Catholic Churches

The first Catholic church in Clinton county was erected in 1850, in the town of DeWitt. When so erected, there were only about three hundred of the Catholic faith residing in the county. Today this denomination is one of the strongest, if not the strongest, in the county, and its power and influence for good is known throughout the entire state. The early priests endured great privation and many hardships in administering to the members of that faith. They trudged along on foot, through forests and swamps, or rode on horseback, facing in the winter the blizzards, known only to those early days, and the extreme heat of summer. All of this that they may minister to the sick and dying, and bring comfort and consolidation to the living. This they did without hope of reward, other than such as was conferred upon them by the Good Shepherd, when they passed to the other shore.

As early as 1846, Father Travis, a French missionary priest, celebrated mass in Clinton county. He afterwards was vicar-general of the Davenport diocese. In 1847, Father Patrick McGinnis, a missionary among the Indians, and who traveled over and read mass in all parts of the state of Iowa, read mass in Clinton county. He died at Clinton, November 14, 1893, and is buried in St. Mary's cemetery.

In 1850 Father Kelly, from Pennsylvania, read mass at a private house in DeWitt, and in 1851, in Camanche, Father Clement Smyth read mass at the house of Thomas Hudson; he was afterwards bishop of Dubuque. In that same year Father Jean celebrated mass in the houses of James Conlin and Michael Daly in Lyons.

St. Irenaeus Parish 

(Pictures were sent by Mike Kearney.  See also, the History of St. Irenaeus)

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St. Irenaeus interior There are five Catholic churches in the city of Clinton, the oldest being St. Irenaeus, which was established by Bishop Loras in 1852, and its first pastor was the Rev. Frederick Cyrillus Jean, a native of France, who before that time had been stationed at Bellevue, in Jackson county, and occasionally visited and read mass in Clinton county.

In 1852, he built a brick edifice, costing about fifteen hundred dollars, much of the labor having been performed by members of the parish without charge. Prominent among the Catholics of Lyons were, Michael Daly, James Conlin, Herman Kahle, Martin and Patrick Daly, Henry Manneman, James Owens, Clemens Detterman, Benedict Detterman, Bernard McLaughlin, James Hand, James Doherty, Edward Babbington, Michael Linch and Patrick Hannaher.

St. Irenaeus, before-after In 1852, there removed from Camanche and became residents of the North End, Thomas Hudson, Patrick and Michael Rowan. In the fifties, Edward Gillon donated forty acres of land, four miles west of Lyons, to be used as a burying ground, and is known as Mill Creek cemetery.

In 1856 Father Jean built a new church on the same block on which the present building is situated. It was a large frame building. Not many years lapsed before a larger church had to be provided. In 1864, Bishop Smyth laid the corner stone of the present beautiful edifice. It cost at the time of its construction about forty-five thousand dollars, and seats from eight hundred to one thousand persons. It was built from limestone taken from quarries near the city. There is erected in conjunction with the church a parochial school, that is in charge of the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The school cost approximately, four thousand dollars, and is in a flourishing condition.

Father Jean was born at Bayns, France, 1827, and died in the city of Clinton, April 12, 1890, and is buried in St. Boniface cemetery. The various priests of this church have been, Fathers Jean, Spellisy, Mackey, Lynch, Dunn, Corbett, Leahy, Murray and the present pastor, the Rev. James Comerford. The church property is of the value of seventy-five thousand dollars.

St. Boniface

The church, rectory and what is left of the school.

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The parish of St. Boniface was founded in 1861. The services in the church are conducted generally in the German language. Previous to that date, the Germans had affiliated with St. Irenaeus parish. In that year they purchased a building that had been formerly used by the Presbyterians as a church edifice and reconstructed it, and had it consecrated as a Catholic church. The first pastor was Father Meis. He remained until he was succeeded by Father Feindrich, who was succeeded by Father Heinbucher, who was succeeded by Father Weiland, who was superseded in 1875 by Father Kempher. The latter was a very scholarly gentleman, who undertook to write the history of the Catholic churches in Iowa, having written a number of chapters, but never completing the same. He was succeeded by Father Bassler. In 1878 Father Inehrsmann became pastor, and during his pastorate the present parochial school was built. He was succeeded by Fathers Schulte, Kurtz, Albers, Boeding, Gehling, and in 1901 came Father Tritz, the present pastor. To this parish belongs the honor of building the first parochial school in Clinton county. This school was erected in 1864. In 1878 the present school was constructed, at a cost of two thousand dollars. This school was erected by Herman Kahle. He also deeded to Bishop Hennessy, his successor, in trust, one hundred and forty-two acres of land and directed that, "The income and revenue from said land to be expended annually for the benefit of the German Catholics, St. Boniface church in Lyons, Iowa, and for the parochial school connected with said church."

He also presented to St. Irenaeus the large round window in the east end of the St. Irenaeus church. The property of St. Boniface is worth forty thousand dollars.

St. Boniface Newspaper article from 1908

St. Mary's

The first pastor in St. Mary's parish was the Rev. P.V. McLaughlin. In 1865 or '66, there was erected by Father Jean a small frame church on the corner of Sixth avenue and Fourth street, the present site of the Clinton high school. This church during the pastorage of Father P.V. McLaughlin was enlarged to a seating capacity of about one thousand people. The location not being satisfactory, the beautiful and commanding site on Ninth avenue and Fifth street, where St. Mary's church now stands, was acquired by Father P.V. McLaughlin.

