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Catholic Settlement and Churches of Liberty Township

The first Catholic church built in Liberty Township, in Section 10, was the third Catholic community established in Marshall County. It was known both as the Dunn Settlement Church and as St. John's Church.

Settlement of Liberty Township started in the late 1840s and gradually immigrants from Ireland and Germany, among other countries, homesteaded in this area.  Catholic families were ministered to by horseback missionary priests from Iowa City, Ackley and Des Moines, with services held in the homes of the families.  According to one Dunn story, the nearest church in 1856 was in Iowa City, and a mission priest came to Marietta from time to time. As the area became more heavily settled, priests came from Marshalltown, Eldora and State Center.  Some of the pastors who served the area were Rev. Emmonds, Rev. Gunn, Rev. Halpin and Rev. Schulte.

Margaret (Granny) Kennehan Dunn, widow of Hugh Dunn, and five of her children settled in Liberty Township, the first arriving in the early 1850s.  The five sons of William and Julia Dunn, as well as Henry, son of William by his first marriage, settled in Liberty Township, the first one arriving in the 1850s and the last one arriving in 1875.  Many other families immigrated from Ireland and settled in the area during its earliest years.

In the late 1870s, erection of a church began on land donated by Hugh Dunn, son of Hugh and Margaret Dunn.  The "Account Book for the Catholic Church in Liberty Township, Marshall Co., Iowa" lists the following persons who gave "subscriptions" towards building the church:

Willie Keenehan Michael McDonald John Kilroe John Claffey
James Kennehan James Dunn, Sr. John Gorman Edward Liston
Lawrence Marnol James Dunn, Jr. John Feely Peter Flanagan
Michael Drew Thomas Dunn Pat Lyons John Mackin
Richard Breen John Dunn Mrs. Kelley Thomas Jordan
Jos. Anselme Hugh Dunn Pat Troy George Lent
Anthony Pierce William Dunn Harry Howard Mat Connelly
Abraham Hutchins Henry Dunn Henry Howard Bennett Tagatoff
Thomas Chance Michael Dunn William Dixon Heath Smyth
John Breen Henry Dunn Mr. Troutman Mrs. Quinn

This same account book lists income of $938.15 and expenses of $1416.43.  A bill for $25.00 for a stove for the church was dated Nov. 29, 1877 and there was a listing for "coal up to March 9, 1879" for $5.50.  Other bills listed were for lumber, paint, oils, shingles, mason work, erecting the building and other work expenses.  A watch was purchased for $5.00 and raffled off for $50.50.  A special collection was also taken for vestments and a confessional.

The church, named St. John's, was completed in 1878 and was located about five and one-half miles northeast of Saint Anthony.  Anna Dunn, daughter of Thomas and Margaret Jordan Dunn, was the first child to be baptized in the new church.  Although the first marriage in the church is not known, Francis and Anna Eliza Dunn Tagatoff were the second couple married there on October 12, 1885.  William and Catherine (Kate) Liston LaPlant were believed to be the last couple married there in 1912. Elizabeth (Eliza) Haney Claffey Dunn, wife of William (Old Billy) Dunn is believed to be the last one buried from the church.

The land for the cemetery was donated in 1860 and is located one and one-half miles north of the church.  Henry Dunn, step-son of Margaret (Granny) Dunn, died in 1860 at age 29 and is the earliest burial.  It is known that several Dunns were buried at Bevins Grove Cemetery and were re-interred in the Dunn Settlement Cemetery after it was established.

Saint Anthony was established in 1882 and when more people settled in the area, it was deemed necessary to build a church.  St. Mary's Church was completed in 1893 and Father McMahon celebrated the first Mass in the new church on the Christmas morning of that year.

According to the church record,  the first ceremony was the baptism of Laurence Andrew Robinson.  The Society of the Living Rosary was organized in March 1894.  The last couple to be married in the church were James E Jr. and Nellie Jordan Dunn, who were married on October 2, 1900.  The church was struck by lightning and burned on July 2, 1901.

A new church, Sacred Heart Church, was built the following year and is still in use.  Shortly after the church was built, Sacred Heart Cemetery was established one-half mile west of town.

For some years, both the Dunn Settlement and the Saint Anthony congregations were active, being served by the same pastor on a rotating basis.  About 1912 the Dunn Settlement Church closed and the members joined Sacred Heart Church in Saint Anthony.  The last annual report in the archives of the archdiocese, however, is dated 1916.  The church was sold to Liberty Consolidated School, which was about one-half mile south of the church.  It was moved to the school grounds and converted to a gymnasium about 1924.  After the closing of the school in 1952, the building continued to be used for other events, including Dunn reunions.  It was destroyed by wind in 1974.

The wooden rectory in Saint Anthony was replaced by a brick building in 1915, and in 1926, a sanctuary and sacristy were added to the church by extending the west end.  In 1955, St. John Bosco Hall was completed in the refurbished basement.  Through the years, siding, a stainless steel cross and other improvements have been made.  In October of 2001 the parish celebrated its centennial.

