Holy Family Catholic Church (New Melleray, Iowa)

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Holy Family Catholic Church is a parish in the Archdiocese of Dubuque. It is located about ten miles south of Dubuque, Iowa. For many years, the monks of New Melleray Abbey provided care and support for the parish.


Early history[edit]

In 1849, Trappist monks founded New Melleray at the invitation of Bishop Loras, and settled on land near the present monastery. Soon, a number of immigrants - who mainly came from Ireland - settled in the area. These settlers came to the monastery for Masses.

Soon, the people living in the area felt the need to have a parish of their own. However, they lacked the financial resources needed to build a church. One of the monks, who had previously been a Count, arranged for his family to make a donation. This allowed the people to construct a small stone church.

The small church served for many years until it was destroyed by fire. The parishioners were served during this time by a number of Trappist fathers. One of these - Clement Smyth - became the second Bishop of Dubuque.

The church was rebuilt as a white frame structure by the northern edge of the parish cemetery. This structure served until the late 1880s, when it was decided that a new larger church was needed.

The present building[edit]

The pastor at the time, Father Sullivan did not like some of the methods used to raise funds that some churches used, such as picnics, raffles, or games. Father Sullivan termed these methods "church piracy" and insisted that those methods not be used. Fr. Sullivan was so opposed to these methods that he once refused a donation of funds that were raised in this manner. So both he and the building committee came upon the idea of checking the tax records of the members of the parish, and assessed according to his property tax levy. To save on costs, the construction work was mostly done by members of the parish.

Bishop Hennessy helped lay the cornerstone for the church. In April, 1889 he dedicated the church to the Holy Family when the building was complete.

When Father Sullivan died in 1910, Father Placid Magee from the monastery was appointed pastor of Holy Family parish. During that time period, priests would sometimes receive long term appointments to parishes. Father Magee served as pastor for 42 years, until his death on February 4, 1952.

The transfer of supervision to the archdiocese[edit]

With the death of Father Magee, a Father Vincent - also from the Abbey - was assigned as the interim pastor. Upon Magee's death the Archdiocese took over the administration of the parish, and beginning in 1953 subsequent priests were assigned by the Archdiocese. The parish was affiliated with Saint Joseph's Prairie Church, which was about three miles east of Holy Family. For over 30 years, the two parishes shared pastors.

Msgr. William Roach had served the two parishes from 1984 until his death in 1986. Msgr. Roach died in an automobile accident when he was involved in a collision with a flatbed semi truck. At the time of the accident he was legally intoxicated. He also has had the unfortunate distinction of being touched by the sexual abuse crisis in the church. A man living in Texas had claimed that Msgr. William Roach had abused him in 1962 while Rev. Roach was working in a Cedar Rapids, Iowa parish. This man has since filed a lawsuit against the Archdiocese. Other men have also come forward and claimed that they were abused by Msgr. Roach as well.

It was decided in 1989 to close Saint Joseph's church. Most of the parishioners were absorbed into the Holy Family parish. Holy Family was then affiliated with Saint John the Baptist Catholic Church in Peosta, Iowa, and since that time the two parishes have shared pastors. Recently, it was revealed that the Archdiocese is considering making changes to that arrangement due to the priest shortage, and would probably do so once Fr. Kuhn retires.

The 1990s[edit]

In the mid-1990s, the parish decided that it was time to refurbish the interior of the church. A number of years had passed since the last refurbishment. The parish council carefully studied old photos of the church interior in order to see how the interior had changed over the years, and what would look the best.

The council then decided to use a very simple, but elegant decoratiing scheme. The interior walls and ceiling were painted white. Much of the wood was refinished. The carpet was replaced throughout the building. When the old carpet was removed, the hardwood floor around the old high altar was rediscovered. It was refinished and was allowed to remain uncovered. A new main altar was placed in the sanctuary to replace the old main altar from the early 1970s.

One hundred and fifty years[edit]

In the year 2000, Holy Family parish celebrated its 150th anniversary. A new photo directory was made. Parishioners were invited to share memories about the parish as well as old photos and documents. The celebrations culminated in a special mass celebrated by the Archbishop of Dubuque.

The future[edit]

Holy Family parish faces new challenges in the 21st century. While many parishioners still make their living in agriculture, the demographics of the parishioners have changed as more and more people move from nearby Dubuque to suburbs in the Peosta area. The Peosta area is one of the fastest growing areas. In fact, the Parish has had so much of an increase in families, even as other local area parishes close, the parish is going to add an addition onto the left side of the church, to accommodate the overflow of families. The Holy Family Catholic Church and its clustered parish are the only 2 parishes in the archdiocese that are currently increasing in families. For this reason, both churches have been promised by the archdiocese to remain clustered together, and to be continually supplied with a priest.

Pastors of Holy Family[edit]

Pastors of Holy Family
Dates Pastor
1850-1883 Various Priests from New Melleray - including Fr. Clement Smyth, Fr. James O'Gorman, Fr. Patrick, Fr. Francis, and Fr. Nicholas Scallion.
1883 Fr. Bernard McCaffery, OCSO
1883-1910 Fr. David Sullivan, OCSO
1910-1952 Fr. Placid Magee, OCSO
1953 Fr. Richard Krapfl
1953-1955 Fr. William C. Michael
1955-1956 Fr. Conrad R. Schallau
1956-1963 Fr. Robert V. Swift
1963-1971 Fr. J. Duane Raftis
1971-1972 Fr. Joseph V. O'Brien
1972-1980 Fr. Robert E. Moran
1980-1983 Fr. William G. McLaughlin
1983-1984 Fr. Charles Whalen
1984-1986 Msgr. William Roach
1986-1989 Fr. Robert Kalb
1989-1990 Fr. Robert Levenhagen
1990 Fr. James J. McBride
1990-1999 Fr. Carl Manternach
1999-2011 Fr. Richard W. Kuhn
2011–Present Fr. Michael J. Podhajsky