by Gayle Stuart


In 1872, the first Mass was said in Walnut by Father B. P. McMenomy, who was pastor at St. Francis Xavier in Council Bluffs.  At that time, Mass was being offered downtown in Snyder’s Carpenter Shop over a store in the Vollstedt building on the northeast corner of Central (Antique City Drive) and Highland Streets.

The first St. Patrick’s Church was built in 1874, at the extreme east end of Highland Street; it was one block north and three blocks east of the Rock Island Railroad Station.  John and Donald Stuart and George Mullen had gone to see Right Rev. John McMullen and received permission from the Dubuque Diocese to build a church.  The property was purchased from Mr. and Mrs. I. T. Spangler for $123.50 and B. F. Allen for $75.  Parishioners hauled limestone blocks used for the foundation by team and wagon from a quarry in the Oakland vicinity.  St. Patrick’s Church, a frame building, was built under the supervision of Father Bernard McMenomy at the cost of $3,500.

Walnut was then a mission of St. Francis of Council Bluffs.  Later it was a mission of St. Peter and Paul of Atlantic with Father Edward Gaule serving from 1876 to 1883.  It is believed that a Father Foley, from Stuart, Iowa would stop and offer services from time to time.  He came on the railroad.

The first baby to be baptized in the church was Thomas McCarty.  Among the first baptisms was Charles F. Stuart, son of Donald and Elizabeth Stuart.

From 1883 to 1916, Walnut had a resident pastor. Father Richard Dollard was the first.  (Avoca was then a mission of Walnut.)  Father Dollard bought the church bell in 1888 at the cost of $600. It is inscribed “Rev. Richard Dollard, Walnut, Iowa, June A.D. 1888.” After the bell was removed from the old church property, it was mounted on steel beams on the new church lawn and is rung electronically from inside the church.  This mounting was a gift from Mr. and Mrs. George Gross.  It was dedicated and rung for the first time on December 10, 1972, to celebrate the church’s centennial.

Members from St. Patrick’s Parish, who devoted their lives to religious work, were the following:  Father Burton Fraser, S. J.; Msgr. Thomas Murphy; Sister Mary Xavier (Clara Stuart); Sister Mary Michael (Teresa Mullen); Sister Mary Alexandra (Natalie Stuart); Sister Mary Mildred (Loretta Hamilton); Sister Mary Patricia (Mary Mullen).

From 1908 to 1933 Father Herman Albers was pastor at St. Mary’s in Avoca.  During his tenure in 1915, St. Patrick’s became a mission of St. Mary’s.  Priests serving the two parishes after that included: Father Valentine Cashman, 1933 – 1947; Father Emil Schuman, 1947 – 1955; Father Jerome Schnitker, briefly in 1955; Father Joseph Schulte, 1955 – 1969; Father LaVern Wingert, 1969 – 1979; Father Paul Monahan, 1979 – July 1985; Father Phil Lawler, July 1985 – 1989; Father James Polich, 1989 – July 1995; Father Fred Reischl, July 1995 – July 2000; Father John Frost, October 25, 2000 – 2010; Father Thomas Dooley, 2010 – 2018; Father Seth Owusu (from Ghana), 2018 – present.

In July of 1955, with the arrival of Father Joseph Schulte, plans were made to build a new St. Patrick’s Church.  The new location is at 718 Antique City Drive, which was known as the Boiler Estate.  The purchase price of the lot was $4,000.  Members of the building committee were: George T. Gross, William Nilan, Cecil Stuart, Frank McDermott and Dr. Frank Weber.  While serving both parishes, Father Schulte also directed the building of the new church in Avoca.

The last marriage in the old church was Mary Clare Weber to John Diver. Mary Clare was the daughter of Dr. and Mrs. Frank Weber.

The last Mass was offered in the old church on Saturday, November 1, 1958 at 8:30 a.m.  The building was torn down by the men of the parish in 1959.

The present St. Patrick’s Church, a brick structure, was started in the fall of 1957 and completed in October 1958, at the cost of $43,000.  The church was blessed and dedicated November 12, 1958 by Bishop E. C. Daly of Des Moines, Iowa. 

A 150th anniversary celebration of St. Patrick’s Church is being planned for March 17, 2024.