History of St. Patrick’s Parish – Epworth, Iowa

Father Commerford was ordained in Ireland on June 20, 1878.  On April 5, 1879, he was appointed pastor of St. John’s church in Placid, Iowa.  Soon after his arrival in Placid, he began to minister to the few scattered Catholic families residing in and around Epworth.  Three families formed that original group: the Timothy O’Connors, the Florence McCarthys, and the William Jennings – nineteen persons in all.  Once a month Mass was offered in the O’Connor home, but since the rooms were too small to accommodate the group, a larger room was later rented in the Finnessey house.  Mr. Finnessey was not Catholic.

Later that same fall, the small Catholic congregation began construction of a church.  Laying of the cornerstone took place on November 9, 1879.  The Daily Herald in Dubuque carried the following story on November 12, 1879:

          “The work of erecting the church has been undertaken by Rev. Commerford, the young clergyman who has charge of the parish from of Pleasant Grove where a church is also located, about five miles from Epworth.  Taking into consideration the limited number of Catholics who reside in the near vicinity of the town where the foundation of the new church has been laid, one cannot help according the young priest who has inaugurated the worthy work more than an ordinary amount of courage and determination… The ceremony of laying the stone was performed by Rev. Father Burke, assisted by Revs. Commerford, Brady, Farley, Heer and Kelley.”

Rev. J. Brogan served both St. John and St. Patrick from 1900 – 1905.  Rev. Patrick McNamara served from 1905 – 1930.  After serving both parishes for five years, Rev. Mathias J Meyerhofer was appointed the first resident pastor for St. Patrick Parish in 1935.

The Catholic Daily Tribune printed the story above of the history of the parish in its issue on August 15, 1937.  The article continued:

          “Arrangements had been made to resume work earlier in spring.  However, no definite information is available as to when the church was completed or when it was dedicated.  Mr. J.J. Hamilton, a member of the original group and also present at the time revealed that ‘Father Commerford himself on a Sunday morning blessed it after its completion and there were about ten persons present’.”

Ever since that original group of three families erected the church there has been a slow, but steady increase in the number of parishioners; until about 1930’s when there was almost 300 members of the congregation.  Early in 1935, at the request of the parish, the Archbishop and his building committee authorized Father Meyerhofer to purchase the Earle B. Moore property, consisting of a large brick house and nineteen acres of land for the sum of $5,500.00.  The priest was directed to make the necessary improvements and repairs when he became the first resident pastor of St. Patrick’s on September 3, 1935.

Up until this time, St. Patrick’s church did not have its own cemetery.  Interments were made in the Placid, Farley, or Centralia cemeteries.  During the year 1936, a plat of nineteen acres was set aside for burial purposes.  All records previous to this date had been kept and entered at Placid under that name.

The original church was also still being used at this time, but could not fill the needs of the growing parish and a new brick structure was planned.  The pastor, Rev. Meyerhofer, laid the first brick for the new church on May 18, 1937, at 2:15 p.m.  The cornerstone was blessed by the Archbishop, Francis J. Beckman, on June 13, 1937.  The church was built for around $10,000.00

Dedication of the new church followed the next spring.  The first Mass was sung in the church on December 8, 1937 and the same day, Loras Patrick Horsfield, son of Mr. and Mrs. Walter Horsfield, was baptized in the church.  The First Holy Communion class of the new parish, six boys and four girls, took place on May 22, 1938.

In 1954 – 1955, a new school was built at a cost of $11,680.00 under the direction of Rev. Raker, and under the guidance of Rev. William C. Michael, pastor from 1955 – 1968, a new rectory was built in 1963.  Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary agreed to send sisters to be an administrator and as teachers to the new school.  The school opened in September 1955.

Originally, St. Patrick’s was used for grades 1-8.  But while Rev. Michael was pastor, the school became a part of the Epworth-Peosta-Placid Catholic consolidated school system.  With this consolidation, first through fifth graders attended St. Patrick’s School, and sixth through eighth graders attended the school in Peosta.

With the building of a new church in Peosta in 1989, the Placid attendance center for two grades of the Epworth-Peosta-Placid (EPP) Catholic School was closed and the grades moved to the Peosta Center.  In 1995-96 the EPP system reconsolidated with the Farley-Bankston School to form a new five parish consolidated Catholic School under the patronage of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton.  This was later renamed Seton Catholic Schools.

In 2000, St. Johns in Placid clustered with St. Patrick and became the Epworth-Placid Cluster.  Fr. Ray Burkle became pastor of both parishes. 

In 2007, the St. Elizabeth Pastorate was established which clustered the parishes of St. Patrick’s in Epworth, St. Joseph’s in Farley, St. Clement’s in Bankston, and St. John the Evangelist in Placid.

A new elementary school was built in Peosta in 2011 to house Kindergarten through fifth grade and the Epworth and Peosta centers were closed.  The Epworth center is still used today for Faith Formation classes.

In 2012, St. John the Baptist joined the St. Elizabeth pastorate to cluster with Epworth, Farley, Bankston, and Placid.

The Epworth rectory is now the central office for the entire St. Elizabeth Pastorate.

Presently the St. Elizabeth Pastorate consists of five parishes under the leadership of Fr. Michael Schueller with the assistance of Fr. John Haugen as sacramental priest.  Father Schueller’s gifts of leadership, administration, and counseling brought many needed changes to the pastorate.  Father John’s gifts in liturgy and church environment have greatly improved our worship.  Both priests are dedicated to having the celebration of the Mass every weekend in every parish.

Though the dynamics of St. Patrick parish has changed a lot over the years, it continues to be an active faith community, which strives to be the model of the Body of Christ in all that is said and done.


St. Patrick’s history taken from:

 History of Epworth, Iowa copyright 1976

Archdiocese of Dubuque 1837-2012

If The Walls Could Talk