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Church & Religious Directory



Holy Family Catholic Church


Pastors of Holy Family Parish


The newly-founded monastery of New Melleray in Dubuque County attracted to the surrounding district a large immigration, notably from Ireland, during the years immediately following the arrival of the monks from Mount Melleray, Ireland, in 1849. The immigrants were the families of Peter McLaughlin, George Brown, Michael Merrigan, Patrick and James Murray, John McGrath, Peter Tench, Patrick Madigan, Patrick Walsh, Thomas Logan, Edward McDonnell, Frank Burns, Thomas Grace, Mrs. Murphy, James O�Hagen, Michael Nolan and Martin McCarthy.



These families cooperated with the monks in the speedy formation of a parish. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass was celebrated for the first time in the community within the monastery. The staunch pioneer enthusiasts were eager to extend its oblation. The poverty of the little group, however, made the erection of a church a prohibitive undertaking, but a place of worship was provided. One of the monks who had been a count before his entrance into religion, observed the need of a church for the early settlers and, appreciating their lack of means, appealed to his sister in Europe for the donation which made possible the building of a small stone church. The tiny stone edifice, built in 1850, was in the European fashion having no stationary

or pews communion railing. It was located near the monastery barn, which was destroyed by fire some years ago.


The proximity of the abbey insured for the little congregation, for that time and for the future, the pious services of the white cowled Cistercian Fathers. Prominent members of the order ministered to the parish. There is evidence, namely, through the first official record of the church, the first baptism, that Father Clement Smythe, O.C.S.O., who later became the second Bishop of Dubuque, acted for a time or for intervals at least, as a parish priest. Father Smythe administered baptism to Edmund and Jeremiah Heally on March 2, 1850. As Bishop Smythe, he confirmed a class of 37 boys and 35 girls at the �Monastery Church� on November 17, 1864. Another distinguished Trappist who was a member of the New Melleray Community whose name is appended to early baptismal records is that of Father James O�Gorman, O.C.S.O., who later became first Vicar Apostolic of Nebraska. A Father Patrick, O.C.S.O., performed the first marriage, that of Peter Tench and Mary Scallan on February 10, 1850. It is recorded that the entire congregation acted as witnesses to this marriage (testes fuere tota congregatio). The first interment was that of Michael Nolan on May 8, 1862. In addition to the above-mentioned priests, other names found among the scant recordings of those early years are: Father Francis, O.C.S.O., and Father Nicholas Scallan. Father Nicholas and his brother Father Thomas Scallan were members of the parish.



Around 1870 a second and more commodious church was erected. This was a white frame building measuring approximately 78 x 44 feet. It was located at the north end of the present cemetery property. The frame church of hallowed memory is referred to as �the little prairie church� in the Annals of the New Melleray Foundation. More popularly it was known as �The Monastery Church,� no other name having been adopted for it or the preceding structure. The geographical extent of the parish at that time was extensive. Since this church embraced one of the oldest communities in Dubuque County, it was never a part of another parish. On the contrary, it included the territory of a few adjoining districts. There has never been a mission parish.



After about 20 years, Father Bernard McCaffery, building was no longer adequate for the needs of  Father David, therefore, with the assistance of a building committee, drew up plans for the present church to be located across the road from the cemetery.  Names of those included on their committee were: Patrick Gaule, Charles O�Hagen, James O�Brien and Thomas Hart.


A unique financing system was adopted for the payment of the church. Father David, being stoutly opposed to any form of so-called �church piracy,� objected to the popular plan of raising funds by picnics and �entertainments.� On a particular occasion, he declined to accept a sum

O.C.S.O., realized that the little frame the growing congregation.


of money which had been raised by a picnic, thereby testifying to his disapproval. Further, he expressed the hope that the parish would always maintain itself without recourse to any questionable means of taking money. The plan of payment, therefore, involved no excessive burden on the parishioners, and no one outside the parish was solicited for financial aid. The tax list was secured from the County Treasurer�s office in Dubuque. Every parishioner was assessed in proportion to his tax levy. In two years, the church was entirely free from debt. Much work towards its construction had been done by the people themselves. Rock and brick were hauled by numerous teamsters. A story is told of a blessing received by the Patrick Connolly family, from which came Sister Mary Edmunda, R.S.M. The blessing was given because the head of that house �had had a team on the road every day hauling material for the new church.� The digging of the basement was likewise an all parish activity. An old photograph of this period shows a group of parish huskies assembled for the purpose of erecting a picket fence in front of the cemetery. Archbishop Hennessy laid the cornerstone of the new church and, upon its completion in April 1889, dedicated it to the Holy Family.


