Early History of St. Joseph's Parish 

John Lucey, a son of Jeremiah Lucey, wrote an early history of St. Joseph's parish in De Witt for a small news flyer for a fund drive to build a new school for the parish. John sent it to his niece Mary (Shannon) McDermott in 1900. This history was later reprinted in "Campaign News", a Clinton Co. newspaper Oct. 3, 1954. I (Dennis Nicklaus) also received a summary of this article written by Eleanor (Farrell) O'Connell. A few lines of the reprint were cut off on my copy but were in Eleanor's summary. I have noted this. My notes are in braces [notes]. A few words were unreadable on my copy, and they are replaced by _____.

Transcribed in 1999 by Dennis Nicklaus. dnicklaus@yahoo.com

In the early part of the spring of 1850, Paul Edward Gillen, a highly educated Irishman left his winter quarters at Notre Dame, Indiana to renew his occupation of soliciting young men as scholars to attend College, also young ladies to attend the Young Ladies Seminary near there. He was also Western Traveling Agent for the Boston Pilot for all the territory west of Ohio. He had a pair of horses that he called Bony and Royal Charlie. The next year he traded Charlie to John Hamilton west of Lyons for a mare that he called Grannale.

He had a light spring wagon loaded with a full line of religious and story books published by Patrick Donahue of the Boston Pilot. Early in May, 1850 he came to Dubuque, Iowa and from there he started his course for Davenport. He made it a point to visit all Catholic families that he could hear tell of, which often took him far off his course. He frequently wrote very interesting letters to the Boston Pilot describing the country he traveled through.

Early in June 1850, he arrived in Clinton County and the first Catholics he found were Thomas Reed and Patrick Lawler who lived together on what is now Old Hickory (looks like Vickory) Farm. [There is a handwritten note in the margin reading "John was right it is Vickory."] They showed him over the wild prairie. He then called on the Catholic tributary to De Witt. After looking over the country he wrote a letter to the Boston Pilot describing it in glowing terms and advising the Catholics to leave the small worn-out Eastern farms and the crowded cities and come to Clinton, Iowa. This letter was the cause of increasing the first Catholic settlement around De Witt. William Horan came to De Witt in 1843 and brought lots situated in the northwest corner of the block south of the Public Square. Mr. Horan built a log house on the same. It stood north and south about 30 feet from the street about equal distance between North Lane and South Lane of the land which was enclosed by a board fence. The only door I remember was on the west side about the center. The house was about 16x20 one story with joists across to hold the upper floor which was rough boards laid in place without nailing. After living in the house a few years he entered some land on the prairie near the northwest part of Round(?) Grove and was renting the House in De Witt.

In July, Jeremiah Lucey (my father) came from Freeport, Illinois. About two weeks later John Black came from Mobile and brought his family to live permanently in March 1852. About the first of September 1850, Thomas Reed wrote to Bishop Loras (The first Bishop of Iowa) requesting him to come and see the people in regard to sending them a Priest occasionally when he could spare one. In reply the Bishop named a date in September when he would come.

The people met him in De Witt. Mr. Horan gave them the use of his log house. The Bishop celebrated Mass, perhaps the first was celebrated in the country. The Bishop told them he would send them a Priest about 4 times a year. And all it cost was his fare on the Stage which was $8. The Bishop had ___ a few priests in the Diocese and he kept them __ the M___ most of the time. During September, Patrick Pendergast and family came to De Witt also Michael Desmond and Cornelius Boyle, John Francis Brogans, also Michael McLaughlin came. Most of the newcomers told of others that intended to come and the ____ ___ church though small as it might be. They finally priced Mr. Hogan's property, sent for the Bishop he came in November, purchased the property (and I believe dedicated it,) and celebrated first Mass in a Catholic Church in Clinton County, Iowa. As the building had been rented for a few years and had poor care and needed repairs before winter.

