By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
COSGROVE — Tucked away among the cornfields of rural Iowa is a turn-of-the-century white Catholic church with red doors — and not much else. But during Mass the unincorporated community comes alive as parishioners of St. Peter Parish — from infants to senior citizens — fill the pews for worship.
“It’s the center of the community,” said parishioner Pat Mougin.
While many rural churches have struggled in recent years, Cosgrove has nearly doubled its membership in the past 25 years as nearby Tiffin, which doesn’t have a Catholic church, has grown and the economy of the Cedar Rapids-Iowa City corridor has blossomed. That’s according to Jack Ruth, a member of the parish for more than 75 years and a former trustee. Cosgrove is about 12 miles west of Iowa City. He noted that many families choose to attend Mass in Cosgrove, even if another parish is closer, because of family ties or because they enjoy the homilies of Father Ed Dunn, the parish’s administrator.
With a growing parish full of young families, members knew that the parish hall across the street — essentially an aluminum farm building — would not continue to meet parish needs nor withstand the elements for another generation. In late 2014, the 175-family parish decided to move forward with a $1.3 million capital campaign to build a 6,000-square-foot parish hall that would serve members’ needs for several generations.
Building the new hall required much dedication from parishioners — their time and talent as well as financial support. Demolition of the hall started in May, with many of the contents donated to Habitat for Humanity. Footings for the new building were dug in late July. Most of the contractors had connections to the church, which helped keep costs down. Parishioners helped deep clean once the interior was installed.
Parishioner Patty Sheetz and her husband, Dan, documented the process through photographs. In almost every image, someone from the parish is helping out. “Our parishioners recognize the blessings we have here in the St. Peter’s Cosgrove area,” she said. “They have been so gracious and open-handed in offering talents, resources and financial assistance to make our new parish hall happen.”
For its inaugural event Feb. 20, the parish center — known as Waldschmidt Hall — opened its doors to Bishop Martin Amos, who blessed the building. He, too, recognized the dedication necessary for a smaller parish to complete such a large project.
A smile rarely left Fr. Dunn’s face during the reception following the bishop’s blessing. “I’m filled with joy. It’s just great to see how proud and happy the people are with their hall. It’s just a beautiful hall and I think it will serve the parish and community for years to come,” Fr. Dunn said.
The main space in the hall, dedicated to Fr. Dunn, is equipped to handle 270 people. The covered patio just outside the main space can hold an additional 170 people. The building includes a large kitchen, multi-stall bathrooms and a meeting room. Building committee member Sarah Maiers said the new hall will allow the Cosgrove parish to host more religious education events and banquets. It’ll better accommodate the hundreds of people who come to town each August for Pork Days. Additionally, the parish hopes to be able to hold visitations in the space.
Parish accountant Curt Barkalow said, “This hall is something the parish, the community, the diocese and Catholic Church should be very proud of.”
Jack Ruth said, “Like any project, it’s great when it’s finished.”