Iowa, Catholic Church in
IOWA, CATHOLIC CHURCH IN
Located in the north central part of the U.S., Iowa is bounded on the north by Minnesota, on the east by Wisconsin and Illinois, on the south by Missouri, and on the west by Nebraska and South Dakota. The Mississippi River forms the east border; the Missouri and Big Sioux the west. It was the 29th state admitted to the Union (Dec. 28, 1846). Des Moines is its capital and largest city. The Catholic population was 526,635 in 2001, about 19 percent of the total population of 2.7 million.
History. Half a dozen prehistoric cultures preceded the score of tribes that are connected with Iowa history since the coming of European settlers. The later tribes included three linguistic stocks: Iroquoian, Algonquian, and Dakotan or Siouan (to which the Ioways belonged). As far as is known, the first whites to see Iowa were the French, specifically the men of the Jolliet-Marquette expedition, who went down the Mississippi in 1673. More than a century passed with only occasional visits from trappers, explorers, and the military before Julien Dubuque (d. 1810) from French Canada made the first settlement (1788) in the area that bears his name. When Napoleon sold Louisiana to the United States in 1803, Iowa became a part of the United States but was not organized as a separate Iowa Territory until 1838. In 1846 a constitution set the boundaries, and in the same year Iowa became the 29th state. The capital, originally at Iowa City, was moved to Des Moines (1857).
When the Black Hawk purchase (1832) opened eastern Iowa for claims, the movement of settlers began and with it the establishment of the Catholic Church in Iowa. The first missionary was C. F. van quickenborne, SJ, in southeast Iowa (1832). Others followed quickly, the most famous being S. mazzuchelli, OP, who, in the years after 1835, helped to found most of the early churches from Dubuque south to the Missouri border (see davenport, diocese of). Church foundations in central and western Iowa were delayed until after 1850; in 1860 the only places in western Iowa with permanent pastors were Des Moines, Council Bluffs, and Fort Dodge.
In 1837 Mathias loras became bishop of the new Diocese of Dubuque, an area that included all of Iowa and reached north to Canada. Eventually, three more dioceses were created in Iowa, and in 1893 Dubuque became an archbishopric. The present Province of Dubuque is coextensive with the state of Iowa. The suffragans include the Dioceses of Davenport, established (1881) in the southern half of the state; Sioux City, formed (1902) from the western part of the Dubuque archdiocese; and Des Moines, fashioned (1911) from the western part of the Davenport diocese. In 1986 the Roman Catholic Bishops of the four dioceses established the Iowa Catholic Conference that enables them to collaborate in matters of interdiocesan and statewide interest. It is structured to include representation of the clergy, religious, and laity. Its headquarters are located in Des Moines.
Beginning with the Western Star of Dubuque in 1858, Iowa has had a number of Catholic papers, owned and edited by laymen, including the Daily American Tribune of Dubuque (1920–42). In 2001 each diocese owned its own weekly diocesan paper: the Dubuque Witness (1921), the Davenport Catholic Messenger (1882), the
Sioux City Globe (1949), and the Des Moines Catholic Mirror (formerly, Catholic Messenger, 1937).
Immigrant Ancestry. Although the earliest European influences in what became the state of Iowa were decidedly Catholic—French Jesuit missionaries, adventurers and trappers—Catholics have been a minority since the state was admitted to the Union in 1846. Iowa's early Catholic population included Irish and German immigrants in northeastern Iowa, in and around the city of Dubuque, seat of the first bishop, Mathias Loras, who himself was a French immigrant.
Settlers from Europe and other American states in the nineteenth century increased the state's Catholic population, but their numbers were dwarfed by Protestant migrants from both the North and South in the U.S. and by German and Scandinavian immigrants. German Catholics settled as farmers and helped to establish numerous parishes in rural Iowa. One of the most prominent outposts of rural German Catholics, was Carroll County in west central Iowa, named for Charles Carroll, the only Catholic to sign the Declaration of Independence. In addition to their presence in Dubuque, Davenport, Sioux City, and other urban areas, rural Iowa was also home to many Catholics of Irish ancestry. Emmetsburg, in northwest Iowa's Palo Alto County, was named for the Irish patriot Robert Emmet. Other ethnic groups that were well represented among Iowa's Catholic population were the Bohemians and Czechs, who migrated in the late nineteenth century to Cedar Rapids and Iowa City in eastern Iowa.
In the realm of public affairs and politics, Catholic voters in Iowa had long been identified with the Democratic Party, dating back to the period before the Civil War. As with Catholics in other states, their partisan allegiances was in part a result of their sense of themselves as a distinct cultural minority was vulnerable to the ambitions of a Protestant majority determined to define moral behavior and social values for all. During the Civil War, Dennis Mahoney of Dubuque, a Democratic politician and newspaper editor who was also one of the state's most prominent Catholics, was arrested and imprisoned for his criticism of the Lincoln Administration. Although many Iowa Catholics were less than enthusiastic, at least initially, about the prospect of fighting a war to free the
slaves, many Iowa Catholics did serve in the U.S. army and Bishop Clement Smyth of Dubuque was a strong and outspoken supporter of the cause of the union.
Nativist Opposition. Iowa Catholics were the target of prejudice and nativism that flared up from time to time. In the 1880s, a group of Iowans, led by Henry F. Bowers, established the American Protective Association in Clinton. The men had become alarmed when a local Catholic priest had apparently tried to influence the votes of his parishioners in an election, although local political and economic factors also played a role in the APA's origins. The group distributed its own newspaper, named the Menace, as it tried to revive long held suspicions that Catholics could not be considered fully American because of their religious connections to Rome. The APA was an active organization for nearly a decade, as it sponsored lectures by former priests and nuns, or those claiming to be such, who described the horrors of life inside church and convent walls. One APA speaker incited a crowd in Keokuk, Iowa, to violence in 1892, although no one was killed in the chaos. Several Iowa Catholics were outspoken critics of the APA, notably Father Joseph Nugent of Des Moines.
