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St. Patrick Catholic Church in Imogen, Iowa


Published in Faith Family Forever

2005 St. Patrick Parish Quasquicentennial History Book

M. G. Clark Remembers

I have never been in any place for any length of time but that I found some priest who knew Father Hayes. Father Howard at St. Agnes in Springfield knew him as a classmate in Canada. In St. Louis, Father Randall the pastor of Assumption Church to whom I made my first confession, knew him since he gave a mission in Imogene. I had been thinking of becoming a priest and thought that Father Hayes could help me with my Latin when I was stationed in Imogene. Father Randall said, “No, no, Father Hayes will not have time. He is too busy making money.”

I arrived in Imogene on an early morning train and when the next train was due from Council Bluffs there were several people in the station. The agent I was replacing pointed to a man and said, “That is Father Hayes.” I replied, “It can’t be. That man does not have a Roman collar.” It was Father Hayes all right and I am sure I never saw him leave Imogene on the train wearing anything other than a low small collar and a small black bow tie.

I gave Father Hayes a letter of introduction from Father Gass. When he read it, he introduced me to several and among them was Gertrude Saner. After only a few months, all my priestly ambitions were gone. His has probably happened to a few others when the right one comes along.

There was not much entertainment in Imogene in 1913 except for an occasional dance or card party in the Hibernian Hall. I spent many evenings with Father Hayes. I don’t think there was ever a visit that I didn’t learn something. He told me that when the Bishop gave him the assignment to be pastor at Imogene his Grace said, “I want you to go to Imogene and build up Catholicity in southwestern Iowa.” He was, for that day, a rather wealthy man. Shortly after his arrival in Imogene he started buying farms from non-Catholics. He would then somehow contact Catholic families in eastern Iowa or Illinois and induce them to come to our Imogene community. When he would sell a farm he would do so on easy terms, if necessary, and so it went until when I got there he had only one left which he shortly sold to the Frank Owens family.

After a few years when he got the church debt down to $1,200 and was carrying the loan himself he decided to clear it up. He called in 12 of his most reliable and faithful parishioners and told them he wanted the money for a deal he was in and asked each to sign a note to the bank for it. My father-in-law was one of the men and he told me then they hesitated but signed and after one year the bank started pressuring them. When they told Father Hayes he said it was their problem. Each man paid their $100 plus interest. Those men were knows as his “twelve apostles.” Father Hayes probably felt that these men were capable of taking care of this parish obligation.

I saw him come into the station one day to return an empty altar wine keg to Quincy shortly after the minimum freight charges were raised from 25 cents to 50 cents. It was his obligation to prepay the charges. He would give me only 25 cents and said bill it that way and see if it wouldn’t go through that way. He started to leave and noticed an ill-dressed tramp standing by the stove to keep warm. Father said to him, “Are you hungry child?” Without waiting for a reply he took change from both trouser pockets and two vest pockets handing the tramp quite a handful of half dollars, quarters, dimes and nickels. Then Father said, “God bless you child” and trod up the hill toward his home. He was often prone to say from the altar, “A good man doesn’t need much money.” I suppose he thought, however, one should hold onto it when prepaying charges on a return altar wine keg.

Once after Mass was finished he told the faithful to remain for a meeting. When he returned to the altar he called on a rather wealthy farmer, John Head, to discuss paying off the debt which as I recall was $5,000-$6,000. Father said, “What is your opinion, Mr. Head? He replied, “Well Father, crops have not been too good and we have a heavy expense on the school. I think we should carry the debt a while longer.” “Is that your opinion, Mr. Head?” Father Hayes asked. “Yes”, said John. “Well” said Father Hayes, “it is a poor opinion. Sit down.”

One Sunday, Father said during his sermon that there were only 5 babies baptized the previous month. He thought that was a disgrace to the parish. Things must have improved because he never mentioned it again. In any case race suicide was not much of a problem in Imogene. My wife’s parents had 15 children, one daughter had 13 children, another had 12 children, another had 8-and so it went with many families in the parish.