The wind was coming in through the side walls, and in at door, down through the shingles and up through the floor. The congregation on that day agreed to meet in a few days, and bank up the house, plaster the cracks between the logs and remove the board partition. On a bright warm November morning the following persons met at the church. William Horan, Malachi Galvny, Thomas Reed, Patrick Lawler,
Jeremiah Lucey, Michael McLaughlin, Patrick Pendergast, Thomas Pendergast, Michael Desmond, Cornelius Boyle, John and Francis Brogan. [There is a photo here with the caption "Rev. J.P. Maher."] Mr. Boyle being a carriage and wagon maker, built a rude table for an altar, and then made a good plain cross, which was raised and ____ ____ place and ____ five or six feet high above the roof. John Brogan and Thomas Pendergast are the only living of that 12 now.

[Photo of a building with the caption, "Early School In St. Joseph's Parish, This School Year 1889 And Was Destroyed By Fire In The1920s"]

The first children baptized in the Church was on that Sunday in November at the time they purchased the Church. Their names were Margaret Hamilton (now Mrs. Grace living in Des Moines, Iowa) and Hugh Winters, -- Julia Lucey Shannon being one of sponsors for Winters.

The first priest that celebrated Mass in the Church was Father McAvoy about the latter part of February, 1851.

I don't think any priest came until November as the summer months were very rainy and the roads were almost impassible, the mail being carried on horseback part of the time and the balance of the time on the hind wheels of the stage they used for a cart, and could only carry one passenger.

The first marriage was in September when Thomas Reed and Mary Flannery were married. They went by stage coach to Dubuque and were married by Bishop Loras.

The first wedding in DeWitt Church was Patrick Burke and Mary Pendergast in June, 1852. In November [lines cut off].

In June, 1853, the congregation had increased so the church would not hold them. Then they sold the church property in June to Mr. Schooley, and old neighbor of my father, from Michigan, and in the fall of 1854, Mr. Schooley sold it to someone else and went away. The congregation then purchased the site for a new church on the north-east corner of the second block west of the old church. The began to build a new church immediately, and had it enclosed before
winter, but did not have it plastered until fall of 1855.

In the spring of 1854, the first Mass was celebrated in the new church... In September, 1854, Bishop Loras paid his last visit. In July, 1857, Father McDermott came to DeWitt.

I was in the first confirmation class ever in De Witt, October 1859, the Bishop being Bishop Smith.

[The above paragraph was filled in by Eleanor Farrell O'Connell's summary of the article. It was cut off on my copy.]

Early in 1853, the non-Catholics presented the congregation with two acres for a cemetery. Previous to this July 1852 two children of David Powers, were buried about one mile north of Silver Creek bridge on the west side. Two or three years later they were removed to the cemetery. In November, 1853, the first person buried in the cemetery was a young man named Jeremiah Garrigan. He died on the old Calico Railroad, north of Elvira.

[The original author, John Lucey included the following additional information in a note added to the original manuscript and sent to John's niece, Mary (Shannon) McDermott (also reprinted in the same paper):]

Sutherland, Nebraska
December 17, 1910

Dear Niece,

After a long delay I now send you a short sketch of the history you requested. Although 60 years a long time the circumstances and dates I have given I am positive are correct. It was my father's --- for a time to help raise a log church on the grounds near where the College of Notre Dame, Indiana, was soon after built. We lived in Mishawaka but attended church at Notre Dame, it being the first built in St. Joseph's County, Indiana, the date being 1842. Then again in 1860 he helped build the first church in Boone County, Iowa.

[According to his obituaries, Jeremiah moved to Boone County in 1865.]

[Note by D. Nicklaus, 1999: The farm referred to as Old Vickory or Hickory above is probably the land referred to in the following land transaction, Found in the Clinton Co., Iowa General index to deeds, Volume 2 1852--1854: Justus Vickeroy to Thomas Reed March 16, 1853 Mortgage book A Page 374 SE NW Sec 2 twp 81 rng 3 W 1/2 SW & SW NW & NE SW & NW SE Sec 36 Twp 82 Rng 3 SW NE & SE NW Sec 36 Twp 82 Rng 3]