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History - St. Mary's Parish



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    I wrote the following short history of my Catholic parish for our Diocesan weekly newspaper, The Globe. The piece shows my ability to condense extensive subject matter into concise and readable form.

    St. Mary's Parish of Remsen has Luxembourger Roots
    By Rick Roder

    The settlement of Catholics in the area of Remsen took place during the great era of immigration in America during the last quarter of the nineteenth century. Specifically, St. Mary's Parish took its character largely from the contingent of immigrants from the small European country of Luxembourg, and other Germanic immigrants.

    A German priest, Father Herman Meis, arrived as the first resident pastor at St. Joseph Parish of Le Mars in 1875. Father Meis orchestrated the expansion of the Church along the railroad lines between Le Mars and Storm Lake. Father Meis served the first Catholics of the Remsen area from the time of their arrival, and oversaw the building of their first church in 1882.

    The first St. Mary's Church in Remsen was, like almost all of the first churches in northwest Iowa, a modest wooden structure. On June 13, 1885, the first resident pastor was due to arrive when a severe storm moved through Plymouth and Cherokee counties, destroying three Catholic churches, and damaging two others. St. Mary's Church was a total loss. When Father Frank Schulte arrived to take up his duties, the people were already busy building the second church.

    Father Schulte started the first Catholic school in Remsen before the town was incorporated. The first teacher was a layman, Herman Anthe. In 1888 the first school building was erected and, soon after, the Franciscan sisters of Dubuque arrived to teach. A large part of their work was enculturation of the children; thus, German was spoken in the mornings and English in the afternoons. By the turn of the century, St. Mary's Parish had grown considerably, and included over 200 families

    St. Mary's Parish came of age about the same time that the Diocese of Sioux City was erected from within the Archdiocese of Dubuque in 1902. In that year, the school began to take its modern form when Sister Petronilla Wieneke began to incorporate high school classes. On April 21, 1903, Bishop Philip Garrigan presided at the laying of the cornerstone of the new St. Mary's Church. The architect was Guido Beck of Dubuque. The magnificent building, one of the finest churches in Iowa, was dedicated on September 9, 1904, the day after the Cathedral of the Epiphany was dedicated in Sioux City. St. Mary's Church was built for under $60,000. A tubular pneumatic organ, built by William Schuelke of Milwaukee and the first of its kind built in the state of Iowa, was transferred from the old church.

    A new school building was erected on the church block in 1910. The beauty of the church grounds was enhanced in 1916 when a grotto was built in thanksgiving to Mary, Our Lady of Lourdes, after the miraculous healing of parishioner Helen Ahmann during a pilgrimage to France. The modern rectory was built in 1936.

    A substantial brick convent was erected in 1924, replacing the original, built in 1896. As many as 24 Franciscan sisters served in St. Mary's parish and schools at one time. The number of students, including boarders, steadily increased over the years. By the 1950's, the school had overflowed into the upper floor of the convent. Beginning in 1952, during the years of parochial high school consolidation in the diocese, the present St. Mary's High School was built. Due to the dedication and work of the Franciscans, the priests, and parishioners, St. Mary's is one of only four of the original parish-based Catholic high schools to survive to the present-day in the diocese. The school system includes St. Catherine's School of Oyens.

    St. Mary's Parish has yielded 53 religious vocations; 15 priests and 38 sisters.

    Richard J. Roder



Copyright © 2002, Richard J. Roder. All rights reserved.

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