The Omaha train was due at 9:12am on Sunday. As soon as the mail was available someone would bring the Omaha Bee to Father Hayes’ house. It was a Republican paper. He would not read the World Herald because it was a Democrat paper. He was the most Republican person I knew in the parish. He would sit in his big chair by the window and would not budge until he had finished the entire paper-especially the closing Saturday stock market. The 10am Mass was often not started until 11am or 11:15am. Many a summer day, I remember seeing women sit in church with screaming babies and restless older children when the temperature was more than 90 degrees. They sat there from 10am until Mass was finished at 12:30pm. There was no air-conditioning in those days. Those people had come 3-6 miles by horse and buggy and many would be lucky to get home by 1pm. After shooing the men into the church, he would start Mass and he often preached for an hour or longer. At times a large number of men would snake outside to the shade of the trees about the time the sermon was to start. On at least two occasions I saw him go to the back of the church, call them in, and start again.

In those days there was an occasional funeral on Sunday. He would say a Mass, preach, finish and inform the people, “This was the funeral Mass and has nothing to do with my obligation to say and your duty to hear the regular Mass and sermon.” There would always be several non-Catholics present and he could never resist the temptation to give them both barrels.

He would often say in his sermons, “Order is the first law of Heaven.” I have seen 50 people crowd around the confessional with some of them literally breathing down the penitents and priests necks. He would shoo them away and in 2-3 minutes they would be back in the same places. At communion at the first Mass on the first Sunday most of the parish would receive. Someone would make a break for the altar a little ahead of time then the big push would start shoving, elbowing, walking, jamming and I think the youngsters who were fresh from their First Communion would actually crawl in between the oldsters legs. There was never an usher to handle the crowd. He always only had two men who passed the collection plate.

There is an “E” in a good many names in St. Patrick parish. You can be rather sure it stands of Edmund (Edmond). That applies to my wife’s younger brother Anthony.

When I was an agent in Imogene I bought and was paying for a house where my mother and I lived. I was transferred to Shenandoah in 1916 and had to rent the house as I had no sale for it then. About 2-3 years later Father Hayes called me on the telephone and said he had a nice family that wanted to buy the house if the price was right. I had paid $1,200 for the house and wanted to get that out of it. He worked on me until I agreed to sell it for $1,100and when we were closing the deal he cut me down another notch by telling me I owed him $50 for selling the house for me. “Now I am cancelling the $10.00 you still owe me from your wedding three years ago.” I paid him $10 and he told me everyone else paid him $20 for a wedding and he did not intend to break the rate.

The brother and sister of Father Hayes did not live in Imogene. When they died, they were buried here, one on either side of the larger than life Calvary grouping in the cemetery. At his brother’s funeral Mass, Father Hayes simply turned around and said, “My brother is dead. May Almighty God have mercy on his soul.” That was all.

When Father Hayes died he left his fortune to religious institutions after building many mission churches in various places.

Sister Francis DePaula Remembers

When I first came to Imogene the high school had closed and that usually causes unrest among the families and the faculties. The question was whose fault was it? What I found was none of that among the faculty or parents and no resentment toward us. I was grateful that two wonderfully equipped young nuns were left there to guide me through the territory I knew nothing about. Many times the students laughed at my stupid remarks like “did the cow hurt the calf when she threw it?” Of course, I put some over on them, too. I can truthfully say that I found no unrest or discipline problem. The order in the home carried over in the school and when needed, if it happened, there was full support of the parents.

It was important to realize that Father Doyle was the Pastor and it quite easily settled that what we asked for we got. We even got some things we did not ask for like the TV on our return the first summer.

One could never beat the generosity of the people. We had little need to ask for anything. We were supplied with food of every kind, bakery, dairy, household tings and a car for transportation until my last year.

I have to give up now because I am getting close to the end of the century and I am running out of steam, but I want to assure all of you that you will continue to be in my daily prayers and I ask to be in yours.

Fannie Martin Remembers

I lived in the town of Imogene until I was about eight years old. The Dominicans came in 1920. They lived in the rectory until the convent was built. The parishioners had an open house for them. My mother took me and I met my first grade teacher – Sister Devona. Devona Saner was named after her. The others were Sister Huberta-the Superior, Sister Cecelia, and Sister Giles-the cook and housekeeper. I started first grade when I was six years old. There was no Kindergarten.

When people would bring the sisters live chickens, in the days before freezers, Sister Giles would put them under the back porch that was enclosed with lattice work. Frank Dorsey was the janitor and I assume he would catch the chickens and get them ready for Sister Giles.

