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Shelby County



A letter bearing the date of October 19, 1885, came to a newly ordained priest at Marengo, Iowa, from his bishop, the Rt. Rev. H. Cosgrove, of Davenport, who had ordained him the 20th of the previous September, that he was appointed to the missions of Earling, Portsmouth and Panama, Shelby county, Iowa. Portsmouth had been an outsmission of Neola. This outmission had a frame church, one and one-half miles from town, and a seven hundred dollars deposit in the bank. The congregation was very anxious to have the young pastor make his residence in their town, and, since his health had been seriously impaired by seminary studies and the cruel blast of winter had begun, he concluded to make his first home in Portsmouth. The John Birks residence was purchased and furnished. A fair was held, in which everyone became interested, and one thousand eight hundred dollars was cleared, which, with the bank deposit and subscription list that had been raised, were sufficient to purchase five acres from the Milwaukee Land Company, move the church to town, put on an addition of twenty feet and a tower, and pay all indebtedness on the parsonage; and so Portsmouth was happy with its first resident pastor.

A building committee had been formed in Panama, who built a frame church on the hill. This property was in later years exchanged for a more desirable location by the present amiable pastor, by whom the magnificent substantial buildings have been erected on the new site.

The Earling people were as anxious for a Catholic school as they were for a church, hence the pastor, with J. C. Heese, made plans for a two-story frame building (thirty-six by sixty-four), that was to serve as a housing for a church, school and parsonage, and which has certainly served its purpose well. While this building was being erected, services were held in the present F. W. Wilwerding implement house, and later in Schuettgen's hall, where the school was also commenced in September, 1886, with fifteen children and Kath. Golobitz as teacher. The new building was completed in February, 1887, so church services were transferred and the school was moved. If the school should be a success, it was necessary that the pastor should change his residence to be near, and so, with his bishop's permission, he did, going from Portsmouth to the new building in Earling; and the people of Earling were happy. This move, however, upset the congregation of Portsmouth, but with the bishop's promise that soon a pastor would be sent for Portsmouth and Panama, the people were fairly reconciled. This pastor came in 1891, and the mission of Defiance, which had been attended from Dunlap, was attached to Earling.

Soon after the transfer had been made, there was some life in the new chapel on a Sunday afternoon, when Franklin Kuhl, Raphael Zenter and four other babies were presented before the communion rail with their sponsors and parents for the sacrament of baptism. They now have families of their own.

A cemetery was needed to bury the dead, and church bells to call the flock to devotions. The pastor successfully found twenty members of the congregation who donated twenty-five dollars each, had their names cast on the bells, and received a lot free in the cemetery, for which purpose five acres had been purchased from the Milwaukee Land Company. To make further improvements, picnics were held in the summer and fairs in the winter, that were well patronized. In this way the entire block, now known as church block, was purchased and improved.

The congregation was growing and there were too many children for one teacher. In the winter of 1888 to 1889, the pastor took up a subscription for a new parsonage, so that his apartments could be given to the Franciscan sisters. A modest, eight-room, brick veneer building was erected on the southeast corner of the block. This was completed by September 1, 1889, so when the sisters arrived they found all in readiness to take up their work of teaching and leading the choir, which work they have ever performed with great success.

In a few years the chapel also become entirely too small to accommodate the growing parish, so provisions had to be made for a new church building. A church had recently been built at Breda, Iowa, which was said to be very suitable for Earling. Five members of the parish accompanied the pastor in September, 1891, to inspect this building and thought it just the kind of church needed for Earling. The pastor therefore soon after started a subscription list, which Michael Wilwerding headed with five hundred dollars; thirteen subscribed three hundred dollars each; there were six of two hundred and fifty dollars each; eight of two hundred dollars each; twelve of one hundred and fifty dollars each; five of one hundred and twenty-five dollars each; nine of one hundred dollars each; ten of seventy-five dollars each; twenty-two of fifty dollars each; four of thirty dollars each; thirty-four of twenty-five dollars each; four of twenty dollars each; one of fifteen dollars. The total was fourteen thousand seven hundred and fifty dollars. Non-Catholics, single men and women helped to swell this subscription, a copy of which was placed in the cornerstone. A building committee was chosen. It was much desired to have J. H. Kuhl a member, but, having so many other important duties, he declined to serve, and the following were named: Nicolaus Gaul, Wenzel Hahn, J. P. Miller and August Schuettgen. The plans were obtained from Matthias Schnell, of Rock Island, Illinois, and in April, 1892, the contract was let to him for fifteen thousand dollars, and he sublet the masonry and plastering to William Cockerell, of Harlan, Iowa. Ground was soon after broken, excavations for basement and foundations were made by the members of the congregation, who then began the hauling of material from the depot, of which each family hauled one carload. After work had been well started, on May 20th, a shortened blizzard of the previous winter drove the laborers from the work.

On June 20th the cornerstone was laid with pomp and ceremony, surrounded by a concourse of happy and delighted people. The feast of the Assumption, August 15th, being a holiday of obligation, the men started busily at work. When they were informed that they would not be allowed to work on that day they objected and when told that under no consideration would they be allowed to continue, they adjourned to a nearby hall, celebrated, had some words and refused to resume work for a few days, until the contractor came to straighten out matters. As the building was going up nicely and nearing completion, the ladies of the parish donated ten dollars each for a main altar, different families donated the cathedral glass windows, others the stations of the cross, communion rail, confessional and other necessities. The Kenkel family donated the pulpit in memory of their parents. Whilst the scaffolding for plastering was still in also to Mathias Schnell for four hundred dollars. In was plainly stated in the specifications, that the brickwork called for red brink of an even color position, it was deemed a wise investment to let the frescoing and painting and that there were to be no charges for extras, unless they were made in writing. Both of these items caused some argument before a full and complete settlement was made, but since the specifications were so clear, the church was built and settled for without serious difficulty. All was in readiness and December 13, 1892, was the day on which it was happily dedicated under the patronage of St. Joseph.

A small reed organ was insufficient to fill the new church. The choir was anxious for a large pipe organ, so after a few years' rest the pastor again gathered subscriptions for this improvement. There were a very few who did hate to see the pastor coming for subscriptions, even as the devil hateth holy water, but after the improvement had been made and their subscription settled, they felt like a mother, who, "remembereth no longer the anguish, for joy that a man is born into the world." A pipe organ was purchased for one thousand and fifty dollars, which has given splendid satisfaction.

Fourteen years the good sisters had been living in the commodious apartments of the school house, and it was time something be done for their comfort. The parsonage was small for gatherings on diverse occasions, so the building committee agreed that the parsonage should be changed to a sisters' convent, and a new parsonage built on the west side of the church. The pastor again solicited the subscriptions and the contract for the present elegant building was let to home talent.

The Earling German Cornet Band was organized in the early days of the parish, under the direction of John Langenfeld. They have held splendidly together and have at all times cheerfully lent their assistance for the temporal and spiritual uplift of the parish.

When the congregation was free of debt, the health of the pastor, which had been seriously impaired by hard work during his seminary course, broke down, so that he was unable to continue his parish duties; therefore, June 27, 1913, his bishop, the Rt. Rev. Austin Dowling, made the Rev. Joseph B. Hummert rector emeritus of his parish, and he is now spending his days in southern California, awaiting with pleasure the time when he shall be laid to rest beside his children in St. Joseph's cemetery, Earling, Iowa.

  Transcribed by Denise Wurner, March 2014 from the Past and Present of Shelby County, Iowa, by Edward S. White, P.A., LL. B.,Volume 1, Indianapolis: B. F. Bowen & Co., 1915, pp. 403-406.


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