By Deacon Derick Cranston
For The Catholic Messenger
In 1846, a small group of German and Irish settlers led by a French Dominican priest named Father John Alleman came together to build a log cabin church a few miles west of what would become the town of Riverside, Iowa. As the number of Catholic immigrants began to swell and populate the area, they soon outgrew their log cabin church and moved to the growing town of Riverside where they built a new church in 1877.
A generation later, in 1907, the construction of a Gothic Revival-style red brick church was completed. It remains in place today. For over a century its bell tower and spire have overlooked the wooded hills, dominating the skyline and pointing to the heavens.
Just as time takes its toll on the human body, it also takes its toll on human-made structures. After bearing the brunt of over a century of Midwestern winters and summers, signs of age are showing. This year, St. Mary parishioners are kicking off a “Preservation Campaign” to raise money to address some much needed repairs. A pancake breakfast scheduled for Sunday, Feb. 12, from 7 a.m. to noon, will be the first of many fundraisers to come. The goal is to raise enough money to paint the ceilings, restore a vintage 100-year-old organ, refurbish the historic stained glass windows, replace the exterior glass covering, and complete various other projects.
This is not the first time St. Mary’s parishioners have had to step up to fund a building project. They have faced and met numerous challenges over the decades. In 1878, parishioners pooled their resources to build a Catholic grade school and in 1889 constructed a convent to house a group of Franciscan nuns who served as the school’s teachers.
In the 1980s, parishioners financed and built a basement under the church and a copper roof was installed over the church. In 2011, the parish hall, which had stood since the 1880s, was remodeled into a modern conference hall with a big screen TV, wireless Internet, new floors, ceiling and interior walls. A wing was added to house new classrooms and offices for parish staff.
From the time a group of weary pioneers led by a French Dominican priest cut the first timber for a log cabin church, the parishioners of St. Mary’s in Riverside have always met the challenges and needs set before them. They will do the most they can to preserve the beauty and dignity of their church, so that future generations may enjoy the fruits of their labor.