St. Joseph's Catholic Church, Ellendale

Merrill, Iowa

~Photo submitted by researcher, Bruce Atkinson.


Le Mars Semi-Weekly Sentinel, September 22, 1925
The cornerstone for a new Catholic church building at Ellendale, was laid
Sunday. Fifteen clergymen officiated at the services, which were attended
by about 700 person.
The new building will be the fourth in the history of the Ellendale
congregation, two having been destroyed by cyclones and the third one
Rt. Rev. Msg. W. A. Pape, of Le Mars, laid the cornerstone and Rev. J. A.
Gerleman, of Granville, preached the sermon.
Other clergymen who attended included: Rev. F. J. Brune, Alta; Rev. H.
Rolfes, Oyens; Rev. J. H. Gelling, Sioux City; Rev. T. J. McCarty, Sioux
City; Rev. J. P. McGuire, Sioux City; Rev. N. T. Flanagan, Sioux City; Rev.
M. T. O’Connell, Sioux City; Rev. J. Kocher, Sioux City; Rev. J. Gretman,
Struble, Iowa; Rev. W. R. Gran, Oto; Rev. Joseph Strum, Granville; Rev. A.
J. Foerster, Merrill, and Rev. M. Marx, Kingsley.
The Ellendale church is a mission and is served from Merrill by Rev. A. J.
Foerster, who is pastor there. Rev. J. A. Gerleman, who preached the sermon,
served the charge from Sioux City at a time when the mission was attached to
the parish of the Cathedral of the Epiphany.


Le Mars Semi-Weekly Sentinel, April 20, 1926
Dedication of the new St. Joseph’s church at Ellendale will take place on
Wednesday, April 28, at 10 o’clock in the morning. Dedication will be by Rt.
Rev. Edmond Heelan, bishop of Sioux City. A large number of neighboring
clergymen will also be in attendance. The sermon will be delivered by Rev.
T. J. McCarthy, of Sioux City.
Supper will be served by the ladies of the parish in the church basement and
amusements will be provided for the afternoon and evening.
The new Ellendale church is located seven miles west of Merrill on the Perry
creek road and sixteen miles north of Sioux City. The building was
completed last fall at the cost of over $25,000. Construction is of a brick
and tile with red variegated brick and white trimmings. In addition to the
usual church appointments the building contains in the basement a parish
hall with a stage, and a kitchen with serving rooms for the accommodations
of parish gatherings.
Rev. A. Foerster, of Merrill, is also pastor of the Ellendale church and by
his tireless work much progress has been made in both Ellendale and Merrill
parishes. The church is one of the finest country churches to be found
anywhere and the parish consists of about forty families.

The above news items were typed and submitted for posting by Mary Holub, Plymouth Co. Assistant Coordinator.

The History of the Church was typed and submitted for posting by Linda Ziemann, Plymouth Co. Coordinator.

History of the Church

St. Joseph Parish – Ellendale

St. Joseph Parish or “Ellendale” as it is generally known lies in the western part of Plymouth County, Iowa.  Its history is long and interesting. The foundation of the parish was laid during the 1860’s and 1870’s when the early Catholic settlers pushed their way up the Big Sioux River and its feeder streams in search of new lands and homes.

Those first settlers who came up these trails and settled in what is now St. Joseph’s Parish here had their spiritual needs cared for, no doubt, by Father Jeremiah Tracy of St. John’s, now known as Jackson, Nebraska.

Father Tracy had brought in June of 1865 a group of Irish Catholics from Dubuque and other eastern points in the state through Fort Dodge and Sioux City of the Nebraska settlement. He also cared for the spiritual needs of those in Sioux City for a period of 5 years.

In 1870 Father P. Gunn was sent to Sioux City. As more and more settlers poured into the territory, Father B. C. Lenehan was appointed pastor of Sioux City and his parish or mission field included all of Iowa between the Big and Little Sioux Rivers.  This was in 1872.  Members of St. Joseph Parish can still recall their grandfathers speaking of Father Lenehan saying Mass in the homes of this community. For about a year Father said Mass in the Edward Gloden home.

The first definite record in the parish is that of the burial of two early pioneers who came to this community from Illinois: Patrick Jordan and his son, Joseph.  There were the first to be buried in St. Joseph Cemetery. Their tombstone marks their passing—“Patrick Jordan, January 27, 1872.”

In the spirit of the times it was John Arndt, though not a Catholic, who gave the land to serve as the new Catholic Cemetery. The cemetery is still is use today (1976). The first birth in the parish was that of Jennie Callaghan, the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. H. J. Callaghan in February of 1871.

The few Catholics in this community were gathered together in the semblance of a parish by Father Herman Meis, who was appointed the first pastor of LeMars in 1875, and their spiritual needs were cared for by him and by the priest from Hawarden and also by a priest from Sioux City. At that time there were about 20 Catholic families in the neighborhood.

