Michael & Mary Ann Mahoney and Thomas and Mary Gilmore were the first Catholic settlers in this area. In the 1870’s, several Irish families came from eastern Iowa to work on Brother Mary Bernard Murphy’s cattle ranch northwest of what would someday become the town of Imogene. The Trappist monk from New Melleray Abbey in Peosta, Iowa was a highly respected cattleman. Unfortunately, the bottom dropped out of the Iowa cattle market in the late 1870’s and the ranch went bankrupt.
Fortunately for the Irish workers, at about the same time, 500 men were needed to complete the railroad through this area. The landscape reminded the men of Ireland, they stayed, dubbed the area “Little Ireland”, and encouraged more to settle here. In November of 1879, Captain Anderson took out the township papers and named the town Imogene in honor of his daughter.
A New Parish
In 1876, Father Gerald Stack came to serve the needs of the Catholics in this area. By 1879, Masses were being celebrated about two miles southwest of Imogene in the Monroe Center schoolhouse. Father Stack began raising money to erect a church. The first Mass in the town of Imogene was celebrated in the home of John Delehant. In June 1880, Father Stack organized the Imogene St. Patrick parish as a mission of St. Mary parish in Shenandoah. A cornfield in the NE part of the new town was selected as the church site. The final papers were signed on June 21, 1880. There were 11 families in the parish with a membership of 120. The families were those of Abraham Berigan, Owen Clark, John Delehant, John Gilmore, Martin Head, John Hughes, John Laughlin, Mike Mahoney, Ed McGargill, Ed Printy, and Mike Saner.
A small, white frame church costing $1,800 was built on the SE corner of the parish property. By 1882, when Father John Ryan became pastor, there were 150 people in Imogene. Father Ryan lived in Shenandoah and ministered to the people in Imogene. Shortly after he came, the church was completed enough so services could be held in the building. Wagon seats were brought into the church each Sunday. Some leaned against lumber stacked along the walls until the church was completed.
Mount Calvary Cemetery
On December 3, 1883, Father Ryan purchased land one half mile south of the church for Mount Calvary Cemetery.
In February of 1884, he was on a sick call from Shenandoah to Imogene when he fell into the frigid waters of the Nishnabotna River. Despite being soaked and freezing, he completed his sick call. Tragically he died of pneumonia a few days later on February 17, 1884 and was one of the first to be buried in the cemetery. He was followed by Father Schiffmacher (six months), Peter Clark (one year) and John Cook.
Father Edmund (Edmond) Hayes came from Melrose, IA in 1888 to become our first permanent pastor. He inherited wealth and made more in California gold and oil and in Nevada silver mines. He also invested in the newly formed Omaha Stockyards and the Union Pacific Railroad. He was a world traveler and an eloquent speaker. By 1889, he had enlarged the frame church. He donated the cemetery Calvary grouping in May 1892.
By 1892, the town of Imogene had grown to 400 people. The original frame church was too small and was moved to the NW corner of the property and was used as the parish hall. Father Hayes was able to raise $14,000 to build a larger brick church on the SE corner of the church property. The church was made of pressed brick with granite trim in the Gothic style of architecture. The focal point of the church was the life-sized crucifix behind the altar rail. Father Hayes had it shipped to Imogene directly from the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. First Mass-September 3, 1893
In 1901, two teenage girls walked through the fields and the streets of Imogene collecting money to purchase the church bell. The bell arrived in Imogene on April 21, 1901. It was dedicated on May 27, 1901.
The white frame parish rectory, directly west of the church, was built in 1904 at a cost of $3,000. All suitable lumber from the original frame church was used in its construction. It was first occupied on October 19, 1904.
St. Patrick Academy
St. Patrick Academy was located on the area now serving as the north church parking lot. It opened with 100 students on September 9, 1907. This large number of students led Father Hayes to buy the former German Lutheran Church building (built in 1875 as the Presbyterian Church) across the street from the church to serve as a parochial school for grades 1 and 2. Mercy Sisters staffed the schools from 1907-1918. Dominican Sisters ran the school from 1920-1969. The Parochial School was torn down in 1919.
St. Patrick Convent
The brick convent, across the street to the south of the church, was built in 1922. At one time it was home for seven nuns. The Academy closed in May of 1969 and was demolished in November 1972. Approximately 1,000 students received all or part of their education at the Academy. The Dominicans started the CCD program in the fall of 1969 and remained in Imogene until 1972. The former convent is now used as the Faith Center. Volunteer parishioners conduct Youth Faith Formation (YFF) classes there for the children of the parish after Sunday Mass from September to April.
