By Celine Klosterman
European immigrants settling in Johnson County in the first half of the 19th century found some of the basics for starting their new life: land, sometimes an abandoned log cabin ready to move into, and eventually, a country store.
But for years, the wilderness included no Catholic church, Irene Seelman wrote in her 1976 book, “History of Cosgrove: Saint Peter’s Church.”
For people living in the village of Windham, that changed in 1861. Catholics celebrated the dedication of a church there that year, after having welcomed mission priests from Iowa City and Holbrook to residents’ homes in the 1840s and ‘50s. Windham Catholics named their new church St. Peter’s in honor of one of those priests, Father Peter Sullivan, who often walked 11 miles from Holbrook to the village.
By 1878 St. Peter’s had 71 families, according to a parish history account, and by the late 1880s the congregation had grown too large for the church building. Since most parishioners lived north of Windham, closer to the area that later became Cosgrove, they built a new St. Peter’s Church there.
This year, St. Peter Parish in Cosgrove is celebrating its 150th anniversary. Bishop Martin Amos will preside at Mass Aug. 7 at 11 a.m., and lunch will follow at the Cosgrove Institute.
At the time the church was built, it was customary for families to rent a pew, thus providing income for church upkeep and the priest’s salary, Seelman wrote. Some families kept their pew for decades.
By 1912, the parish had again outgrown its church, so the building was enlarged. It was remodeled in 1935; a mural of the Garden of Gethsemane was painted over the altar, and pictures were painted in each alcove.
Parishioners saw new altars, pews, carpeting, paint and new Stations of the Cross added in 1967. The following year, St. Peter’s current rectory was built, replacing a pastor’s residence that had been built in 1890 and needed repairs, according to parish history.
In 1977, a new hall that seats 200 people was dedicated. Catholics use it for religious education classes, showers, wedding receptions, meetings, the Pork Day Dinner and other occasions. In 1987, a cry room was added to the back of St. Peter’s. Twelve years later, the church was re-carpeted, and the Stations of the Cross were repainted.
In the past 30 years, job opportunities in the Cosgrove and Iowa City area have led to growing numbers of Catholics registering at St. Peter’s, parishioner Jack Ruth said. Today, the parish has about 170 families, up from 135 in 1999, according to the parish.
Since 2001, Father Ed Dunn has served St. Peter’s and St. Mary’s in Oxford.
St. Peter’s is community asset, parishioners say
Here, members of St. Peter Parish in Cosgrove reflect on the parish’s role in their lives.
My husband, Richard, and I are “newcomers” to St. Peter Church. We moved 12 years ago into the new subdivision that is directly across from the church in Cosgrove. The first thing we noticed when we attended Mass was the fact that there would be three generations of a family sitting in a pew. This was so different from our experience at a larger church elsewhere. It felt like home to us and the parishioners made us feel so welcome and not like strangers. We are so fortunate to be part of this growing and vibrant church community.
For much of our lives my wife, Ro, and I have been part of the faith family of St. Peter. Our five children received their sacraments and two were married there.
Having recently researched and written the history of St. Peter Church, I have a new appreciation for how it has been a part of the lives of so many others over the last 150 years. Fortunately their sacrifices and vision have enabled St. Peter to be the asset to our community that it is.
Members of the congregation readily offer their support in both glad and sad times and lifelong friendships are formed. Over the years we have had devoted and caring pastors, each contributing to our heritage.
I have been a member of St. Peter’s all of my life. In June of 1946, my husband-to-be, Donald, and I were married at this church in Cosgrove. Throughout our 52 years of marriage, we were blessed to have our parish priests pray with us during happy, as well as sad, occasions. The members of our parish have helped me get through illness and the sudden death of my husband. St. Peter’s is my home!