By Dan Russo
GARRYOWEN — St. Patrick Church in Garryowen was originally built of wooden logs, each one prepared by a family in the parish and brought to the construction site at the request of Father Samuel Mazzuchelli, an Italian Dominican missionary who served as the first pastor and manager of the building project.
Archbishop Michael Jackels talked about the unique history of the oldest rural parish in the archdiocese at a Mass to celebrate its 175th anniversary in the newly renovated church Sept. 19. Speaking to a congregation so full some people packed into the choir loft, the archbishop reminded those in attendance that a church is not merely a physical structure, but a symbol of community and faith.
“(The original parishioners) were a parish family,” said Archbishop Jackels. “This church was not just a time and a place to satisfy a Sunday obligation … The church building is meant to reflect the people gathered inside. We are this church. This church is us.”
Attending as special guests were Sisters of Mercy, who taught for decades at the parish school before it closed in the 1960s, and Dominican Sisters from Sinsinawa, Wisconsin, members of a community founded by Father Mazzuchelli.
Sister Diane Kennedy, OP, the head of the committee advocating for the priest’s canonization, spoke about his history after Mass as a picture of the missionary sat on the altar beside her. Father Mazzuchelli is now recognized as venerable by the church. After her remarks, Sister Diane said she was honored to attend the anniversary of the parish.
“It truly is thrilling,” she said. “I’m awed by the vitality and the energy of the people. There’s something different here.”
The parish currently has 150 households and is part of the St. Thomas Aquinas Pastorate. Sister Diane described the church as a sacred space where the veil between this world and the eternal world is “thin.”
“The Irish talk about ‘thin places’ where God’s presence is palpable,” Sister Diane said. “I think this church must be one of these thin places.”
After the log church was completed in 1840 by Irish immigrants who settled in Iowa to escape the great potato famine in their native country, a school was erected several years later. On Christmas day in 1854, the first Mass was said in the present stone church. Over 160 years, the building has seen its share of wear and tear. In 2010, the roof was replaced.
In June, after raising money from all families, the parish began a major renovation project completed by Reihle Decorating.
“Every inch of this church was touched by human hands in the last three months,” said project manager Alan Gravel, a member of the parish.
Some of the improvements included the repair of water damage in the ceiling, addition of LED lights on the altar, improvements to church statues and stations of the cross, and tuck pointing of the steeple.
“Our ancestors sacrificed a lot more than we did,” said parishioner Mike Redmond of the renovation efforts.
“I just think everybody is proud of our parish,” added Coleen Burke, another parish member.
Father Douglas Loecke, pastor of St. Patrick who concelebrated the Mass with the archbishop, congratulated the congregation from the pulpit afterwards.
“You have a church that you can take great pride in,” he said. “I think this is a great testament to your faith.”
This story is provided courtesy of The Witness, the official publication of the Archdiocese of Dubuque.