The History of St. Anns Parish


About this document:
 This electronic edition of St. Anns History is essentially the publication "The History of St. Ann's Catholic Church Long Grove, Iowa, 1840-1995," by Chris and Cathi Farwell.  The original contains a detailed bibliography and footnotes, which are not included here.  We have updated this excellent reference and made it available in an electronic format.

The Early Church:   Over 20 years before the Civil War, people in various sections of Europe were turning their eyes upon America as the land of hope and opportunity.  Among the many who fled Europe were the Irish, German, and Belgians.  Suffering from famine, political oppression, or religious persecution, America presented a chance to start anew.

    So in the mid to late 1830s, eager newcomers from Ireland moved westward across the frontier country of the United States.  Some eventually settled in the vast wilderness 30 miles north of the infant town of Davenport, Iowa.  At that time, there were only about 100 residents of Davenport, and scarcely more than 25 were Catholic.

They were the typical pioneer conquerors of the American frontier, with their huge canvas-topped wagons drawn by strong oxen.  These hardy pioneers were frugal, zealous, industrious and self-sacrificing and no work was too hard  or hours too long when it came to providing for their families or for the Church.  They feel in love with the land and the climate and the scenery.

    Charles Elder, his wife and one child, and Leonard Cooper and family of ten, arrived early in the spring of 1838 from Pennsylvania and staked claims.  When the Brownlie brothers came to Iowa in the fall of 1838, they found families living in log cabins near Long Grove.  Several other families had land claims, but returned temporarily to homes in Pennsylvania.  Most of the Irish settled to the north and west of Long Grove and became the members of St Ann's Parish.  Among these were Matthew and Richard Tobin, great grandfather and grandfather to Tobin families which are still members of St. Ann's.  The Tobin brothers returned to their claim in 1843

    It is difficult to pin-point the exact date of the start of St. Ann's Parish.  Some might be inclined to put the date as early as the year of 1838 when Mass was offered in the Elder and Cooper homes by priests who traveled by horseback.  With the Irish potato famine, which started in 1847, and the advertisement of Iowa as the home of the Irish by the Diocese of Dubuque, came a large influx of settlers.  Just who called the first meeting of the men of the Parish we do not know, but they decided to have a church of their own.  So it was in 1853, with the generous gift of land from John McManus, the small Catholic Parish had its beginning, dedicated to St. Ann.  What rejoicing there must have been among the new Americans in this wilderness; they now had their own church.  It was located two miles north of Long Grove.  The building, erected in 1853, is the vestry of Old St. Ann's.  Patrick Dempsey later donated 20 acres of farmland to aid in support of the church.  The original small frame building sat on the site presently occupied by the bell tower.

    The charter families of the present St. Ann's community were John McManus, Richard Tobin, Matthew Tobin, John Noel, Michael Lillis, James Armstrong, Raphael Cooper, Dominick Gillin, John Ennis, John Doyle, Martin Kehoe, Leonard Cooper, Patrick Dempsey and Charles Elder.

    Due to the size and remote rural location of the church, they were not appointed a resident priest.  Priest then (like today) were scare, especially in a missionary diocese,  From 1853 to 1870, St. Ambrose Academy and Davenport churches supplies numerous priests to serve the needs of the congregation.  Among these priests were Fr. James McGillin, Fr. Peter Gaffney, and Fr. Henry Cosgrove, the most notable as he was later to become one of the Bishops of the Davenport Diocese after its creation in 1881.

     Many Irish, Germans and Belgians, seeing the advertisements of the church and experiencing the anti-Catholic mood of the cities, decided Iowa would make a wonderful new home.  As the colony began to grow in numbers, so too did the Parish.  By 1870, the Parish had become too large for the simple structure, and a larger place of worship became necessary.  Retaining the original church as a vestry, the enlarged church and a parsonage (which was moved to the Francis Costello farm in 1984) were completed.  In order to preserve the scenic beauty of the land, scores of young maple trees were planted around the new church.  The simple white building with its tall steeple and cross and outstanding landscaping would serve the people well for more than 100 years.  That year, with the parsonage not entirely completed, Father Thomas Smythe became the first resident priest.

      It is unfortunate that we know so little about the infant years in the life of the Parish, the work and difficulties as well as the joys of the first parishioners.  How quickly the first years must have gone; yet they had a flourishing new Parish to show for it.  Certainly these first years were well spent, and the Parish had a healthy beginning, both spiritually and materially.  

Old St. Anns

 Old St. Anns is a magnificent, traditional country church constructed of all local oak.  A small wooden frame structure served as the original church from 1853 until 1870.  This building seated about 50 people, and the parish outgrew it quickly.  In 1870, a larger church was built and the original structure was used as a vestry.  The wooden frame church seated just 250 people, but served the congregation well for 136 years.  The architecture of the church was similar to many other rural Catholic churches of the era.  The church's exterior was wooden siding painted white with a tall steeple that typically punctuated a Catholic church.  There were wide steps and heavy oak doors leading into the church.  The tall steeple and beautiful landscaping drew people from all over.

      The grounds were beautifully landscaped, using the old trees to their advantage.  Hedges and bushes complemented the simple white church building with its tall steeple and cross.  Flowers bloomed around two shrines, one on each side of the wide walkway which led from the blacktopped parking lot to the church steps.

