Crawford County, Iowa, IAGenWeb

Church Histories

St. Mary's Catholic Church

Dow City, Iowa

1947-1994 History

An account of St. Mary's Catholic Church in Dow City

One of the newer parishes within the diocese of Sioux City, Iowa, is that of St. Mary's Catholic Church in Dow City. Until 1947, any Catholics residing in the Dow City area were obliged to meet their religious obligations at the existing parishes located in the nearby towns of Denison, Dunlap, or Buck Grove. Even though the community of Buck Grove was not far away and had had a church since 1888, the people of Dow City felt the need for a parish they could call their own.

In 1947, Father J.J. Hyland was serving as the pastor of Sacred Heart parish in Manilla, Iowa, as well as being pastor at the mission church in Buck Grove. Father Hyland was approached by some of the Dow City parishioners as to the possibility of establishing a church there. A census was taken, and it was discovered that there were enough Catholics to form and support a parish in Dow City.

Thus, on March 17, 1947, the first Mass was celebrated by Father Hyland, who had provided much foresight, initiative and leadership. This first Mass was not held in a church, but in the Dow City Town Hall. Improvised altar arrangements and a makeshift confessional were provided each Sunday by one of the parish families--the Putnam family. Even though there was only limited space in the town hall, the congregation crowded into the room with standing room only.

Within a short time of this first Mass, the congregation met to discuss the possibility of establishing a parish in Dow City. Congregation members Mrs. Frieda Muff and her daughter and son-in-law, Mr. and Mrs. Ray Putnam, had purchased a large vacant lot on the south side of Highway 30. This suitable location for a church was donated to the future parish by Mrs. Muff and Mr. and Mrs. Putnam. The lot had enough room for a church and for any future budding projects.

During this time, it was known that J. Leo Ahart had developed a homemade machine used for erecting reinforced concrete walls without the conventional framework. This machine had been successfully used on a farm building, so when Mr. Ahart offered the use of his machine, the congregation voted unanimously to go ahead with the project. Ground was broken the very next day after the vote by volunteer labor. Plans called for a 35-by-70-foot basement structure, with additions for a front entrance and a base for future use in a superstructure. Mr. Ahart supervised the construction.

To keep costs at a minimum, men of the parish donated as much time as possible when lulls in the farm work allowed it. To keep the project moving on schedule, three men were hired full time. Other parishioners donated their time in providing lunch for the workers during the day. On August 15, 1947, Mass was celebrated for the first time in the new church basement. As chosen by Father Hyland, the church was named "St. Mary's".

The reinforced concrete walls and tile beam masonry flat roof were designed to be fireproof and adequate enough to support the eventual superstructure that hopefully would be built in the future, but at the present time was postponed indefinitely.

In October of 1952, during the tenure of Father John Doherty, a drive was launched to enable a good start in the construction of the church. A building committee, including Matt Gehl, Ray Putnam, Sam Brasel, Q.E. Goeser, LaVerne Leinen, J. Leo Ahart, Joe Muff, Robert Sullivan, Gilbert Zeiman, and John Conway, was elected by the parish community. Very generous help came from a number of sources. Several parishioners pledged $1,000 each to be paid over a period of three years.

The Denison Council of the Knights of Columbus had made a substantial donation during the construction of the parish basement. Upon recognizing the need for financial help, Bishop Joseph M. Mueller verified his interest in getting St. Mary's "above ground" by donating $5,000 toward the cost of the superstructure. Bishop Mueller was also instrumental in getting an allotment for the same amount from the Catholic Church Extension Society of America, a Chicago-based organization which exists solely to financially aid small and beginning parishes.

Father Hyland had served St. Mary's from its beginning until April 1949, as a mission from Manilla. Father Hyland was assisted by Father George O'Brine and later by Father Cletus Keleher until April 28, 1949, when St. Mary's became an independent parish. At this time, St. Joseph's Church in Buck Grove was transferred as a mission to St. Mary's from the parish in Manilla. Father J.C. Doherty was appointed as the pastor for St. Mary's as well as for its mission in Buck Grove. At this time, the George Keairnes residence was purchased by the parish to be used for a rectory.

It was during Father Doherty's tenure at St. Mary's that the superstructure was built, and it was completed on March 17, 1953. The nave covers the original basement. An addition to the original basement at the west end provides room for a kitchen and utility room and also supports the sanctuary, sacristy, and choir spaces.

In 1963, a new rectory was built connecting it to the church. Both buildings are built with matching brick walls and asbestos roofs and together present a frontage which is strikingly noticeable to travelers along Highway 30. Both the church and rectory are fully equipped. The church and basement have recently been improved by enlarging the kitchen and relocating one restroom. An electric carillon is the substantial gift of the Muff families in memory of their mother, Mrs. Frieda Muff.

Other notable facts about St. Mary's parish in Dow City are as follows:

When the parish was incorporated on July 10, 1949, Bishop Heeland, Monsignor Davern, Father Hyland, Ray Putnam, and J. Leo Ahart were all appointed as officers of the corporation.

The very first "First Communion" class day at St. Mary's was on June 8, 1947. Among those children receiving this sacrament were Pearl June Putnam, Richard Siemer, Richard Ahart, and a Crandall boy.