The 2 ½ ton Pieta statue arrived in Imogene on June 22, 1910. It was originally ordered as a tombstone. Father Hayes probably ended up purchasing it for the church because the family that ordered it moved to Missouri three days before the tombstone arrived in Imogene. It was placed in front of the second church.
A wedding was held in the 2nd church early in the morning on February 10, 1915. There was a smell of smoke in the air after the wedding. People looked for the source but could not find one. During the noon hour, school children spotted smoke coming from the church. The janitor discovered the basement in flames from a furnace malfunction. Father Hayes raced to save the Blessed Sacrament and a few vestments before being overcome by smoke. School children were moved to the Parochial School because the heat from the fire was causing the Academy windows to break. Years later many still could remember hearing the thud of the bell as it fell into the church basement.
People worked frantically to put out the flying embers that caught the rectory roof on fire. In a panic, people threw out furniture, artwork, and rare items Father Hayes had collected on his world travels. Much of this, along with unrecorded church information tucked inside books, was destroyed by water and mud. The rectory only suffered minor damage, but by nightfall the church was in ruins.
The following Sunday, services were held in the nearby Hibernian Hall. Plans were made to build a church to seat 600.
Work on the current church began on August 30, 1915. Harry Lawrie was the architect; Ed and Jack Sprague of Omaha, NE were the contractors. The church is made of black Hylex brick. It measures 65x130x65 with an 80 foot bell tower. The supporting walls in the basement are 5 bricks thick. The ceiling is made of steel beams covered with oak panels – unusual for the time.
The bell from the second church was retempered and hung in the new church. The Pieta statue can now be seen in the SW corner of the church. The walls of the present church were built around it. One of the marble altar gates ordered for our present church is cemented to the base. The marble gates did not shut properly and were replaced by bronze gates. If you look closely, you can still see some of the tombstone inscription behind the gate. The church was completed enough for the first services to be held in it on October 29, 1916.
Our Altars and Altar Rail
The church was built and furnished largely through the wealth of Father Hayes and the generous donations of groups and individuals. Father Hayes personally went to Pietrasanta, Italy to order the altars he donated in memory of his family. The altars left Italy on November 1, 1916 and now lie beneath water. The ship carrying them hit a German mine in WWI action. The altars in our church are his second choice.
The altars are of white polished Cararra marble. For contrast, the statues have a dull finish. The altars came in thousands of pieces, on several boxcars, over many months. Italian sculptor, Enrico Tonnegetti and his crew spent two years assembling them. Their cost, at that time, was estimated at $60,000-$90,000. The main altar is 29 feet high by 18 feet wide. The side altars are 18 feet high by 8 feet wide.
The altar rail is of matching marble and is 2 feet 4 inches high. The gates are bronze trimmed in gold and cost $1,000.
Stained Glass Windows and More
The stained glass windows came from Munich. They are 15 feet high. Each window shows three stories in the creation, fall, and redemption of mankind.
The large St. Patrick window in the choir loft cost $12,000 and was sent back three times before Father Hayes was satisfied with the face of St. Patrick. (possibly Father Hayes’ face) Workmen finished installing the windows on April 1, 1918.
The windows over the sanctuary are of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (west side) and the Sacred Heart (east side). The windows by the Pieta are those of St. Brigid and St. Agnes. The window behind the baptismal font is of St. John the Baptist. The window over the west confessional is a symbol of Jesus as the Lamb of God. The window over the east confessional is the Pelican in her piety-a symbol of Jesus sacrificing Himself on the Cross for us. Classic Art Glass of Omaha, NE removed, cleaned and repaired all the stained glass windows between 2003-2005.
The mosaic Stations of the Cross each have a white Cararra marble frame. These came from Venice. Mr. Tonnegetti and helpers spent a year assembling them – much like a jigsaw puzzle.
Father Hayes was optimistic and wired the church for electricity before electricity came to Imogene. We still use the original lights. The current church was built for $125,000. It was not dedicated until March 17, 1924
when it was debt-free.
Father Francis Doyle and successive priests
In April 1926, Father Hayes entered St. Joseph Hospital in Omaha, NE. He remained there until his death on February 8, 1928. St. Patrick Church is his memorial.
Father Francis Doyle came to help serve the parish in 1923 and became the pastor upon the death of Father Hayes. 78 years of service by only two priests came to an end with his death on September 30, 1966.
