Basilica of St. John, Des Moines

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Saint John's Roman Catholic Church
St. John the Apostle Basilica.jpg
Basilica of St. John, Des Moines is located in Iowa
Basilica of St. John, Des Moines
Location 1915 University Ave.
Des Moines, Iowa
Coordinates 41°36′2.2392″N 93°38′35.9406″W / 41.600622000°N 93.643316833°W / 41.600622000; -93.643316833Coordinates: 41°36′2.2392″N 93°38′35.9406″W / 41.600622000°N 93.643316833°W / 41.600622000; -93.643316833
Built 1927
Architect Maginnis & Walsh
Architectural style Other, Romanesque
Governing body Private
NRHP Reference # 87001497[1]
Added to NRHP September 8, 1987

The Basilica of St. John the Apostle is a Roman Catholic Basilica in Des Moines, Iowa, at University Avenue and 19th Street in the Drake neighborhood.


On June 7, 1905 fourteen lots were purchased on University Avenue for about $8,000. On July 20 of the same year two more lots were bought for $1,375.[2] These purchases marked the beginning of St. John’s parish. The school was the first building built by the parish. A chapel on the second floor served the parish as its church. The first Mass was celebrated on Christmas Day in 1905. At its beginning St. John’s was a part of the Diocese of Davenport. In 1911 it would become a part of the newly established Diocese of Des Moines.

In August 1913 the basement of the present church was completed and parish used it for its church until the upper church was completed. The cornerstone for the church was laid on September 19, 1926. The finished church was dedicated by Bishop Thomas W. Drumm on December 4, 1927. The church was built for $480,000.[3]

Several significant events occurred in the parish history in the 1980s. The present altar used for liturgy was consecrated on June 5, 1983. The parish was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on September 8, 1987. Pope John Paul II elevated St. John’s Church to a Minor Basilica on October 4, 1989.[4] Bishop William H. Bullock presided at the dedication liturgy on December 31, 1989.[2]


The basilica was designed in the Romanesque Revival style found in Northern Italy known as Lombardy Romanesque. The architects who designed the church were from Maginnis & Walsh of Boston. They were also responsible for the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC.[3] The local architect chosen for the project was John Normile and Charles W. Wietz was the contractor.

The church is built of Indiana limestone and has a campanile that is 115 feet tall. It contains a 600 pound bell that was cast in 1961. The building is covered by a red tile roof, and the tower is topped by a cross in bronze.

The interior of the basilica is finished in plaster cast and Travertine marble. The coffered ceiling is covered in gold leaf. The clerestory windows depict the sacraments, cardinal virtues of the church and the offices and teachings of humankind.[3] Below the windows are Scripture quotes relating to the institution of the sacraments and another set of quotes from the popular devotional prayer the Hail Mary. Below the quotes are a set of marble disks that symbolize the universality of the church. The church has a seating capacity of 900 people.[3]

Charity work[edit]

In 1992, the Basilica of St. John joined with seven other churches in the Des Moines area and created the Churches United Shelter (now the Central Iowa Shelter), to combat homelessness in the area.[5]


  1. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2007-01-23. 
  2. ^ a b "The History of St. John’s Basilica". Basilica of St. John. Retrieved 2010-08-07. 
  3. ^ a b c d "Architecture". Basilica of St. John. Retrieved 2010-08-07. 
  4. ^ Bunson, Matthew (2010). 2010 Catholic Almanac. Huntington, Indiana: Our Sunday Visitor. p. 390. 
  5. ^ CISS Broke Ground on New Opportunity Center

External links[edit]