Among the first baptisms recorded were Lawrence Merritt, son of Alfred and Dorothy Merritt on June 7, 1947; Kathleen Crandall, daughter of George and Olga Crandall; and Kathleen Gehl, daughter of Matt and Frances Gehl on June 22, 1947. The first funeral Mass was held on August 6, 1947, for the late Albert Glawinski.

Some of the first converts to join the church at Dow City were Sam Brasel, Rosemary Muff, Mrs. Les Van Arsdol, Junior Edward Carstens, Don Cramer and Lee Best.

Father Hyland officiated at all of the above "firsts".

On October 12, 1949, His Excellency, the Most Rev. Joseph M. Mueller, Bishop of Sioux City, administered the Rite of Confirmation for the first time in Dow City to a group numbering 62. His Excellency blessed and dedicated the new St. Mary's church on the afternoon of Sunday, May 9, 1954, with a crowd of approximately 250 people in attendance.

Since Father Doherty was assigned to other pastorates, St. Mary's has been served in turn by Father Gerald Zensen, Father John Terpstra, Father George Schumacher, Father Francis Nemmers, Father Peter Fransco, Father J.J. Hylind, Father Cleo Seuntjens, Father O.W. Koester, Father William Devine, Father John Thomas, Father Robert Leiting and Father John Vakulskas. The present pastor at St. Mary's is Father John Cain.

Religious instructions were begun by the Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother who taught in Manilla. The first instructions lasted for two weeks and were taught in the homes of Sam Brasel and Jenny Huntingon. Starting again in the fall, the Sisters of Humility from St. Patrick's School in Dunlap took over and assisted with the weekly religious instruction and the vacation summer school. With the closing of the school in Dunlap, religious instructions were taken over by lay volunteers.

St. Mary's parish held its first parish council meeting on January 21, 1979, under the leadership of Father John Thomas and with the following elected members: Marge Gorden, Gene Harre, Mary Lou Muff, Ron Kenkel, Matt Gehl, and Tote Clark.

With the decline in the number of young men entering the seminary, a number of lay people have been called upon to help the parish priest in a number of ways, such as with the readings at Mass and with the distribution of Holy Communion on Sundays, Holy Days, young people's Masses, and to the shut-ins when the priest is not available.

The Ladies' Altar Society was started after the first Mass was prayed on March 17, 1947, with the election of the following officers: President, Pearl Putnam; Secretary, Helen Cramer; Treasurer, Emma Koci. Since its beginning, the Altar Society has become an important factor in the continuing activities of the congregation.

Projects include visits to the County Home, serving the Senior Citizens' dinner, sponsoring the Bloodmobile in conjunction with the other churches, bake sales, pancake breakfasts, bingo, euchre tourneys, salad bar luncheons, a style show, and the annual Halloween dance. The group also serves lunch at funerals of fellow parishioners. All of the above are so very important to St. Mary's because of the evangelism they provide.

More recent accomplishments of St. Mary's include the excellent religious education program. Under the direction of volunteer directors Patty Alfonso, Jeannie Wood, and Jane Lally, approximately twenty-five adults are involved in the program each year. These people serve in the capacity of teachers, aides, substitute teachers, and baby-sitters for the smaller children. Classes in the sacred Scripture and doctrine of the church have been taught to adults by pastors of the parish.

From 1986 through 1988, the church participated in the RENEW process along with other parishes in the Sioux City Diocese. Outgrowth from the RENEW process is ongoing with the establishment of small groups meeting regularly as basic Christian communities to study and share their faith with others. In other words, a spirit of evangelism is growing in the community of St. Mary's parish.

Inquiry classes for those who desire to join the Catholic faith have been conducted. This has led to the parish becoming involved in the RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) program.

Since 1988, the Dow City area pastors have been instrumental in establishing a ministerial association. This has led to the community praying ecumenically during the Lenten season and Holy Week, at the Easter Sunrise Service, at Thanksgiving, as well as at other times throughout the liturgical year.

Since its establishment in 1947, St. Mary's Church in Dow City has gone through many changes. The recent physical change to the church structure is the present 1993 project. This includes the building of a ramp and the addition of a restroom facility in the breezeway area between the church and the rectory, making the church accessible for the handicapped.

The summer of 1993 brought much flooding to Iowa, and St. Mary's parish was not spared. On the night of July 8, 1993, nine and one-half inches of rain fell on Dow City. The river could not handle the amount of water that came, resulting in the Boyer River flowing into Dow City from the east, flooding the basements of St. Mary's Church, St. Mary's rectory and the neighborhood. The water receded to the river after twelve hours or so, leaving the basements full and damaging about 15 houses in the neighborhood.

The water was pumped out of the church and rectory basements on Friday, July 9. On Saturday and Sunday, July 10 and 11, one hundred sixteen volunteers cleaned out the debris. Losses were estimated at over $60,000.00 in church property, catechetical materials and personal property. The parish and the neighborhood immediately began the long process of rebuilding and restoring all that was lost.

Thus, the dream that began in 1947 by those of the Catholic faith in Dow City became reality. May that dream continue to grow in the hearts of all the parishioners of St. Mary's Church.


Source: 125 Years of Dow City-Arion History 1869-1994

We thank Cindi Simon for submitting this material.