     In the 1970s, the inside of the church was completely remodeled.  The old altar was removed, the background paneled in dark wood, and the upper part and side above the paneling were done in gold leaf.  The heavy white altar, which was used for over 100 years, was replaced by a newer more simple wood-grained altar.  The entire church was carpeted in green with accents of gold and cardinal.

     The 100-year old, high straight-backed wooden pews and wood kneeling benches were replaced by low pews and padded keeling benches.  New  self-closing glass doors  took the place of the heavy wooden outside doors, and green outdoor carpet was placed on the steps.  A sacristy and reconciliation room were added to the front of the church.  The 100-plus year old church had become quite modern with its wide center aisle and narrower side aisles.  The entire interior was in view from the outside.

     On Monday, July 29, 1985, the last Mass as said in the old church.  The community gathered to move equipment from the old to the new church.  In September 1985, the congregation bid farewell to the beautiful old church they had called home.  The church was moved to the Walnut Grove Pioneer Village in Scott County Part where it was restored to its former glory in pre-Vatican II style with an altar similar to the original, a communion rail, and high wooden pews.  Today the church is used for many non-denominational weddings and has become a frequently visited historical site in Scott County. 


The New Church

 The parish decided in 1984 to build a new church.  The stately old church could no longer accommodate the needs of the constantly  growing congregation.  A committee was formed to study and make recommendations for building a new facility.  In early 1984, the plans were approved and the ground was broken on June 17, 1984.  A new structure was started to the  west side of the old church and was formally dedicated on October 27, 1985.

     The design of the church came from a combined effort of the liturgical consultant, Frank Kacmarcik, the committee of parishioners, the architect, Ken Steffen, all under the leadership of Fr. John Hynes.  The spacious interior comfortably seats 750 people, and the pews are arranged so that all worshipers can see the faces of other worshipers during the liturgy.  This was designed to enhance the feeling of community.  Also included was a large day chapel with seating for 100 where daily Mass is held; a Eucharistic chapel for private devotion by 10 to 12 people; conference room; pastoral offices and study; secretary's office; sacristy; a small meeting area for special meetings such as Bible studies; a nursery; a kitchenette; and restrooms.  The building, which cost nearly $1.8 million, replaced the original church that served the community well.  It was paid for through a fund drive, cash on hand, and a loan through Davenport Bank and Trust Co.

     The large commons area with the baptismal font connects all other area to the main church area.  Parishioners gather in the commons before Mass to visit and after Mass for coffee and juice.  This area is one of the church's greatest assets in bringing the community together.

            Just to the west side of the church is the spacious rectory with living quarters for the resident priest, multi-purpose meeting areas, and an attached two-car garage.  The rectory is attached to the main church.

     The new church was designed with consideration for leaving as much of the original grounds and landscaping intact as possible.  Through the generosity of parishioners and others, a bell tower was erected just to the east of the church, where the bell from the old church is preserved and heard today.  The cemetery adjoins the church on the east and can be seen from inside the commons at the baptismal font.  Behind the bell tower is a baby land burial plot.

     The Mass used to be a background for private worship in a public setting.  Philosophically and structurally, the new building symbolizes and encourages the spirit of community gathering in proclamation of the Word.  Much thought and effort were put into making this building a place where the sense of community, often lost with population growth, could be recaptured and celebrated.

     The commons is what brings the parish to life.  It invites mingling and brotherhood of the members and brings a sense of energy and openness to the church.  The room is lighted by natural light from the skylight directly over the baptismal font, which is large enough to baptize babies by immersion (which is an option for the parents of infants).  The celebration of the sacrament of baptism at the opening of Mass is a symbol that we come into the Church through baptism.  As you witness a baptism, you have a clear view of the cemetery.  This view was designed to tie the proud heritage of this congregation to the hopes of the future.  This dramatic symbolism illustrates the life course in visual terms.

     The worship center was designed to enhance the sense of community the Commons builds.  The congregation surrounds the table where the actions of the liturgy can be experienced.  The eye moves easily from one another to the various locations of interest within the celebration:  The celebrant, the reader, the gift bearer, the choir, or to wherever the liturgical activity is focusing.  The consecrated bread is reserved in the Eucharistic Chapel and is present in the worship center only during the liturgy.

     Most startling about the new church is that there are no kneelers in the worship center,  The philosophy being that a more fitting posture for participation in the communal worship of the Eucharist is standing.  Kneelers are fitting for adoration and perhaps for contemplative prayer, and are seen as an individual (private) approach to prayer.  They were not included because of the sense of community that has been strongly emphasized.

            The walls are relatively bare with only the Stations of the Cross located across the back.  Green plants are located throughout the church, and a statue of Mary is prominent.  The lack of statues and other artifacts minimalize the distractions and allow the focus to remain on the altar, pulpit, and people.  Another thing people notice is the absence of stained glass windows in the entire facility.  There is no stained glass because of the desire for natural lighting and fully utilizing the scenic beauty of the grounds.

     Another focal point in the church is the specially-designed pipe organ.  Its prominent position in the midst of the people emphasizes the importance of music in the celebration of the liturgy.  The church was designed to be acoustically alive in order to bring out the congregational singing and prayer.  Quarry tile was used for the floor instead of carpet because carpet deadens the sound.

     Today, the laity are more involved than even in the celebration of the Eucharist.  They participate as Eucharistic ministers, members of the choir, sacramental sponsors, ushers, gift bearers, lectors, servers, home visitors, religious educators, and members of the church social groups.  Without the dedication and involvement of the laity, all the efforts to build a sense of community would be wasted.