The sisters lived in the rectory because there was no convent. Father Hayes lived in the upper floor of St. Patrick Academy. There was a kitchen in the basement of the building.

I thought Father Hayes was a giant. To me it looked like he had one hundred buttons on his black cassock. He always wore the three-cornered hat called the biretta. He walked back and forth between the church and the rectory saying his office. I don’t remember that he ever stopped to talk to anyone while he was walking. When he talked to children he would address them as “child.”

He had two little housekeepers who always reminded me of a story in our school reader-the city mouse and the country mouse. They were totally Irish. Their names were Annie & Catherine Mears. It became a great thing to walk by the rectory, ring the bell and ask for a drink of water just to see them. They each wore an apron and a dust cap. Eventually they complained to the nuns and we were banned from going that way to school. They moved to Omaha.

One time when they were gone, Evelyn Ryan (lived across from the school) came to cook breakfast for Father Hayes. She was not very old, but was in school. It was a Friday in the days when Catholics could not eat meat. She made Father Hayes bacon. He ate it and then remembered it was Friday. To him this incident was not very funny.

Father Hayes would have High Mass at 10:30am each Sunday. Sometimes he would preach for an hour and it would be about noon when we got home. My mother would end up with a terrific headache. (This was in the time when you fasted from food and water from midnight if you wanted to go to communion.) The young men would sit on the kneelers that were on the back of the last pews. During the sermon, they would go outside and smoke, etc. until he finished his sermon. One Sunday he left the altar and went out after them. They all ran off and hid behind cars. Father Doyle had the kneelers removed.

Father Hayes would go to Europe and other vacation places. I remember Father Troy taking his place. He was an Irish priest. He had a gun and used to shoot pigeons around the church. He would always tell the men from the altar, “you shouldn’t be smoking on the porch” which meant they shouldn’t be smoking out in front of the church.

When the convent was built, there was a chapel on the second floor. Father Doyle kept vestments in the closet of the chapel and would dress there. The Sisters had kneelers and chairs. There would be a few extra for visitors. Sometimes there were more people than kneelers and they would kneel on the floor outside the chapel. When you opened the convent door to go to Mass you would be greeted by the aroma of bacon and coffee and you would still be fasting from midnight.

When you entered the convent there was a parlor on the left and a dining room on the right. Down the hall to the left was the music room where a nun gave music lessons (now the Faith Center office) and farther south down the hall was the community room. There was a long table in the room where each sister had a place and a drawer. The kitchen was across from the community room. Each sister had a “cell” on the second floor. It was big enough to hold a single bed and a chest of drawers. Later additional sleeping quarters were built over the back porch. The basement had a laundry room with clotheslines and a long table the nuns used for folding their clothes.

Sometimes the ladies of the parish would hold food showers for the nuns. Parishioners provided them with a lot of food. If the nuns wanted to go somewhere, a high school boy would take them. The Sisters who served here when I was in high school were Sister Chlotildis-Superior, Sr. Janette and Sister Concordia. In later years, for a few times, a busload of Dominicans came from Omaha for a summer day. There wore habits and veils everywhere-at the cemetery, at the church, and always out at the farm of Dominic and Margaret Martin.

Father Doyle came as an assistant to Imogene from St. Francis parish in Council Bluffs. He was a jokester. He had a brother Ambrose and two sisters. One was a nun; the other was Mrs. Pearly. He had different housekeepers- Miss Kelly, Frances Rensing, and Ella O’Brien – she stayed until the end.

When he was having company, I was called to help his housekeeper Mrs. Rensing. He had a group for dinner. I put glasses of water in front of everyone. They were glasses with little holes around the top- “dribble glasses”. He would also pass a dish of square chocolates to his guests. They looked like a candy called Tuffy’s. When they bit into the chocolate they would bite into hard rubber. They had to give the fake chocolates back. Sometimes if kids were playing cards he would ask them if they knew the game Pick Up. When they said no, he would spray the cards all over the floor and tell them to pick them up.

People complained about his sermons being so much about money. When hard times hit, he could hardly get money to pay the nuns or his own salary. He never wanted that to happen again.

Every spring he would come over to the school and ask questions about the Vernal Equinox. Then he handed out report cards. Many times during the first period after the noon bell he would call 2 or 3 of us to come to the rectory to do writing for him. He liked to have us sing songs like Tennessee Waltz, Let Me Call You Sweetheart, and School Days. He couldn’t carry a tune, but sang anyway.

