Fremont County, Iowa

St. Patrick Catholic Church
by Margaret Laughlin

View from the Attic ~ A Weekly Series
Fremont County Historical Society
23 February 2009

A former cornfield on a hilltop in the northeast part of the town of Imogene, Iowa, has been home to three landmark St. Patrick Catholic Churches since the early 1880’s. The parish was organized on June 21, 1880 and services were first held in the original white frame church in 1882. Despite an addition in 1889, the church was too small for the congregation of 500. The original church was moved and replaced by a Gothic style church constructed of St. Louis pressed brick with granite trimmings. Unfortunately, due to a furnace malfunction, this church was destroyed by fire on February 10, 1915. Many priceless artifacts, including a life-sized crucifix shipped directly to Imogene from the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, were lost in the fire.

Construction on the third church on the same site began in August 1915. The Romanesque/Late Gothic Revival 130’ x65’ church of black Hylex brick, built to seat 600, was completed on March 20, 1919. The 80 foot high bell tower holds the bell that was originally in the second church. The oak paneled ceiling of the church is 65 feet at the peak. The red Spanish tile roof covers steel trusses that were unusual for buildings of that time. Beautiful stained glass windows from Munich tell the story of creation, the fall of mankind and the redemption. A large, multi-paneled St. Patrick stained glass window adorns the choir loft.

Father Edmund Hayes, pastor from 1888-1928, traveled to Pietrasanta, Italy to select all the white Carrara marble for the church. The altars, sanctuary floor, seats and steps and the altar rail, statues, Pieta and 14 Stations of the cross with Venetian mosaic inserts, are all made of the marble. The lower part of a magnificent 26’x18’ main altar is accented with a carving of DaVinci’s Last Supper. Two 18’x8’ side altars contain statues of Mary and St. Joseph. Father Hayes donated all the altars in memory of his family. The Pieta statue, previously in front of the second church, is located in an alcove at the back of the church.

It is hard to believe that these altars are Father Hayes’ second choice. The first altars left Pietrasanta on November 1, 1916. Sketchy newspaper reports of the time merely say that the altars went down with a ship that hit a German mine. Could the altars have been on the Britannic-sister ship of the Titanic? It had been converted into a hospital ship; these ships often transported cargo to provide the shipping line with revenue. To the best of our knowledge, the Britannic is the only ship to sink in the area in the right time frame. A few minutes after 8 am on Tuesday, November 21, 1916, the Britannic hit a German mine that had been set on October 28th of that year. The Britannic sank 45 minutes later 4 miles west of the Greek island port of St. Nikolo in the Agean Sea. In August 1995, underwater explorer Robert Ballard and his crew found the remains of the Britannic only two miles from shore but were unable to gain access to the inside of the ship. Since the ship manifest has been lost and there is no additional information in our church records, this will probably remain a mystery until some future underwater explorer gains access to the inside of the wreckage.

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