Catholic Church Dates to 1870
The Catholic history of the eastern
part of Winnebago county, or what is now the Forest
City parish, goes back to about 1870. A Catholic
settlement, made up of Irish to the North and West
and Austrians to the South, was formed in the Forest
Father McCaffrey, of Algona, came to Forest City
where he would say Mass in the O'Conley home, and
later in the old courthouse. From Forest City he
would go to the McGreevey home, located six miles
north of Forest City, where he would say Mass the
following morning. Father mcCaffrey often traveled
this circuit on foot.
Father McCormick, who was sent as resident pastor to
Britt, served the Forest City Catholics later. He was
followed by Father Corcoran of Garner, who was in
turn succeeded by Father McMahon. Through his
efforts, a church was built at Lake Mills; whereupon
Father Kelley became resident pastor with Forest City
as his mission.
It was during Father Kelley's pastorate that a
movement was begun for the erection of a church in
Forest City. So enthusiastic were the parishioners
that all did whatever they could, and as a result, a
large part of the work was done by the parishioners
The church wasn't quite completed when Father Kelley
was succeeded by Father Taken, who resided in Forest
City. He took a room at the Anderson Hotel until he
could finish the church and erect a parish house.
Previous to this time the only Catholic cemetery was
at Bristol, but Father Taken soon arranged to open a
new cemetery beside the Forest City church. The
Missions attached to Forest City at this time were
Lake Mills, Northwood, Thompson, Buffalo Center and
After seven years here, Father Taken was succeeded by
Father Patrick Lynch, who remained three years. Then
came Father O'Dougherty for one year, followed by
Father Torpey who served for 11 years. Under Father
Torpey's direction the cemetery was improved and
rearranged and the debt on the church and parish
house was cleared.
St. James Catholic church was incorporated March 18,
1912, by Archbishop Keane, Vicar General Ryan, Rev.
W.J. Torpey, F.J. Hayes and W.J. Smith.
Father D.P. Cregan followed Father Torpey and
remained 10 years. During this time three lots south
of the courthouse in Forest City were purchased as a
site for a future church. The next pastor was Father
Joseph Richard, who served for four and one-half
years. He was followed by Father Leo Entringer for a
In 1933 Father J.E. Slowey was appointed pastor.
During the year 1935 the church and rectory were
moved from the west edge of Forest City to the parish
lots south of the courthouse. The church was
enlarged, and the recory remodeled, and St. James
Parish Hall was built.
Father Slowey was succeeded by Father Mullen, and he,
in turn, by Father Thomas Knox, the present pastor.
The first Catholic baptism in Forest City was that of
Rose Gavin in the Gavin home by Fr. McCormick in
1887. Mrs. Gelner and Celia Gavin were the first to
be buried in the Forest City cemetery.
Some of the old families of the Forest City parish
were Tim Caffery, Pat Seanlan, Martin Doyle, and
James O'Connor, who came between 1870 and 1875. Other
pioneer families were the McGreevey, Yinneman,
Barnes, Cain, Kelly, Casey, Gelner, Halbgebauer,
Smith, Hayes and Barrett families.
~source: Forest City Summit,
July 28, 1955
~transcribed for Winnebago co. IAGenWeb by S. Ferrall
~St. James Catholic Church is now a part of the Archangels Catholic Cluster which includes churches in Forest City, Garner, Duncan, Britt, Buffalo Center, and Lake Mills. Click on the link to see their website.