116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Time Machine: St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Cedar Rapids
The church, founded in 1886, attracted Irish parishioners and priests
Cedar Rapids is known for its Czech and Slovak heritage. But Irish heritage is part of the city, too, and one of the community’s gathering places has long been St. Patrick’s Catholic Church.
The church was organized in 1886, and the Rev. Thomas Richardson, who was serving at Fairfax, began serving the new parish’s members.
Fundraising began immediately for building for the mission church. A frame structure went up at the corner of Second Avenue and Seventh Street West. It was dedicated July 21, 1886, and Richardson built a house near the church in March 1887.
When Richardson died in September 1888, the Rev. M.J. Quirk succeeded him. In November 1889, the Rev. Thomas Sullivan, “a scholar and an orator,” came to the parish from Sheldon in northwest Iowa.
A new church
Under Sullivan’s leadership, the St. Patrick’s congregation turned its attention to planning a new church.
Numerous fundraising events were held, including a big one in November 1890 at Woodward Hall — formerly the Union Opera House — that lasted a full week. Merchants and members of the community donated items to sell in the hall, which had been decorated by the women of the church.
Enough money was raised to begin building St. Patrick’s, and the church’s cornerstone was laid at the corner of First Avenue and Fifth Street SW at 3 p.m. Oct. 18, 1891, “in the presence of an immense assemblage of deeply interested spectators,” according to Gazette coverage.
The newspaper reported the new church was “destined to be one of the handsomest churches in Iowa.”
Edwin Whitfield of Maquoketa oversaw the stonework. The walls were expected to be up in a month and the church completed by Feb. 1, 1892. It took seven months longer before the church was dedicated Aug. 28.
Half a dozen Sisters of Charity also moved to Cedar Rapids from Dubuque that month to start a new school in the old church after it was remodeled.
The church was completed at a cost of $30,000 — around $986,000 in today’s dollars.
The 130-by-60-foot structure, built from Anamosa stone and heated by steam, seated 750. The pews and interior finish work were made of red oak with the floors made of hard maple. A choir and organ loft was built over the entry.
When the church opened, the marble altar had not yet been delivered and the chancel window was not completed. The congregation had to wait a few months for the pipe organ, too, which was dedicated in December.
The Rev. Thomas W. Drumm, a native of Ireland, became St. Patrick’s pastor in January 1916. He served for four years until being consecrated bishop of the Des Moines Diocese.
His successor, the Rev. Daniel J. Lenihan, was appointed in June 1919.
In 1932, it was determined “the church structure had areas of weakness and extensive alterations or reconstruction would be needed,” according to the parish’s history.
It took years to address those weaknesses and a major reconstruction ordered.
In January 1950, a startling photo ran in The Gazette showing the church reduced to its side and front walls and its tower. The rest of the church was demolished to make way for the major rebuild.
William Lightner, a St. Patrick’s member and a noted Cedar Rapids builder who had retired, was in charge of the rebuild
It took two years to finish to job.
“The roof, the interior and the back wall, which was extended back 17 feet from the old wall line, are all new,” The Gazette reported. Two more doors were added to the front of the church, and the exterior was sandblasted to make it all look the same.
Craftsmen in Carrara, Italy, carved three African onyx altars to stand in front of background panels made of Carrara marble. The stained glass dome over the altar and the stained glass side windows were made in St. Louis.
The rebuilt church was dedicated Nov. 27, 1951. That ceremony was followed by the golden jubilee Mass for Monsignor Daniel J. Lenihan, who had been at St. Patrick’s for 33 years.
St. Patrick’s, which sits about five blocks from the Cedar River, again faced major restoration after the 2008 flood, as did its parish center, built in 2005. Its pastor, the Rev. Ivan Nienhaus, spent 11 years helping rebuild the church before moving on to St. Patrick’s in Cedar Falls in September 2021.
The current pastor is the Rev. Dennis Miller.