St. Anthony's Catholic Church (Davenport, Iowa)

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St. Anthony's Roman Catholic Church Complex
St. Anthony's Church Davenport Iowa.jpg
St. Anthony's Catholic Church (Davenport, Iowa) is located in Iowa
St. Anthony's Catholic Church (Davenport, Iowa)
Location 407 and 417 Main St., Davenport, Iowa
Coordinates 41°31′26″N 90°34′31″W / 41.52389°N 90.57528°W / 41.52389; -90.57528Coordinates: 41°31′26″N 90°34′31″W / 41.52389°N 90.57528°W / 41.52389; -90.57528
Area 1.4 acres (0.57 ha)
Built 1838, 1853
Architect Multiple
Architectural style Greek Revival
Governing body Private
MPS Davenport MRA
NRHP Reference # 84001538[1]
Significant dates
Added to NRHP April 5, 1984
Designated DRHP October 7, 1992[2]

Saint Anthony's Catholic Church is a parish of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Davenport. The church is located in Davenport, Iowa, United States, at the corner of 4th and Main Streets. It is the first church congregation organized in the city of Davenport and the second, after St. Raphael's Cathedral in Dubuque, in the state of Iowa. The parish buildings are listed on the National Register of Historic Places as St. Anthony's Roman Catholic Church Complex. The designation includes the church and the former school building, which is the parish's original church building and is the oldest standing church building in the state of Iowa. The designation also included the rectory, which was torn down in 2009. It is also listed on the Davenport Register of Historic Properties in 1992 as St. Anthony's Church Square.[2] The property has been known historically as Church Square.



In 1832, on what is now the site of Davenport, Iowa, Chief Keokuk of the Sauk tribe signed a treaty with the United States government after the tribe’s defeat in the Black Hawk War. The tribe ceded land on the west side of the Mississippi River, which was then opened to settlement. Antoine LeClaire, who was French-Pottawattamie and served as translator at the treaty signing, received two parcels of land. The original section of the city was laid out in 1836. The next year an addition was made to the small town on one of LeClaire’s parcels. He stipulated that a Catholic church be built on one of the squares.[3] That same year frontier missionary Rev. Samuel Charles Mazzuchelli, OP arrived in Davenport and started the parish. At that time there were 25 Catholics in a town of 100 people.[4]

Mazzuchelli drew up plans for a simple two story structure that would serve as a church and priest’s residence. He actually gave the parish two patron saints. St. Peter is the parish's primary patron, and St. Anthony is its secondary patron.[5] However the parish has always been known as St. Anthony's, the patron saint of its benefactor Antoine LeClaire. Ground was broken for the new church on April 27, 1838, and Bishop Mathias Loras of Dubuque dedicated the new structure on May 23, 1839. The first bricks manufactured in the city of Davenport were used to build the church.[6] The building served many purposes for the small community. It was a church, city hall, court house, school house, public forum, and gathering place for the citizens of the town. The church's bell called parishioners to Mass, children to school, sounded the alarm for a fire, as well as summoning the city's aldermen for their sessions.[7]

The church had a small choir which included Antoine LeClaire and Judge C. G. R. Mitchell, who would provide the land for the city's first Catholic cemetery and two of the churches in the city's west end.[6] There was, however, no organ. Instead, music was led by a small ensemble made up of a violin, clarionet, flute and cello.

Undated photo of the original St. Anthony’s Church built in 1838. Iowa's oldest church structure still in use.

The parish's first pastor was a French immigrant priest recruited by Bishop Loras, Rev. J.A.M. Pelamourgues, who arrived in Davenport in September 1839.[8] He served the parish until 1868 when he remained in his native France while he was visiting there. Initially Father Pelamourgues resided in a partitioned section of the gallery of the church. He was also responsible for more than the small parish in Davenport. He traveled to other Catholic communities in the region: Muscatine, Iowa City, Burlington, Columbus Junction, DeWitt and Lyons (the northside of present day Clinton).

St. Anthony’s School opened in 1839 with Father Pelamourgues as its teacher.[9] Initially, classes were taught in the body of the church with a curtain closing off the sanctuary.[6] In 1844 the church building was extended 35 feet (11 m) to the east to accommodate the new classroom space. In 1846 Father Pelamourgues convinced the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary to teach in the school, and to start a school for girls.[6] However, financial conditions were such that the sisters only stayed for two years. They returned in 1855 to teach at St. Anthony's. Immaculate Conception Academy was founded as a girl's school in 1859, and was located up the hill from St. Anthony’s in 1864. The Sisters who taught at St. Anthony's lived at the academy. It remained in operation until it was merged with St. Ambrose Academy to form Assumption High School in 1958. The parish school at St. Anthony's continued until it closed in 1968.


The parish continued to grow. By 1847 there were 450 parishioners, which was still a quarter of the town's population.[3] In 1850 the front section of the present church was begun. The building, completed in 1853 in the simple Greek Revival style, was built of stone and measured 94 by 44 feet (29 by 13 m). The structure features a gable front, deep eave returns and a modillion frieze. The interior plan features a larger central nave that is flanked by side aisles. The original building was remodeled for more classroom space at this time. The rectory was built around 1877.