Father McLaughlin died January 16, 1879, and was buried under the altar of the church that he had reconstructed. He was succeeded immediately by the present pastor, the Rev. E.J. McLaughlin, who in 1884 commenced the construction of the present St. Mary's. which church is seventy-eight feet wide and one hundred and sixty-seven feet deep. It is one of the finest churches of any denomination in the state of Iowa. In connection with the church there was established, in the seventies, a parochial school; this afterwards was enlarged in 1880, being partially destroyed by fire in 1906. In the same year the construction of the new parochial school was commenced. It was occupied for the first time in January 1908. The parochial school of St. Mary's is one of the finest buildings in the state, and was erected at a cost of about thirty-six thousand dollars. In addition to the erection of the church and school in 1896-7, the new rectory was erected.

Father E.J. McLaughlin is a native of Dubuque, and thirty-two years of his life have been spent in Clinton, in work for the parish of St. Mary's. Here he has built up a character known and appreciated throughout all of Iowa, for he is recognized in all parts of the state as one of the strongest men in the church. The value of St. Mary's church property it two hundred and fifty thousand dollars.

St. Patrick's Parish

Church and rectory

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In the years 1889, Archbishop Hennessy conceived the idea that the parish of St. Mary's was too large, and sent the vicar-general, the Rev. Father Ryan, to consult with Father McLaughlin as to the division of the parish, at which meeting the parish of St. Patrick's was brought into existence, and its lines fixed as the middle of Fourth avenue and the boundary line which at that time separated the city of Clinton from that of Lyons, and on Sunday, December 1, 1889, Father Murray met, for the first time, the parishioners of St. Patrick's parish. The meeting was held in the basement of St. Mary's church. The first mass celebrated in the new parish was January 19, 1890. The new edifice which had been erected was dedicated in the following March, the grounds and building costing about eighteen thousand dollars. In 1905, St. Patrick's parish erected a new church and rectory at a cost of about forty thousand dollars. The edifice is sixty-six feet in width, by one hundred and twenty-six feet in depth, and is built of pressed brick trimmed with red Bedford limestone. The first mass was celebrated in the new church on Christmas morning, 1905.

In addition to the church, there was a beautiful rectory erected at the same time, and there is also a parochial school connected with the parish that is conducted by the Sisters of St. Francis from Mt. St. Clare, and also a parish hall, St. James', that was erected by Father Matthew's Total Abstainence Society in 1904. In the twenty-one years of its existence, St. Patrick's parish has expanded in church, rectory, school and hall about fifty thousand dollars, and during all this time it has been under the guiding hand of Rev. J.A. Murray, who has carried on this work, memorializing himself as he could not be any marble shaft that may be placed over his grave at his decease. His friends include all who know him.

Sacred Heart Parish

This parish was established by the bishop in 1891, although some years prior to that date the present edifice was acquired. The members of this parish are principally Germans. The building used as a church was erected by a non-Catholic denomination, and was used by many different sects. At one time it was used by the A.P.A.'s, a peculiar anti-Catholic society. The property was mortgaged and the mortgage was foreclosed, and the building and lots, when sold, were purchased by the German Catholics of the city of Clinton, and the parish formed and dedicated to the Sacred Heart. It was first established as an outline missionary for St. Boniface, but in 1900 the dwelling house adjoining the church was purchased and converted into a rectory. The church is situated on the corner of Fourth avenue and Fourth street. In connection with the parish, there is a parochial school that was erected in 1903, which is in charge of the Sisters of St. Francis of Mt. St. Clare. This property is worth thirty-five thousand dollars. In 1903 Father Trumm took charge as resident pastor, and in 1904 he was succeeded by Father Brinkmann, the present pastor.

St. Joseph's Parish, DeWitt

In DeWitt was constructed the first Catholic church in the county of Clinton. It was a small log building and was erected on Jefferson street, about where the Stephen block is now located. It was constructed in 1850 or '51, but at the time of its construction there was no resident priest located in said parish.

In the vicinity of DeWitt in 1836, claims had been taken up by Catholic people, and the first mass was celebrated, so far as known, in 1850 by Father Kelly. There is little doubt but that prior to that time mass had also been celebrated by the Indian missionary, Father McGinnis. The old log church was superseded in 1852 by a more pretentious building that cost about one thousand dollars, the lumber for the building of which was hauled by team from Davenport. From this humble building has grown the St. Joseph's parish of today, which is one of the strongest in the country of Clinton.

For a time Father McKenna had charge of DeWitt, as he had practically charge of all the county, outside of the pastorship of Father Jean in Lyons. After Father McKenna, came Fathers McDermott, O'Beirne, and James W Scallon, who had charge of DeWitt, Center Grove, Deep Creek, Toronto and Big Rock for a number of years.

Father Scallon was succeeded by Fathers Farrell, Brady and McCormick. In 1879 the church was burned, and for a time mass was celebrated in the old abandoned court house. The present church was erected in 1880, at a cost of about thirty thousand dollars, and from the time of its construction until his death, in 1904, the pastor was Father P.J. Maher. He was a man respected and loved by all the citizens of DeWitt, and his death was mourned by Catholics and Protestants alike, so that on the day of his funeral all business houses in the town of DeWitt were closed. Connected with this church is a convent and parochial school conducted by the Sisters of Mercy. The school was erected in 1890, at a cost of twelve thousand dollars. Upon the death of Father P.J. Maher, Father Nelson, the present pastor of the church, succeeded him. Father Nelson is a native of Iowa, being born in Jackson county.


Wolfe's History of Clinton County 1911, Volume I p. 158-163

(Transcribed and submitted by Mike Kearney)