The parish was then served by a succession of priests including Fathers John Cunningham, James Stessman, Gordon Gittens, Daniel Delehant, Albert Wilwerding, James McIlhon, and James Radde, S.J. Father Louis Meyer, OSB cared for the parish for the first few months of 1981.
Father John Clarke came to the parish in June of 1981. On July 7, 1983 our church was added to the National Register of Historic Places. It has historic significance for its architecture and engineering. It is in the Late Gothic revival/Romanesque style of architecture. A ramp and air-conditioning are some of the improvements made during Father Clarke’s pastorate. He completed 19 years of service to the parish with his retirement on July 12, 2000.
On July 13, 2000 St. Patrick parish became a mission of Red Oak and Father James Kleffman became the pastor. He retired on July 10, 2003. During his stay with us, he encouraged everyone to become more active members of the parish, the Board of Education was established and our parish joined Southwest Iowa Parishes United (SWIPU). With his encouragement, the former rectory was remodeled into a family dwelling, the parish office was updated and moved to the sacristy, a consecrated wine vessel purification area was added to the sacristy, and a parish website became a reality. Among other improvements, the church lighting was updated, the front doors were restored and the stained glass repair process began. Father was an avid photographer and left us with many beautiful pictures of our church.
Father Ken Gross became our pastor on July 10, 2003. A furnace malfunction on February 16, 2005 sent black soot throughout the hall and church. Workmen from BMS CAT arrived on March 9, 2005 to begin the massive cleanup operation. The body of the church was cleaned on March 22nd and 23rd of 2005. The malfunction resulted in the replacement of the hall ceiling and air conditioning ductwork. Replacement of the siding on the west entrance, new carpeting in the west entrance, updated lighting inside and outside of the church, and the extension of the south parking lot were all completed in June 2005. The cleaning and repair of our beautiful windows was completed on June 16, 2005.
Deacon Mark Neal helped serve the parish from May 27-August 7, 2005. He was ordained on June 9, 2006.
Planning for our 125th Jubilee on June 24, 25 and 26 of 2005 began on July 31, 2003. Our faith community is able to offer hospitality to people from various parts of the country and world on a regular basis. Through the cooperation of our parishioners, we welcomed over 600 people for our successful Quasquicentennial celebration.
The restrooms, originally in St. Patrick Academy, were remodeled and a handicapped restroom was added in February 2007.
The furnace malfunctioned again on February 11, 2007 and covered the back rooms of the hall with soot. Church services were held in the parish hall for six weeks until temperatures moderated and a supplemental heat source could be installed. On December 14, 2007, thanks to a donation from the estate of Liz O’Brien, a geo-thermal heating and cooling system was completed.
Late in the fall of 2008, a ramped sidewalk was added from the street to make the church more accessible to the handicapped. A wheelchair lift was installed in the spring of 2009. The floors in the church were refinished in January 2010. The church and choir loft were recarpeted in May 2010. Recovering of the kneelers was completed in June 2010. Eucharistic Adoration began on Tuesday, May 17, 2011.
Father Gross became the pastor of St. John Greenfield and St. Patrick Massena on July 14, 2011. Father Tom Kunnel, TOR from Columbia Heights, Minnesota became the current pastor on that date. Shortly after his arrival, the sacristan ministry was started in the parish. The Centennial Capital Campaign began on November 18, 2012. Father Tom celebrated his silver jubilee as a Franciscan, TOR on October 12, 2013. The repair and replacement of the tile church roof was completed in the fall of 2013.
Today there are no Catholic families in the town of Imogene. Our parish is made up of about 150 families with over 300 people. They come from a thirty mile radius and their children attend school in seven separate school districts. We have a large number of guests attending our services each weekend. Our church continues to prosper thanks to the leadership of our pastor and the dedication of parishioners involved in our Pastoral and Finance Councils,LACE, Altar Society, Youth & Adult Faith Formation, Knights of Columbus, Prayer Net, CYO, and NCYC.
The church is maintained through the generous support of our parishioners and by memorial gifts and donations to the St. Patrick Building Fund from current and former parishioners, relatives, friends and visitors. Every person who walks through the doors of our church contributes to the rich history of St. Patrick parish.
Aware of our rich Catholic tradition, we strive to keep Jesus as the center of our worship and life. We are open to ongoing formation in faith through the sacraments, life experiences, and other opportunities for reflection. We are committed to witness our faith by serving others and working for justice and peace.