Some of these Catholic families names have come down to the present day—Patrick Gorman, H. J. Callaghan, Thomas Clarey, William Ahern, Peter Erpelding, John P. Hoffmann, Peter Simon, Anthony Weidenfeller, Nicolas Goedert.  Many of their grandchildren and great grandchildren reside in the parish today.

The first parish church was erected at the sight of the cemetery shortly after 1880, most likely by Father Joseph Meis, of LeMars. There is no record to substantiate this, however. This first church was destroyed by a terrible windstorm in 1885. The parishioners immediately built another church on the same site and this edifice, too, was destroyed in 1887, some claim by a wind storm and others say it was hit by lightning.

After the destruction of the second church, work on another was not begun for about 5 years. During that period Father John Gerleman rode horseback from his parish, St. Boniface in Sioux City, to care for the spiritual needs of the Ellendale Catholics. Services were then held in the home of John P. Hoffmann, Patrick Gorman and in the Hauswald School located about a mile from the former church sites.

Construction of a new, the third, church began about 1891. A new site about 2 miles south of the former churches location was obtained. Patrick Gorman donated an acre of land from his farm in Sec. 10, in Liberty Township for the site and later his son, James, gave a second acre.

There were now about 30 Catholic families in the community. The church they built was a long, low structure about 50 feet by 32 feet. It did not have a bell tower, but was surmounted with a cross. An entryway was attached to the front of the building and a sanctuary and sacristies to the rear. The first Baptism in this new church was that of Dennis Hecht.

The first resident pastor, Father John W. Toohill, was appointed to Assumption Parish in Merrill in January 1894, and at that time Ellendale was attached to Merrill as a Mission Parish and it remains so today (1976.) He was followed in his pastorate by Father P. J. Connolly and Father George Hickey.

In January, 1924, Father A. J. Foerster was appointed to the Assumption Parish, Merrill, and to minister to the members of St. Joseph’s Mission. With the passing of several years, St. Joseph’s parish had outgrown the size of the small church. Now there were 75 families.  Rather than add to the small church the parishioners decided to build a new, more spacious and beautiful house of God.  Under the capable supervision of Father Foerster plans were made. The parishioners gathered and dug the basement in the Spring of 1925. Work progressed rapidly and the cornerstone was blessed and laid in September of the same year. The edifice was brick, 92 feet by 37 feet with an impressive bell tower as its façade. Father Gerleman who had served the parish in its early days donated the bell for this new and fourth church.

It was a great day in the history of St. Joseph’s Parish when the Most Rev. Edmund Heelan, D. D., came from Sioux City on April 28, 1926 to formally dedicate to God the new, beautiful and imposing church.

In 1928 Father Foerster installed a new main altar and side altars of composition material and in keeping with the architecture of the church. About 1932, during the pastorate of Father Thomas McKenna, the interior of the church was painted for the first time.

In 1942, during the pastorate of Father Zeno Reising, new oak pews and a new communion railing were installed. In 1949, a new roof of blue asbestos shingles was laid to replace the first and original roof that had begun to leak. In the fall of 1950, the interior of the church was again refinished in a more modernistic style.

As of 1963, St. Joseph parish has given three of its members to the service of God. They are Mary Sweeney, known as Sister M. Consolata, O.S.F., and her brother, Father Richard V. Sweeney, now pastor of Danbury and Diocesan Director of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith, and Father Edward Hoffmann, now pastor at Schaller. 

In October of 1950, Rev. William Carel was appointed pastor of Assumption-St. Joseph.  During his pastorate the parishes became part of the Gehlen School Organization and had one school bus to transport children from Merrill to LeMars.

Father E. E. Apt was appointed pastor in 1961. During his pastorate he stated the second school bus that ran for the children attending Gehlen from Ellendale. Previously a bus ran only from Merrill to LeMars.

In 1965, Rev. Edward Mason was appointed pastor of the church. During his tenure, he joined the parish to the LeMars Ministerial Association and began to make twice yearly visits to the County Home.

In 1966, Miss Lily Mohn, a member of the parish for many years, left $250,000 to the Gehlen School. In 1968, the ladies of the parish repainted the parish hall.

Due to health reasons, Father Mason was given a leave of absence for three months. Health not permitting him to return as pastor, Rev. Maurice Krause was appointed in January 1969.  In November of that year, Rev. Krause was killed in a car accident. In February of 1970, Rev. James Fangman was appointed pastor.

In October 1972, Rev. Robert McClintock became pastor.  In March 1976, Rev. Donald Smith was appointed pastor.

~Source: Pictorial Atlas, Plymouth County, Iowa, Bi-Centennial 1776-1976



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