At the death of Father David in 1910, Father Placid Magee, O.C.S.O., was appointed pastor at Holy Family. Much was undertaken and accomplished by Father Placid Magee. The cemetery was beautifully improved by the planting of an evergreen hedge to replace an old-time fence. But especially worthy of praise in the way of exterior betterment was the landscaping efforts of Father Placid. The fragrant and artistic arrangement of shrubs and flowers of successive blooming,


enshrouded by the majestic pines, lent a charming character to the church grounds. The generous contribution to the religious life is a striking proof that there has been a vitality in faith and worship. Approximately 50 young women have entered religious communities during the history of the parish. Young men who have been distinguished by a vocation to the priesthood, in addition to those previously mentioned, are the following: Rev. Father Alberic Madigan, O.C.S.O., of the New Melleray Abbey, Rev. Father Freeman and Rev. Father Michael McCarthy. The latter was ordained in December 1884, and celebrated his First Holy Mass on December 8, 1884.  Mr. Francis Murray entered the Congregation of the Holy Cross, Notre Dame, Indiana. Mr. Thomas McGovern became Brother Stephen of the Monastery of New Melleray. These contributions to the priesthood and to the religious life

extend back into the infancy of the parish. A native son of the later period of parish development, Father John Patrick Fagan, was elevated to the sacred dignity of the priesthood on June 6, 1936.


Father Placid Magee, having taken the Holy Family Parish into the second half of the 20th century, died on February 4, 1952. Upon his death, Fr. Vincent, O.C.S.O., served in the interim and supervised the cleaning up of the church and basement. This included many truck loads deposited in Charlie McCarthy�s sinkhole. At this time the basement floor was dirt.


The parish was then put under the supervision of the Archdiocese of Dubuque and affiliated with St. Joseph�s Prairie. Fr. Richard Krapfl served from January-July 1953. In August of 1953, Fr. William Michael became pastor of Holy Family parish and stayed until October 1955. In 1954, the church was painted and a cement floor was poured in the basement.


Fr. Conrad Schallau served the parish from October 1955-August 1956. In August 1956, Fr. Robert Swift assumed pastoral duties until August 1963. Many things happened during his tenure. In 1957, the Central High School (Wahlert) fund was started. In 1960, new natural gas furnaces were installed to replace the coal burners. In 1961, the church was painted and new wiring was installed. Also in 1961, to the shock of the parish community, the church was robbed.

Fr. Duane Raftis served from 1963-1971. During this time, the church auction was initiated. In 1966, major church improvements were made, which included replacing the pews. Also in 1966, Holy Family became part of the Wahlert High School corporation.

Fr. Joseph O�Brien served the parish from September 1971-August 1972. Fr. Robert Moran assumed the duties of the parish from October 1972-July 1980. The church was painted during his stay. In 1977, a new ballpark was established on Prairie Creek Road due to the generosity of the Monastery. The new ballpark replaced the ball diamond in the cemetery. In 1978, a concession stand and pavilion were erected.

Fr. William McLaughlin served from July 1980-February 1983. During this time, the altar railings and side altars were removed. Fr. Charles Whalen replaced Fr. McLaughlin in 1983 and served until his retirement in July 1984. Monsignor William Roach assumed the duties of the parish in July 1984 until his death in a tragic car accident in April 1986. During Monsignor Roach�s tenure, the handicap ramp in front of the church was installed.

Fr. Robert Kalb served from June 1986-May 1989. In 1987, the parish began participating in the Renew program. This continued for several years. In 1988, the steeple was repaired, painted and the crucifix gilded.


Fr. Robert Levenhagen served from July 1989-July 1990. In 1989, the parish celebrated the centennial of the building of the present church. Also in 1989, with much sadness, St. Joseph�s Prairie was closed. Holy Family became affiliated with St. John the Baptist in Peosta. Fr. James McBride served only from July-November 1990, due to his health and retirement.

In 1990, Fr. Carl Manternach assumed the duties of the parish and stayed until 1999. In 1990, the cemetery was repaired and renovated. In 1995, the interior of the church was completely renovated with generous contributions of the Holy Family parishioners. The interior was painted, new carpet was laid, all woodwork and pews restored and a new altar table was added. In 1998, air conditioning and new gas furnaces were installed.


The present pastor is Fr. Richard Kuhn. He became the pastor for Holy Family in July 1999. Fr. Kuhn guided the Holy Family community into the new millennium as we celebrate together.


~ Holy Family Church history and photos submitted by Dubuque County IAGenWeb Volunteers, Dec. 2010