New parishes were beginning to form in Davenport that took parishioners from St. Anthony’s. St. Kunigunda (1855), which was renamed St. Joseph in 1881, served the pastoral needs of the growing German Community. St. Margaret’s (1856) was built on top of the bluff to the east of downtown. St. Margaret’s became Davenport’s first cathedral in 1881 with the establishment of the Davenport Diocese. St. Anthony’s was not chosen to be the cathedral because its downtown location was considered inappropriate.[10] St. Margaret’s was renamed Sacred Heart when the present cathedral was built in 1891. St. Mary's Church was started in the 1860s to serve the English speaking Catholics of the west end.

Even though these new parishes were being formed, St. Anthony’s continued to grow. Transept wings with balconies were added to the church in 1885, and the sanctuary was extended 18 feet (5.5 m). A larger sacristy was also added to the church. The addition was built of brick.

20th Century[edit]

The original church

By the turn of the 20th century St. Anthony's became the only church downtown.[3] By the end of the first decade the parish's boundaries had become fixed to the central city with the founding of two parishes on top of the hill: Holy Family (1898) in the northwest part of the city and St. Paul the Apostle (1909) on the east side.

The grotto to the Blessed Virgin Mary on the north side of the church was added in the 1920s. It was rebuilt in 1998 and the current statue was placed in it in 1999.

A major renovation was carried out in 1949 when a manufactured stone facing, or permastone, was put on the 1885 addition to the church, the school (original church) and the rectory. This gave the parish complex a unified appearance. The north wing was also added to the school building. This was the last addition made to the original building. There was also an addition made to the rectory to create more living space for the resident clergy.

In the 1960s changes were made to facilitate the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council. While the communion rail was removed and a new free standing altar was created so the priest could face the congregation, the old altars, frescos and statuary remain in the church.

One of the more colorful chapters in the parish’s history were the Folk Masses of the 1970s. Rev. James Grubb, the associate pastor, inspired the masses that included contemporary music played on guitars, colorful vestments, and young people sitting around the floor of the sanctuary.

In 1987 the parish celebrated its sesquicentennial. To commemorate the occasion, a sculpture was commissioned and placed on the front of the church property facing Main Street. It depicts Father Mazzuchelli, a Sister of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a child representing the children who attended the parish school, Col. George Davenport (for whom the city of Davenport was named) and Antoine LeClaire. The statue group stands atop a pedestal that encloses the churches original bell.[11]

The Gathering Center, which was built on the site of the former rectory in 2010.
Church interior at Christmas

21st Century[edit]

In 2009 the rectory was torn down to make room for a new parish center. Called the Gathering Center, the new facility is a 7,200-square-foot (670 m2) building that includes classrooms with moveable walls for religious education classes, church offices, a kitchen and a renovated “McAnthony’s Window,” a parish based outreach program. A social hall that holds up to 300 people is also a part of the new facility. The new building and it’s landscaping is meant to blend into the historic Church Square property. The original church building was also renovated.[12]

Social Action[edit]

The parish has been involved in the social and civic life of the Davenport community almost from its very beginning. The Davenport Temperance Society, which was formed in 1842, held their weekly meetings at St. Anthony's[13] In 1985 the parish began its “Care and Share” program under the direction of its pastor, the Rev. Kenneth Martin. Ten percent of the parish’s weekly collection was set aside to aid those in need. His successor, the Rev. James Conroy began what has been dubbed “McAnthony’s Window,” a program that serves lunch to the homeless and indigent people. Another food distribution program collects food for baskets that are distributed to the elderly and poor at Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter.[11]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2010-07-09. 
  2. ^ a b Historic Preservation Commission. "Davenport Register of Historic Properties". City of Davenport. Retrieved 2011-03-07. 
  3. ^ a b c Svendsen, Marls A., Bowers, Martha H (1982). Davenport where the Mississippi runs west: A Survey of Davenport History & Architecture. Davenport, Iowa: City of Davenport. p. 11-1. 
  4. ^ "Builder of the Church". Retrieved 2010-02-13. 
  5. ^ "Davenport Past and Present". Scott County Iowa USGenWeb Project. Retrieved 2010-02-13. 
  6. ^ a b c d "Churches and Parishes". Scott County Iowa USGenWeb Project. Retrieved 2010-02-13. 
  7. ^ "History of Davenport and Scott County, Chapter 35". Scott County Iowa USGenWeb Project. Retrieved 2010-02-13. 
  8. ^ Kempker, John F. "Catholic Missionaries in the Early and in the Territorial Days of Iowa". IAGenWeb Project. Retrieved 2010-02-13. 
  9. ^ "History of Davenport and Scott County, Chapter 37". Scott County Iowa USGenWeb Project. Retrieved 2010-02-13. 
  10. ^ Svendsen, 11-2.
  11. ^ a b "Parish History". St. Anthony's Church. Retrieved 2010-02-13. 
  12. ^ Cox Baker, Deirdre. "St. Anthony’s adjusts downtown property". Quad-City Times (June 12, 2009). Retrieved 2010-08-30. 
  13. ^ Roba, William, Anderson, Frederick I. (ed.) (1982). Joined by a River: Quad Cities. Davenport, Iowa: Lee Enterprises. p. 70. 

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