newly-founded monastery of New Melleray in Dubuque County attracted
to the surrounding district a large immigration, notably from
Ireland, during the years immediately following the arrival of the
monks from Mount Melleray, Ireland, in 1849. The immigrants were the
families of Peter McLaughlin, George Brown, Michael Merrigan,
Patrick and James Murray, John McGrath, Peter Tench, Patrick
Madigan, Patrick Walsh, Thomas Logan, Edward McDonnell, Frank Burns,
Thomas Grace, Mrs. Murphy, James O’Hagen, Michael Nolan and Martin
These families cooperated with the monks
in the speedy formation of a parish. The Holy Sacrifice of the
Mass was celebrated for the first time in the community within
the monastery. The staunch pioneer enthusiasts were eager to
extend its oblation. The poverty of the little group, however,
made the erection of a church a prohibitive undertaking, but a
place of worship was provided. One of the monks who had been a
count before his entrance into religion, observed the need of
a church for the early settlers and, appreciating their lack
of means, appealed to his sister in Europe for the donation
which made possible the building of a small stone church. The
tiny stone edifice, built in 1850, was in the European fashion
having no stationary
pews communion railing. It was located near the monastery barn,
which was destroyed by fire some years ago.
proximity of the abbey insured for the little congregation, for that
time and for the future, the pious services of the white cowled
Cistercian Fathers. Prominent members of the order ministered to the
parish. There is evidence, namely, through the first official record
of the church, the first baptism, that Father Clement Smythe,
O.C.S.O., who later became the second Bishop of Dubuque, acted for a
time or for intervals at least, as a parish priest. Father Smythe
administered baptism to Edmund and Jeremiah Heally on March 2, 1850.
As Bishop Smythe, he confirmed a class of 37 boys and 35 girls at
the “Monastery Church” on November 17, 1864. Another distinguished
Trappist who was a member of the New Melleray Community whose name
is appended to early baptismal records is that of Father James
O’Gorman, O.C.S.O., who later became first Vicar Apostolic of
Nebraska. A Father Patrick, O.C.S.O., performed the first marriage,
that of Peter Tench and Mary Scallion on February 10, 1850. It is
recorded that the entire congregation acted as witnesses to this
marriage (testes fuere tota congregatio). The first interment was
that of Michael Nolan on May 8, 1862. In addition to the
above-mentioned priests, other names found among the scant
recordings of those early years are: Father Francis, O.C.S.O., and
Father Nicholas Scallion. Father Nicholas and his brother Father
Thomas Scallion were members of the parish.
Around 1870 a second and more commodious
church was erected. This was a white frame building measuring
approximately 78 x 44 feet. It was located at the north end of
the present cemetery property. The frame church of hallowed
memory is referred to as “the little prairie church” in the
Annals of the New Melleray Foundation. More popularly it was
known as “The Monastery Church,” no other name having been
adopted for it or the preceding structure. The geographical
extent of the parish at that time was extensive. Since this
church embraced one of the oldest communities in Dubuque
County, it was never a part of another parish. On the
contrary, it included the territory of a few adjoining
districts. There has never been a mission parish.
After about 20 years, Father Bernard
McCaffery, building was no longer adequate for the needs of
Father David, therefore, with the assistance of a building
committee, drew up plans for the present church to be located
across the road from the cemetery. Names of those
included on their committee were: Patrick Gaule, Charles
O’Hagen, James O’Brien and Thomas Hart.
A unique financing system was adopted for
the payment of the church. Father David, being stoutly opposed
to any form of so-called “church piracy,” objected to the
popular plan of raising funds by picnics and “entertainments.”
On a particular occasion, he declined to accept a sum
O.C.S.O., realized that the little frame
the growing congregation.
money which had been raised by a picnic, thereby testifying to his
disapproval. Further, he expressed the hope that the parish would
always maintain itself without recourse to any questionable means of
taking money. The plan of payment, therefore, involved no excessive
burden on the parishioners, and no one outside the parish was
solicited for financial aid. The tax list was secured from the
County Treasurer’s office in Dubuque. Every parishioner was assessed
in proportion to his tax levy. In two years, the church was entirely
free from debt. Much work towards its construction had been done by
the people themselves. Rock and brick were hauled by numerous
teamsters. A story is told of a blessing received by the Patrick
Connolly family, from which came Sister Mary Edmunda, R.S.M. The
blessing was given because the head of that house “had had a team on
the road every day hauling material for the new church.” The digging
of the basement was likewise an all parish activity. An old
photograph of this period shows a group of parish huskies assembled
for the purpose of erecting a picket fence in front of the cemetery.
