IAGenWeb Project - Allamakee co. Church records
updated October 29, 2012

St. Mary's Catholic Church

St Mary's Catholic Church, Lycurgus - photo contributed by Dale Wagoner

~Contributed by Greg Bonfiglio, August 2011: St. Mary's, Lycurgus, is now a closed parish. The sacramental records are located at St. Patrick parish in Waukon.


Lycurgus St. Mary's - Spartan Lawgiver's Name Perpetuated by Group of Irish People
by Florence L. Clark

In ancient Greece a temple was erected in Sparta to that city's famous son, Lycurgus.  Now a church dominating the prairie landscape in Allamakee county perpetuates the Spartan lawgiver's name.  Just why a settlement of sons and daughters of Ireland on the Iowa frontier happened to choose the name Lycurgus, seems to be a question no one can answer. 

The first settler was a Mexican war veteran who took up land in 1851. By the middle 1860's settlement had progressed to a point, where a hotel and store did business in the area and stages left mail at the store, addressed "Lycurgus."   It was a short-lived village, however.  For many decades now, all of Lycurgus has been the church, with its cemetery, rectory, and parish hall on a four-acre church plot in the midst of one of the richest farming sections of northeast Iowa.

Officially the church is "St. Mary's", but in common parlance it is the Lycurgus church.  The building is a handsome structure, designed by the same architect and similar in style to St. Patrick's church at Waukon. 

The church body owes its origin in the early 1850's to visits of the Rev. Thomas Hore, a priest who in 1848 brought a colony from Wexford, Ireland, to found a New World Wexford in Allamakee county.  He built the first Catholic church west of the Mississippi river in the north. Father Hore came to Lycurgus a number of times to say mass in the homes of the settlers. 

In 1859 and 1860 a stone church was built, members of the congregation quarrying and laying the rock, oneof the group hauling the stone from quarry to building site on a primitive "stone boat" with disk wheels cut from a large oak.

By 1913 attendance at the Lycurgus church had become so large that the stone building was too small to meet the needs of the parish, and the present church was erected.  The pastor at the time was the Rev. P.J. McNamara, who was to continue on as pastor at Lycurgus until his death in 1936.  His grave in the church cemetery is a hallowed shrine.

The present pastor at Lycurgus is the young Rev. Francis Bradshaw.  The 50 families in the church body are nearly 100 percent of Irish descent.

~Cedar Rapids Gazette, February 18, 1950
~contributed by S. Ferrall


Laying of the St Mary's Lycurgus cornerstone, 1913
The blessing of the cornerstone. St. Mary's Lycurgus, ca1913.

This photo is of the blessing/laying of the cornerstone of St. Mary's Lycurgus.  It's not terribly clear, but it's a decent photo, and appears to be a photo of a photo.  The Whalens of French Creek township attended St. Mary's and the door-frame to the left of the cornerstone is where it is on the present Church.  So I presume this would be from about 1912-1913. 

~contributed by Matthew Whalen from his personal photo collection. Researchers wanting to contact Matthew can find his email address on his personal website or his email address can be found on the surname registry for Whalen.

close-up of the cornerstone


Father James Whalen & church group ca early 1920's

L-R: William Donald McLaughlin, Irene A'Hearn, Grace Quillin, Helen Steinhart, Fr. James Whalen, Berniece McLaughlin, Dorothy Marie McLaughlin, Pearl McGraw, Agnes Devitt, Stacia O'Malley, Unknown, Mary Collins, Frank Gavin with hands on his son Harold Gavin, and Jimmy Ronan.

This photo was originally in the possession of Mildred Burke Hall. The Burkes were from Hanover in Allamakee. My grandfather William Whalen's brother, James Leo Whalen, is the priest in the picture and he was assigned to St. Mary's in Dorchester.

I am not sure if the photo is at St. Mary's Hanover or St. Mary's Dorchester, or perhaps St. Mary's Lycurgus. Fr. Whalen was from French Creek Township & died in 1929. Frank Gavin, who is on the right, died in 1927. The boy Harold Gavin was born in 1916, according to census records and died at 21 in 1937. Dorothy Marie McLaughlin died July 2, 1924. So the date of the photo is probably from the early 1920's and no later than July 2, 1924.

This photo made it's way to one of the Devitt sisters who lived in Chicago...she identified her sister and the other people as well. There is one who remains unidentified.

If anyone knows who the unidentifed person is, please contact me. Also, if there are any misidentifications, I would appreciate hearing about them.

~original photo from the contributors personal collection
~contributed by Matthew Whalen. His email address can be found on the surname registry for Whalen.

(Note: this photo has been included on the St. Mary Dorchester & St. Mary Hanover pages also - anyone knowing at which church the photo was taken, please notify Matthew or the Allamakee co. coordinator referencing this page.)


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