The first Mass in Zearing was celebrated in the home of W.H. Gogerty in 1901.  St. Gabriel's Church was founded in 1906 and completed and consecrated in 1908.  Until that time, the Catholics in the Zearing area went to the Dunn Settlement Church or to the church in Colo.

The following have served as pastors of Sacred Heart Church:

Rev. John McMahon 1893-1894
Rev. John Hehir 1894-1899
Rev. Denis Lundon 1899-1906
Rev. Lawrence D. Tobin 1906-1920
Rev. Fred J. Frien 1920-1936
Rev. John P. Connell 1936-1939
Rev. Clarence E. Drummy 1939-1944
Rev. Joseph Murphy 1944-1954
Rev. Robert Swift 1954-1956
Rev. Conrad Schallau 1956-1960
Rev. Cecil McSweeney 1960-1973
Rev. Robert Hirsch 1973-1975
Rev. John Schmitz 1975-1979
Rev. Thomas Purtell 1979-1988
Rev. Richard Hess 1988-2000
Rev. Jon Seda 2000-2004
Rev. Rich Dagit 2004-

NOTE: History repeats itself!  In the earliest years, one priest served multiple communities.  Due to a severe shortage of priests today, Sacred Heart parish became one of five parishes in a "Story-Marshall Catholic Cluster."  Since 2000, one priest serves all five parishes on a rotating basis.  The other members of the cluster are St. Gabriel Church, Zearing; St. Joseph Church, State Center; St. Patrick Church, Nevada; and St. Mary Church, Colo.





1. Donated by Edward Helin

(Edward was one of two children of Nicholas & Mary Martin Helin, both born in France and who came to Minerva Township in 1857.  He was the father of Walter Helin, grandfather of Charlotte Helin Ward, and great-grandfather of John Ward.)

2. Pray for the Soul of John Dunn

(John was the son of William & Julia Dunn.)

3. Pray for the Soul of Peter Flanagan

(Peter was born in Ireland and married to Catherine Stone.  Ed & Lizzie Flanagan were two of their children and were well-known Saint Anthony residents.  He was the great-grandfather of Dee Ann Drew, and the great-great-grandfather of Linda Baker and Pam Schau.)

4. Donated by Francis Tagatoff

(Francis was the father of Lucy, Mamie, Celia, Maggie, Elsie and Ena, and the grandfather of Theresa Heil Karns.  His wife was Anna Eliza Dunn, daughter of James E., Sr. (son of Hugh & Granny) & Frances Gilmore Dunn.)

5. Donated by Mrs. George Robinson

(Mary was the wife of George, the mother of James Robinson, and grandmother of Marcella Robinson Betts.)

6. Pray for the Soul of Thomas Jordan

(Thomas was born in King's County, Ireland, came to America in 1864 and married Mary Schofield, who was also born in Ireland.  He was the grandfather of Nellie Dunn Megan.)

7. Donated by Thomas Dunn

(Thomas was the son of William & Julia Dunn, father of Johnny (Long Johnny), grandfather of Lawrence Dunn, Donald Dunn and Annagail Dunn Peters, and great-grandfather of Dale, Denny, Larry Dunn and Patricia Dunn Foster.)



1. Pray for the Soul of Ida Gogerty

(Ida, daughter of William H. and Jenny Gogerty, died on Oct. 28, 1901 at age 13 (maybe appendicitis?). The family lived in Zearing but attended Sacred Heart Church because the Zearing parish didn't exist at that time. She was Rex Gogerty's aunt although she died before he was born.)

2. Pray for the Soul of Michael Drew

(Michael & Margaret Dugan Drew were natives of Ireland who lived in Hardin County before coming to Liberty Township in 1865. Their son was William D. Drew who married Mary E. Flanagan in 1894 and were the parents of 10 children. He was the great-grandfather of Dee Ann Drew.)

3. Donated by Peter Robinson

(Peter was the father of Mary Angeline Robinson who married Hugh S. Dunn.  Hugh's parents were James E., Sr. & Frances Gilmore Dunn.)

4. Pray for the Soul of John Mackin

(John married Mary Daly.  He was the great-grandfather of Jack Mackin.)

5. Pray for the Soul of James and John Dunn

(Sons of William & Julia Dunn)

6. Donated by Mrs. James Dunn, Jr.

(She was Nellie Jordan, mother of Nellie Dunn Megan.  Nellie Jordan Dunn's husband was the son of James E., Sr. & Frances Gilmore Dunn, and James was the son of Hugh & Granny Dunn.)

7. Donated by James Mackin

(James, an immigrant from Ireland, was a farmer in Sec. 19.  He was the great-uncle of Jack Mackin.)

ENTRYWAY: Two small windows donated by children of the parish.

MAIN ALTAR: Donated by Patrick Dunn (son of William & Julia Dunn).

SIDE ALTARS: Donor(s) unknown.


(Written in 2006 by Karlene Kingery)