Keefe. Father Cooper, who was here the longest, came in June, 1949 and remained until August 1952.
Needless to say, Father Clark's duties as a priest are many, with a congregation of approximately 180 families, so during the thirty years he has spent with us, so far, he has accomplished a great deal, both spiritually and materially. We hope, by the grace of God, he will be left with us for many more years to come.
Source: The history of St. Ann's Catholic Church in Vail was extracted from the book prepared for the Vail centennial, Vail Centennial 1867 to 1967.
We thank Cleone Podey of Vail for providing the centennial book for this purpose and typing from the book by Tamra Woods.