From History of
Crawford County, Iowa
F.W. Meyers, published 1911
The Catholic Church
By Rev. Father M.J. Farrelly
The writer of this chapter proposes to avoid everything of a controverted
nature. The history of a church in a given time may stand for the career of
the men and women who represented the church, who organized it, who
maintained it, who gloried in its progress and wept in its disappointments.
The writer has reason to hope that these few pages will be read with
interest and profit by many of his coreligionists in the faith and many of
his separated brethren. Both have worked together to establish churches,
believing in the material and spiritual uplifting of the communities in
which they lived.
The history of the Catholic church in Crawford county is a replica of her
history in practically every county in this great state of Iowa. Her history
may be told in the classical words of Julius Caesar, "Veni, Vidi,
came with the zeal of St. Patrick disembarking on the shores of Ireland. She
came with the courage of St. Boniface, dying for the faith in a dense forest
of Germany. The church is everywhere mindful that the Master sent her to
preach the gospel to every creature, to bring forth fruit that would remain.
The Missionary Period
For fifteen years the Catholic church in Crawford county was in a purely
missionary stage of development. Rev. Father KELLY and McMINOMIE from
Council Bluffs, Father MOORE and GARRIHAN from Dunlap, Fathers POPE and
others from Carroll and further east came here occasionally, bringing the
consolations of religion to the Catholic settlers of the county who were
then few in number and poor in purse.
Denison, the mother church, did not have a house of worship until the fall
of 1872. Divine services were held at the homes of the Catholic families in
the old courthouse, and in any place that might be found available for the
purpose. The home of Mr. A.D. MOLONEY could easily at that time shelter the
Catholic population of the county. With this family, the missionary priest,
weary and footsore, tired and hard pressed, in perils from bad roads and
swollen creeks, always found a welcome, a host who took care of him and sent
him on his way rejoicing.
Then came Con and Michael HOULIHAN, Thomas GRIFFEN and Thomas McCARTHY, L.J.
CARTER and Martin CONROY, John O'CONNOR, John KELLY and I. HASSETT. These
with the support of a few settlers from Jackson, Soldier and Iowa townships
perfected an organization and built Crawford's first Catholic church and
dedicated it October 9, 1872.
>From 1872-78 the Catholic population grew with leaps and bounds. Rev. R.
McGRATH, whose residence was at Vail, made regular trips to Denison. he was
succeeded by Rev. M.C. LENIHAN, now bishop of Great Falls, Montana, who saw
the necessity of putting an addition to the first church edifice for the
accommodation of a growing congregation.
In the spring of 1886, Rev. B.C. LENIHAN was installed as the first Catholic
pastor having a permanent home in Denison. in the summer of 1887 he was
transferred to Boone, and later to Fort Dodge, being made Vicar General and
a Domestic Prelate on the organization of the new diocese of Sioux City.
On the first day of October, 1887, the writer was given charge of this
field. All credit to the good men who preceded me, I found good material out
of which to build up a strong and vigorous church. In 1889, the parochial
school was erected. It has been in operation for twenty years and has
blessed the congregation with will trained and well instructed Catholic
children. At the present writing the Sisters of St. Francis from Clinton,
Iowa, have charge of the school work. There are seventy-five pupils in the
regular classes. The music pupils number forty.
The present church edifice was erected in 1896, at a cost of $20,000. It is
of brick construction with stone trimmings, 63 by 115 over all; it is well
furnished, has oak and walnut pews, stone composition stations of the
cross-side, altars with suitable stationary. There is no debt on the church
or school, the only incumbrance being on the newly acquired parish
residence. This parish has a membership of six hundred souls. There are here
several good societies, a Young Ladies Sodality, a Holy Name Society, a
Ladies Catholic Order of Foresters, and the K.C.'s; all combine to keep
alive the true spirit of religion.
To God and a generous people be all the glory!
Vail and West Side.
Among the early Catholic settlers at Vail may be mentioned here M.
McANDREWS, Thomas RYAN, J. BARRETT, B. LANGAM, M.J. KEANE, D. McCULLOUGH and
others. This point at once became prominent as a Catholic settlement. Rev.
Father SCANLAN from DeWill, Iowa, visited here at an early day and by word
and example encouraged Catholic people in Clinton county to invest in the
cheap lands to be had in the vicinity of Vail. The Catholic mission has
developed such strength that in 1878 Bishop HENNESSEY, considering it of
sufficient importance to have a permanent pastor, sent hither Rev. R.
McGRATH. During his pastorate seven acres of land, on a commanding knoll
east of town were acquired for a church site and a frame structure was soon
erected thereon., but was blown down by an old-fashioned Twister in the
summer of 1880. The traditions of this first edifice would bear repeating
but space forbids. No, we must pass on regretfully. Rev. R. McGRATH, the
typical Irish gentleman, full of life and manly vigor, standing full six
feet, weighing 225 pounds, the friend of every man, the Catholic, the
Protestant, the Free Thinker, generous to a fault-the memory of Father
McGRATH, Vail's first pastor, will never fade.