Archbishop Hennessy laid the cornerstone of the new church and, upon
its completion in April 1889, dedicated it to the Holy Family.
the death of Father David in 1910, Father Placid Magee, O.C.S.O.,
was appointed pastor at Holy Family. Much was undertaken and
accomplished by Father Placid Magee. The cemetery was beautifully
improved by the planting of an evergreen hedge to replace an
old-time fence. But especially worthy of praise in the way of
exterior betterment was the landscaping efforts of Father Placid.
The fragrant and artistic arrangement of shrubs and flowers of
enshrouded by the majestic pines, lent a
charming character to the church grounds. The generous
contribution to the religious life is a striking proof that
there has been a vitality in faith and worship. Approximately
50 young women have entered religious communities during the
history of the parish. Young men who have been distinguished
by a vocation to the priesthood, in addition to those
previously mentioned, are the following: Rev. Father Alberic
Madigan, O.C.S.O., of the New Melleray Abbey, Rev. Father
Freeman and Rev. Father Michael McCarthy. The latter was
ordained in December 1884, and celebrated his First Holy Mass
on December 8, 1884. Mr. Francis Murray entered the
Congregation of the Holy Cross, Notre Dame, Indiana. Mr.
Thomas McGovern became Brother Stephen of the Monastery of New
Melleray. These contributions to the priesthood and to the
extend back into the infancy of the parish. A native son of the
later period of parish development, Father John Patrick Fagan, was
elevated to the sacred dignity of the priesthood on June 6, 1936.
Father Placid Magee, having taken the Holy Family Parish into the
second half of the 20th century, died on February 4, 1952. Upon his
death, Fr. Vincent, O.C.S.O., served in the interim and supervised
the cleaning up of the church and basement. This included many truck
loads deposited in Charlie McCarthy’s sinkhole. At this time the
basement floor was dirt.
parish was then put under the supervision of the Archdiocese of
Dubuque and affiliated with St. Joseph’s Prairie. Fr. Richard Krapfl
served from January-July 1953. In August of 1953, Fr. William
Michael became pastor of Holy Family parish and stayed until October
1955. In 1954, the church was painted and a cement floor was poured
in the basement.
Conrad Schallau served the parish from October 1955-August 1956. In
August 1956, Fr. Robert Swift assumed pastoral duties until August
1963. Many things happened during his tenure. In 1957, the Central
High School (Wahlert) fund was started. In 1960, new natural gas
furnaces were installed to replace the coal burners. In 1961, the
church was painted and new wiring was installed. Also in 1961, to
the shock of the parish community, the church was robbed.
Fr. Duane Raftis served from 1963-1971. During this time, the church
auction was initiated. In 1966, major church improvements were made,
which included replacing the pews. Also in 1966, Holy Family became
part of the Wahlert High School corporation.
Joseph O’Brien served the parish from September 1971-August 1972.
Fr. Robert Moran assumed the duties of the parish from October
1972-July 1980. The church was painted during his stay. In 1977, a
new ballpark was established on Prairie Creek Road due to the
generosity of the Monastery. The new ballpark replaced the ball
diamond in the cemetery. In 1978, a concession stand and pavilion
Fr. William McLaughlin served from July
1980-February 1983. During this time, the altar railings and
side altars were removed. Fr. Charles Whalen replaced Fr.
McLaughlin in 1983 and served until his retirement in July
1984. Monsignor William Roach assumed the duties of the parish
in July 1984 until his death in a tragic car accident in April
1986. During Monsignor Roach’s tenure, the handicap ramp in
front of the church was installed.
Fr. Robert Kalb served from June 1986-May 1989. In 1987, the
parish began participating in the Renew program. This
continued for several years. In 1988, the steeple was
repaired, painted and the crucifix gilded.
Robert Levenhagen served from July 1989-July 1990. In 1989, the
parish celebrated the centennial of the building of the present
church. Also in 1989, with much sadness, St. Joseph’s Prairie was
closed. Holy Family became affiliated with St. John the Baptist in
Peosta. Fr. James McBride served only from July-November 1990, due
to his health and retirement.
In 1990, Fr. Carl Manternach assumed the duties of the parish and
stayed until 1999. In 1990, the cemetery was repaired and renovated.
In 1995, the interior of the church was completely renovated with
generous contributions of the Holy Family parishioners. The interior
was painted, new carpet was laid, all woodwork and pews restored and
a new altar table was added. In 1998, air conditioning and new gas
furnaces were installed.
The present pastor is Fr. Richard Kuhn. He became the pastor for
Holy Family in July 1999. Fr. Kuhn guided the Holy Family community
into the new millennium as we celebrate together.