By Celine Klosterman
GEORGETOWN — Wherever relatives of Elizabeth Lahart have moved, they often return to Georgetown for St. Patrick Parish’s annual God’s Portion Day celebration.
“They still remember us at St. Patrick’s,” said the longtime parishioner and former catechism teacher. “They’re very faithful about coming back.”
Many members of St. Patrick’s can say the same of their families. Their dedication stems partly from the fact that numerous current and former parishioners — like Lahart — have ties to Irish immigrants who built the church 150 years ago. As the parish’s 65 families celebrate the 150th anniversary of laying St. Patrick’s cornerstone this weekend, they’ll reflect on that church’s history.
The building’s roots date back to the mid-19th century, according to the book “Saint Patrick’s: Georgetown Iowa” by Michael W. Lemberger and Leigh Michaels. Then, Monroe County saw the construction of its first Catholic church, St. Gregory’s, but the parish grew quickly enough that a larger church became necessary.
Construction began on another building, initially called St. Gregory’s, about a mile west of the first church near the village of Staceyville. Immigrants quarried sandstone by hand from Babb’s Quarry a few miles away to build the church, whose Gothic architecture they patterned after churches the Catholics remembered from Ireland.
In 1860, the church’s cornerstone was laid. The building was renamed St. Patrick’s in 1872 in honor of parishioners’ Irish ancestry, and the village was renamed Georgetown decades later.
As years passed, a bell tower, 12 stained glass windows, Gothic altars and several statues were added to the church. In the late 1950s, the building underwent much renovation. The main altar was moved forward, leaving room for a new central heating system, kitchen and meeting rooms at the church’s north end. The ceiling was lowered to cut heating costs; new walls and flooring were added, and side entrances were closed and converted to shrines with statues. The sacristy and social rooms were equipped with running water and electricity, and many other, smaller remodeling projects took place.
But just a few years later, tornadoes struck St. Patrick’s. On the same date, June 28, in 1963 and 1969, the church’s roof suffered damage.
The damage was repaired, and in 1985, parishioners celebrated the 125th anniversary of the church’s construction. Not long afterward, the building underwent painting and cleaning, and its historic organ was restored.
In 1992, St. Patrick’s was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Two years later, the stained glass windows were restored.
To honor the late Father Mark Swanson, a former pastor, a memorial garden with a new statue of St. Patrick was added to parish grounds in 2002.
In 2006, parishioners saw the construction of a new parish hall that could accommodate crowds including more than 1,000 people who attend the God’s Portion Day dinner each year.
“People know that on the Sunday before Labor Day, they’ll gather in Georgetown under the trees their ancestors planted and catch up on news,” said longtime parishioner Mary Anne Bradley, a parish council member for 25 years. People need and appreciate the roots that a historic, close-knit parish provides, she said.
Lahart agreed. “One hundred fifty years is a long time, and we’re still there. We’re proud of our faith.”
Georgetown celebration slated
St. Patrick Parish in Georgetown will hold its annual God’s Portion Day event and celebrate the 150th anniversary of laying the church’s cornerstone Sept. 4-5.
Saturday, Sept. 4, is the first Georgetown Open golf tournament. Also on that day, history tours will be offered at 2, 3 and 4 p.m. One tour will cover St. Patrick Church history, stories and saints, and another tour will feature Babb’s Quarry, site of sandstone mining to build the church.
On Sunday, Sept. 5, Bishop Martin Amos will celebrate Mass at 10 a.m. in the church. From 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., a country homegrown dinner with roast beef and chicken will be served. Cost is $8 for people 12 and older and $3 for children. The country store opens and kids’ games begin at 11:30 a.m. A silent auction under the tent is slated for noon to 4 p.m.
At 1:15 p.m., a 150th anniversary celebration program will take place in front of the church. At 1:30 p.m., a live auction will begin on the south lawn. A lawn social takes place at 4 p.m. A raffle, and souvenirs of Irish and religious items will be available.