He would often get the boys out of class to rake the yard. He would let us go home when the weather was too hot. We also would get to go to the convent or other places to listen to the World Series ballgames on the radio.

Every year during Father Doyle’s pastorate, there was an end of the year school picnic at Porter’s Lake. He liked everyone to decorate their cars for the event and we had a parade through town as we headed to the picnic. We had roller skating, boating and a swing that would swing out a little way over the lake.

Every fall a trainload of coal would come to town and the men would come in teams and wagons and haul the coal to the convent, school, rectory, and church. They would be black with coal dust. The women would cook dinner for them in the church basement. During school we could hear the scooping and talking of the men doing the work.

He would visit parishioners in their homes. If they offered him a chicken to take home he would say it would be lonely and so he would get two. He would take a month’s vacation every year and send back postcards. He would always write on them upside down.

When he said a funeral Mass, he would stop before the last rites and leave the altar. People would be sitting and waiting. Those not from the parish had no idea what was going on. The parishioners knew that he was eating his breakfast.

At first the school was not accredited. When I was in 6th grade we had grades 6-7-8 in one room. Sister Bernice was in charge. She spent a lot of time on 7th and 8th grade work since the County Superintendent would come to the public school to give the exam. When I got to 7th grade the school was accredited and my teacher, Sister Adrian, could give the exam. When I graduated in 1932, I was part of the largest Academy graduating class-a class of 14. Others started with us, but moved away, etc.

During these years each graduate had a small child accompany them in the graduation ceremony. The small child carried the diploma. Grace Maher carried my diploma.

Every class would leave a remembrance gift to the church. A class ahead of mine left a gold lace altar cloth. After a few years nobody knew what happened to it. Our class graduated during the depression and we did not get to have invitations, class rings, etc. We did have a banquet put on by the mothers for the Juniors and Seniors. We had a “sneak day.” The Seniors snuck off from school. We had chaperones with us. We didn’t give a remembrance gift to the church that year.

My mother sang in the choir and I always went to the choir with her. The songs at High Mass were always sung in Latin. Joe McGargill sang tenor, Katie McGargill was the organist, Anthony Saner sang bass and Mary Sullivan and Irene Leahy were sopranos. One member, Isidore Gleason, had an operatic voice that could raise the roof. Mom and I were in the choir until 1922 when I was about 8 years old.

We had church bazaars that lasted for most of a week. Various stalls were placed along the west wall. Each place had something to sell. There were aprons and other embroidered items. Another booth had baked goods. The south end was where the kitchen was. Food and “julep” were served there. There would be a corn game (Bingo). One year my sister Monica O’Connor and other young girls had a Japanese Garden on the north end of the hall. They had Japanese lanterns and other decorations. A nun helped some. They made root beer and also served “julep.” They had small tables and chairs for those who partook of what they served.

Father Doyle’s housekeeper during his later years was Miss Ella O’Brien. She was at her home in Nebraska with an illness when Father Hayes took sick. He asked Marie Leahy Maher and me to come in and dust up his house. We were there when he returned from the doctor in Shenandoah. He told us to get more ladies together and to really give the rectory a good cleaning-curtains and all. He was going to a hospital in Omaha. NE. He felt bad about this because he had always been in a Council Bluffs hospital before. He packed his bag that day, left for Omaha, and never returned. Miss O’Brien returned for his funeral and stayed in the rectory. His sisters went through his things. There were lots of pictures when we cleaned. I told Ella I would pass them out to the people in the parish who would be interested in them. When the sisters left, she could only find one box of pictures on a closet shelf. I passed them out – one was a picture of the Leahy family.

Father Doyle was very tender-hearted. I saw him cry a time or two. Father Doyle was a good priest and he really loved Imogene-he stayed here for 40 years. God bless him.

The Sisters were not only teachers at the school, but they took control of the choir, processions, Christmas programs, May Crowning, etc. everyone had a place “in line” in the church, one seat apart going up the main aisle. Everyone was instructed to walk close to the pews and to keep their hands folded. The nuns expected everyone to wear nice clothes to church.

