St. James Catholic Church
Forest City, Iowa

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 City area.

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 themselves.

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 Armstrong.

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 few months.

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.


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