Sacred Heart Catholic Church - Cox Creek
by Mary Grace Opitz
Sacred Heart Catholic Church at Cox Creek was located five miles north of Strawberry Point in a beautiful valley along present Highway #13. It was built in 1873 at a cost of $2.000 paid for by parishioners. It was built on an acre of land donated by Michael and Anna Carr to Archbishop John Hennessey of Dubuque. The Carr's lived across the road where Alan Kirby now lives, also known as the Joe McTaggart farm. Father Michael Quirk of the Elkport parish was the organizer and priest. Before the church was built the area was served by pioneer missionary priests from Elkport, Holy Cross and Dubuque who said Mass in private homes, some of them being the home of Bartholomew Dillon, James Ivory and Michael O'Brien on an occasional basis. Every year after the church was built the Elkport priest came up every third Sunday, going to Greeley one Sunday also. It was dedicated on June 16, 1876.
In 1859 two acres of land located near-by was purchased from William and Sarah Johnson by Bishop Clement Smith of Dubuque for $50 to be used as a cemetery. Michael Carr was the first person buried there in April 1875. The cemetery is well cared for and perpetual care is provided for the future.
In 1879 St. Mary's Catholic Church in Strawberry Point was built and the Cox Creek Church became an out mission of it for over half a century.
Custodians of the Cox Creek Church during its 73 years of existence were Michael McTaggart and later his son Joe both of whom lived across the road on Joe's grandfather Michael Carr's farm.
Minutes before Mass was to begin on Sunday Feb. 10, 1946 someone saw flames coming up through the register from the furnace. Before firemen could arrive the fire had spread considerably and the entire structure was burned to the ground in a short time. The parishioners then transferred to St. Mary's Catholic Church in Strawberry Point.
The priests who served Sacred Heart Church from 1873 to 1946 were the Rev. Father's Michael Quirk 1870-1875, B. W. Coyle 1876, John Hackett 1876-1881, Thomas Rowe 1881-1904, John Hartigan 1904-1914, B. E. Erdland 1914, Patrick Reynolds 1914, Valentine Casey 1915-1925, John R. Bowen 1925-1932, Patrick Boyle 1933-1945, and John Fagan 1945-1949.
Some names of long time parish member were O'Brien, McTaggart, Olinger, Farmer, Kenneally, Davis, Dillon, Thyne, Henry, Berns, C. Dittmer, Ivory, Connelly, Glennon, Riley, Hanson, Morris, Tinker, Byrnes, Moyna, McDermott, DeWitte, Carnicle, Mullen, Quinn, and Markham.
The Cox Creek Sacred Heart Catholic Church burned to the ground on Sunday, February 10, 1946. I was six years old. I remember seeing the flames and smoke from our farm about a mile west of the church. The photos have been in the family for years, however I don't know who took them.
Several years ago I was given a single spaced thirty-four page document written by my father's Aunt Margaret Mary Ivory Henry. This wonderful treasure of a document (I call it "Aunt Maggie Recalls") was written my Aunt Maggie later in her life and it was intended for her sons and daughters, so they would be more able to understand her life in pioneer times in Clayton County. I knew this wonderful bright and witty woman in her later years and in my younger years. Aunt Maggie was born in 1869, the same year as my grandfather Michael F. O'Brien and my grandmother Catherine Luella Henry O'Brien.
In this document Aunt Maggie had a few passages about the Sacred Heart Catholic Church:
"The Catholics had long wished for a church. They must drive in their wagon ten miles to Elkader, though priests sometimes came and had Mass in the homes. I remember Mass being celebrated in our own homes. So in 1873 a church was built at what I might call the crossroads near the Carr home, Michael Carr giving the piece of land for its location. I was but four years old so I don't remember the building. Alex Henry, later my father-in-law, assisted by his eldest son Michael then 18, built the foundation. On the steeple was a ball surmounted by a cross. Before they put up the ball, they wished to have to writings and newspapers put in. John Henry [John Henry was to become Aunt Maggie's husband] tells of being sent to the Carr home nearby for some writing. His grandfather gave it to him and the ball was sealed. Years later when the church was changed, the steeple was taken down and the ball opened. But some boys had shot holes in it and the writing was faded and could not be deciphered. Father Quirk was the first pastor. He also had charge of the parishes of Colesburg and Littleport. My sister Maria was the first to be baptized in the church. That was December 8th. This might have been the first time Mass was said there. The first Marriage was that of ______. The first funeral was that of Michael Carr who died in April 1875, and the first to be buried in the new cemetery some distance north. The land for the cemetery was donated by Michael O'Brien.* "
*submitters note: I have always told family and friends that my great great grandfather Michael Carr donated the 2 acres of land for the Sacred Heart Cemetery. Mary Grace O'Brien Opitz's document on the cemetery said that it was purchased from William and Sarah Johnston by Bishop Clement Smith of Dubuque for $50 to be used as a cemetery.
I might add that that parcel of land is surrounded on three sides by Michael Carr land, or at least it was part of the Joe McTaggart farm and now the Kirby family owns the surrounding land. Before my time there was a road that went by the cemetery and on down across the creek and them up through the Olinger farm. Part of the Michael O'Brien farm, The O'Brien Century Farm, is across what is now a dead end road from the cemetery. That road used to continue up through the Olinger land and then by Austin Thyne's (dad's cousin/uncle) farm and came out on the old 112 (we called it one hundred and twelve or the Black Top). 112 ran from Volga to Highway 13 and it had been renamed.
I do not know when Mary Grace O'Brien Opitz compiled the information in her manuscript. A copy of it had been in my possession for several years, perhaps fifteen. Mary Grace grew up in Cox Creek on the O'Brien Century Farm down in the valley about a mile from the Sacred Heart Church. She was my father's double first cousin. Parish brothers Michael F. O'Brien and John J. O'Brien married parish sisters Catherine Henry and Rose Henry.
I was born on May 3, 1939 on the Marcus O'Brien farm a mile west of the church on what was then a dirt road and was almost seven years old when the Sacred Heart Catholic Church burned to the ground. I remember this happening and in later years finding pieces of broken stained glass at the site. Michael Carr, who donated the land for the Sacred Heart Church, was my great great grandfather.
When I was a teenager I was the caretaker for the Sacred Heart Cemetery. I last visited the cemetery on 24 February 2000. That was the day after my mother's funeral and I was taking my 25 year old son, Sean Michael, on a tour of the 'Valley of His Ancestors', Cox Creek. We spied a bald eagle flying up the creek near the cemetery, the first I had ever seen in the area. I believe that well over half of those interred in the cemetery are my relatives. On this visit I was happy to see that the area between the upper level and lower level is still being mowed. I was the first to mow this area on a regular basis with a push mower. Before that it was cut once a summer with a horse mower.
I also pointed out to Sean the farm where his great great great grandparents Anna and Michael Carr lived, the farm where his great great great grandfather Daniel Ivory lived, the farm where his great great grandparents Anna Maria and Alexander Henry lived, the farm where his great great grandparents Michael and Margaret O'Brien lived, as well as the farm of his great grandparents Catherine and Michael Francis O'Brien lived and where his grandfather Marcus O'Brien and I, Michael Francis O'Brien, were born in the old farm house.
The irony here is that today I received word via e-mail in my home that Mary Grace O'Brien Opitz had passed away in Strawberry Point, Iowa (April 2000)
- Source of history: undated manuscript by Mary Grace Opitz
- Source of photos: submitters private collection
- Contributed by Michael F. O'Brien
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