The ku klux klan, an important cultural force in the Midwest in the 1920s, was active in Davenport and Des Moines, among other cities in Iowa. In rural areas of the state, the Klan succeeded in pressuring local school boards not to hire Catholic teachers in the public schools. When Al Smith ran for President in 1928, the first Catholic to be nominated by a major party, he was the target of anti-Catholic rhetoric and imagery, including materials published in some of the state's leading newspapers. John F. Kennedy did not meet with the same overt religious hostility in 1960 that Smith had in 1928. This apparent increase in tolerance can be attributed in part to the way Catholics proved themselves loyal patriots in World War II. One prominent example that gained a good deal of notoriety, both locally and nationally, was the heroism of the five Sullivan brothers, scions of a Catholic family from Waterloo, Iowa, who lost their lives when their ship, the USS Juneau, was sunk in the Pacific in 1942.
Social Activism. In contrast to the nineteenth century when the Catholic Church in the United States remained silent on major socio-economic issues such as slavery, in the twentieth century Catholics, both clergy and laity, began to move into the public sphere and engage pressing issues. The National Catholic Rural Life Conference, founded in 1923, moved its headquarters to Des Moines in 1941. The conference has sought to strengthen the presence of the Catholic Church in the countryside. The NCRLC has become a vocal advocate for family farmers and a critic of economic conditions and practices that have forced many people in Iowa and other farming states off the land. The Catholic Church has had a high profile in many parts of rural Iowa. One Catholic community that was recognized for the strong faith of its parishioners and the distinctive gothic architecture of their parish church is in rural Dyersville, Dubuque County. In 1956 Pope Pius XII elevated the church of St. Francis to the rank of a Minor Basilica,
In the 1950s a group of socially concerned Catholics formed the Davenport League for Social Justice. It worked to counter racial discrimination and to make affordable housing accessible to the poor. In the early 1960s, the Quad Cities—Davenport and Bettendorf in Iowa, Moline and Rock Island in Illinois—were home to a Catholic Interracial Conference. The Conference undertook a study of racially based discrimination and organized civil rights rallies. In 1982 Catholic Worker houses were established in Waterloo and Cedar Rapids. Their ministry to the urban poor is modeled on the work done by Dorothy day at the original Catholic Workers House in New York City.
Early in the 1970s Catholics, both clergy and laity, were active in successfully lobbying the Iowa legislature against changing state laws prohibiting abortion. After the Supreme Court handed down the Roe vs. Wade decision in 1973 that essentially legalized abortion across the United States, Iowa Catholics became increasingly active in the Pro-life movement. Priests have spoken firmly against the practice of abortion from the pulpit, and priests and laity alike have joined in prayer meetings and Pro-life rallies demonstrating against abortion. One political consequence of the Church's stance on the abortion issue was that monolithic Catholic support for the Democratic Party in Iowa began to break up in the final decades of the twentieth century. The change in Iowa politics was reflected in the election of the state's first Catholic governor, Republican Terry Branstad, in 1982. After serving for four terms (sixteen years), Branstad was succeeded in the governor's office by another Catholic, Democrat Tom Vilsack.
Changing Patterns. The Catholic population of Iowa, long identified with German, Irish, Czech, and Bohemian immigrants and their descendants, became more diversified in the final decades of the twentieth century. Hispanic communities, largely consisting of Mexicans, established themselves in towns such as Columbus Junction, West Liberty and Muscatine, Storm Lake and Marshalltown, among others. Much of this migration was driven by economic factors, as these immigrants, most of whom are Catholic, came to Iowa in search of work in meatpacking plants and related industries. In addition, since the 1970s, there have been significant influxes of Vietnamese Catholic immigrants to cities such as Des Moines and Iowa City.
In October of 1979, Iowa garnered international attention when Pope John Paul II visited the state. Although Iowa had a lower percentage of Catholics in its population than did neighboring states, the Pope wanted to visit a rural setting and emphasize the important values involved in stewardship over the land and the connections between rural people and God. While in Iowa, John Paul II celebrated an outdoor Mass at Living History Farm Site near Des Moines, drawing a crowd estimated at 350,000, the biggest crowd to gather for any event in the state's history. The pontiff also visited St. Patrick's Church, a rural parish near Cumming in central Iowa, as he emphasized the theme of the taking proper care of the land as "God's stewards" in a place where agriculture loomed so large in Iowans understanding of their state's history and culture. The Pope's visit was named by readers of the Des Moines Register, the state's most influential newspaper, as the most important event in Iowa's history.
Bibliography: w. j. petersen, The Story of Iowa, 4 v. (New York 1952); comp., Iowa History Reference Guide (Iowa City 1942; repr. 1952). c. cole, Iowa Through the Years (Iowa City 1940). j. f. kempker, History of the Catholic Church in Iowa (Iowa City 1887). m. m. hoffmann, ed., Centennial History of the Archdiocese of Dubuque (Dubuque 1938). m. k. gallagher, ed., Seed/Harvest: A History of the Archdiocese of Dubuque. (Dubque 1987). m. m. schmidt, Seasons of Growth: History of the Diocese of Davenport, 1881–1981 (Davenport, Iowa 1981).
[r. j. welch/
j. k. duncan]