At May Crowning, the high school girls probably wore their pretty prom dresses and the boys either wore white shirts or jackets. The girl that crowned the Blessed Mother wore a long, modest dress and a sort of a blue shawl over her shoulders. It was an honor to crown Mary. When the lines got up to the front of the church, a nun would clap her hands and everyone would genuflect. She would clap her hands again and everyone would stand and pass into the pews-so many to each pew and each just so far apart from the next person.

The Sisters were in charge of training the altar boys. I do not remember when the boys started serving, but I do know boys served all through high school. They were taught the responses in Latin which some would sort of mumble. The boys who were training were called “railers” as they dressed in their cassocks and sat inside the communion rail, on chairs on each side of the gates. Two would be the main servers. The priest and the altar boys faced the altar and not the congregation. The Mass was celebrated in Latin. At a certain time during the Mass, the boys would go up to each side of the tabernacle and take a big prayer card that was in a gold edged frame, go down the altar steps, exchange sides, and replace the prayer cards on the opposite side. One side was the Gospel side and one side was the Epistle side. The altar servers then knelt on each side of the priest. The wine and hosts were on the little marble shelves on each side of the altar. The servers sat while the priest gave the sermon. He gave the sermon by the altar rail – no microphone. When the people went to communion, they all knelt along the communion rail and the priest, and one altar boy with the paten, went along the rail giving each person communion from east to west. As each one received, he or she would leave and go back to their pew and another person would replace them at the altar rail until all had received. Later on there was a communion cloth hanging on the inside of the communion rail. Just before communion the altar boys would place the cloth over the communion rail and people would place their hands under it while receiving communion.

The choir did all the singing. The second Mass was usually the High Mass and was sung in Latin. The people didn’t sing or say any of the responses. Some had their prayer book which would have Latin on one side of the page and English on the other side. During Easter week the people would answer if the Litany of the Saints was said. No lay person did the readings or gave out communion. If anyone quit going to Mass it was frowned upon. Few did.

We would have Stations of the Cross every Wednesday night. Three high school boys would serve at the Stations. One carried the crucifix and two carried the candles. The choir would sing between every few stations. Afterwards there would be benediction.

On Thursday night before the first Friday of the month, the Altar Society had their meeting. Father Doyle would hear confession during the meeting so people could receive on First Friday. Over at the school, Father would hear confessions for all the pupils. They took place in the library. Each one took a turn. There was a kneeler that had a front piece with a cloth over it so the priest and pupil could not see each other.

After First Friday Mass, the mothers would serve a light breakfast before school began. This was in the days when you could not eat or drink after midnight or you would “break you fast” and couldn’t receive.

We have had two priests ordained from Imogene. Father Horrigan left Imogene when he was quite young and moved to Colorado. He celebrated Mass here a few years ago. Father Bill Leahy became a Jesuit priest and is the head of Boston College. Several Imogene girls became nuns.

Helen Hughes Remembers

The solid oak pews for the church came from Illinois. The man who made them curved them to make them more comfortable to sit on.

Father Flanagan had various programs in the Hibernian Hall to raise money for his Boys Town, in Omaha, NE.

The Free Methodist Church was built on the hilltop across the alley south of the convent. It was made of white oak. When the entire congregation moved from Imogene, Father Hayes wanted to use the building as a Hibernian Hall. John Gilmore, father of Bill and Leo, purchased the building and the lot and donated it to the church.

Dinners, bazaars, plays, dances and meetings were held in the Hibernian Hall. Mrs. Wiman cooked when dinners were served in the hall basement. Big city bands played in the hall every Monday night. The Merry Makers charged 25 cents per family for their events. They usually had a program followed by a card party and dancing. The building burned down in the 1930’s and was never rebuilt. The Hibernian meetings were then held in the church hall.

Paul & Jimmy McGargill and Harvey Pelster constructed the kitchen and cabinets in the church hall.

My father (Tom Regan) bought 160 acres of land from Father Hayes for $125 an acre. Corn was open-pollinated and made 40 bushels an acre.

Father Hayes always had a picnic for the Academy children each year at Porter’s Lake. He would furnish gunnysacks full of peanuts and oranges for the event.

Father Hayes called his trustees and helpers his “twelve apostles.” He liked a good joke and Irish stories. He loved an Irish stew made of boiled potatoes and cabbage. He also liked to eat pigeon meat.