Fremont County, Iowa

A View from the Attic - A Weekly Series

Father Edmund Hayes

News from the Fremont County Historical Society
by Margaret Laughlin
Father Edmond Hayes – Financier

One of the wealthiest Fremont County pioneers, was Father Edmond Hayes, pastor of St. Patrick Catholic Church, in Imogene from 1888-1928. Born in Ireland in 1852, one of eight children, he was ordained in 1878, following his studies at the Grand Seminary in Montreal, Canada. After teaching at a Dubuque college and serving at parishes in Georgetown and Melrose, he was assigned to Imogene.

Coming as a priest in his late 30's, he found a small, white frame church with a handful of scattered parishioners. From the start, he desired to raise the town of Imogene to world renown, to promote an experiment in Irish land colonization, and to build a church famed for its architectural masterpiece. 

Father Hayes was an astute financier. He amassed a fortune from silver interests in Nevada, gold and oil interests in California, and was one of the first investors in the Omaha Stockyards.  In 1901, one of his California oil wells was pumping 800 barrels of oil a day.  

He worked with several bishops to settle the primarily agricultural Irish immigrants on Midwest farmland. Some came directly from Ireland and others came from the overcrowded urban slums of the east. To build up his parish, he acquired land which was cheap and could be purchased on easy terms.  In 1900, alone he purchased over 1,200 acres of land. The farms he offered were sold or rented without difficulty because his terms were too good to pass up. Abstracts show that he held the mortgage on many area farms. He never pressured for payment in years when crops failed.

Shortly after arriving in Imogene, Father Hayes collected $3,000 and bought the half block directly west of the frame church. He built a rectory on the land. By May of 1889, the church was being enlarged. The town was booming and so was the parish. By 1892, he raised $14,000 to build a brick church that would seat 240. In 1904, the wood from the original church, later used as a hall, was used in building a two-story, four bedroom rectory complete with two fireplaces on the site of the former rectory. He financed half of the construction cost.  

The parish continued to grow.  In 1907, Father Hayes donated $12,000 to the building of St. Patrick Academy.  When the brick church was destroyed by fire in 1915, Father Hayes then in his 60's, became involved in every aspect of building a new church that would become an architectural masterpiece and his legacy. He donated the magnificent white Cararra marble altars and would never disclose their cost. In 1922, a brick convent to house seven Dominican Sisters was completed. Father Hayes paid half of the construction cost.

While constantly improving the parish facilities, Father Hayes did not forget the city of Imogene. He repeatedly offered backing for a town water system, town library and donated $1,000  towards a city electrical system. Despite many promising attempts at getting a town water system, this would not become a reality until long after his death.  

Father's money helped people all over the world. For example, he donated a quarter of a million dollars to expand St. Mary College in California and he financed the building of a university in India. Father Hayes used his money to do good wherever God's work took him.


News from the Fremont County Historical Society
by Margaret Laughlin
Part Two
Father Edmond Hayes – A Colorful Life

Father Edmond Hayes, a colorful and well-known pioneer figure in southwest Iowa, traveled extensively in the United States, Europe and the Holy Land. Trips ranged from several months to a year. Slow train and steamship travel did not deter him. He left his mark as a gifted speaker wherever he went. Unfortunately, not many of his remarks were recorded. Speaking at an 1886 Irish rights rally in Youghal, Ireland he declared, that “if England and the landlords behaved in America as they behaved in Ireland, the Americans would pelt them not only with dynamite, but with the lightning of heaven and the fires of  hell, ‘till every British bulldog, whelp and cur would be pulverized and made top-dressing for the soil.”  

Imogene was always abuzz with excitement each time he returned. After a 1909 trip to Japan, Father hosted a party on the lantern decorated church grounds. To help pay off the parish debt, he charged people 25 cents to view his souvenirs and hear a talk on his trip. In June 1923, 500 people lined the streets of Imogene from the depot to the rectory to greet him after his year of travel.  

Father Hayes, a tall and well-built man, was an imposing figure in his cassock (long, close-fitting black ankle length robe with buttons from the neck to the hem) and a biretta (square black cap with 3 or 4 peaks and a tuft at the top) as he walked the streets of Imogene. Leaving Imogene on the train, he always wore a suit, a shirt with a low collar and a small black bow tie.  

Father would refuse to pay a freight increase of 25 cents and then turn around and empty the coins out of all his pockets for the benefit of a poor man warming himself by the depot fire. Father often said, “A good man doesn't need much money.”  

Parishioners, with numerous children, came to services on foot or took a horse and buggy some 6 miles or more.  10 am Sunday Mass often began closer to 11 am – depending on what time Father finished reading the Omaha Bee newspaper. His sermons lasted an hour and often included the words, “Order is the first law of Heaven.”   

Father was exacting. Workmen had to start over when wrong colored brick was laid for the current church. The face on the St. Patrick stained glass window was sent back three times – is it the face of a young Father Hayes or someone in his family?  

Despite Father Hayes' beautiful penmanship, he was not as exacting with his record keeping.  He would temporarily jot down record information on scraps of paper and file them between the pages of a book. It took some wedding information five years to be recorded in Sidney. Some of these temporary records were lost to water and mud in the fire of 1915.  

Father hosted  yearly parish picnics for about 300 people at Crystal/Porter's Lake and  furnished gunnysacks full of peanuts and oranges.  Every youngster was addressed as “child.”    

When Father's colorful life ended on February 8, 1928 at the age of 76,  he had the longest pastorship at one church in Iowa  – 40 years.


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Page updated on February 10, 2017 by Karyn Techau