The story of St. Joseph Parish – Hills

At left, this statue of St. Joseph the Worker is located at the entrance of the church. Above, this exterior view of St. Joseph campus in Hills was taken by Pro-UAVision Aerial Imaging, which also did a brief video at https://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=jpQHWY8kNeE.

(During the Year of St. Joseph, The Catholic Messenger is featuring parishes whose patron saint is St. Joseph.)

The parish: St. Joseph Church of Hills has 105 families. Father Michael Spiekermeier was appointed pastor in 2012 and serves as administrator. Carol Kaalberg serves at the cluster coordinator.

Father Louis Leon­hardt, a retired priest, lives in residence in Lone Tree and assists the parish. Father Hai Dinh will become pastor on July 1.

History: Construction began in 1902 on the church, named St. Joseph because three committee members were named Joseph. Bishop Henry Cosgrove appointed Father Kottenstette as pastor in 1902. He also had the mission of St. Stanislaus and Lone Tree in his charge.

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With “many things left unfinished,” Catholics celebrated the first Mass on Jan. 1, 1903. Parishioners held a weeklong fair, which generated gross receipts of $1,087.22. During the year, pews and an altar rail were installed. The parish purchased an organ for $25.

Msgr. Schulte of Iowa City blessed the church on Thanksgiving Day in 1903, speaking in English to the people while Msgr. Heer of Dyersville spoke in German. St. Mary’s Choir from Iowa City came by train to sing for the event.

The parish broke ground for a new rectory in 1905. The men hauled bricks from River Junction and assisted in putting in the foundation. Bishop James Davis came to administer confirmation in 1906.

Parishioners laid the cornerstone for the parochial school in September 1908 and completed construction in 1909. Three Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration of LaCrosse, Wisconsin, arrived to teach. School enrollment grew and high school courses were added. In 1928, the parish school had 86 children, with seven in high school. Three sisters taught grade school and one taught high school. In 1968, St. Joseph school was closed and the building was demolished in 1975.

In 1924, a large sanctuary and sacristies were added to the church and the ceiling was arched. An altar facing the people was placed in the sanctuary in 1953. The church received an extensive renovation in 1972-1973 and the high altars were removed.

In 1987-1988, a larger east entrance to the hall was added; in 1998, a storm destroyed the steeple and both the church and rectory suffered structural damage. In March 2003, the parish celebrated its centennial year with Bishop William Franklin presiding at Mass.

On July 1, 2010, Kaalberg, while serving as parish life administrator for St. Mary Parish-Lone Tree and St. Mary Parish-Nichols, received the appointment of St. Joseph Parish-Hills from Bishop Martin Amos, creating the Ss. Mary and Joseph Cluster Catholic Faith Community of Nichols, Lone Tree and Hills.

In 2012, the cluster purchased a Lone Tree doctor’s office building and converted it for religious education use. The Ss. Mary and Joseph Cluster continues to share religious education, first Eucharist, confirmation, and other community and social action projects.

St. Joseph Parish completed a yearlong renovation in 2014, which included a ground-level entrance on the east side of the church. All levels are accessible. Offices were added in the lower level and the parish hall and kitchen were renovated.

In June 2019, Father Terry Ball, a member of St. Joseph Parish, was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Davenport.

St. Joseph offers a community Food Pantry every Wednesday from 10 a.m. to noon. Parishioners donate food items on a designated monthly Food Pantry Sunday.

Year of St. Joseph: The parish cluster is planning a 33-day Consecration to St. Joseph, using Father Donald Calloway’s book. Books will be purchased for all who wish to participate. The parish prays the Litany of St. Joseph at all Masses and celebrated the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker on May 1.

Thoughts on the saint: Lifelong parishioner Marcia Mellecker, who serves as parish housekeeper, said her grandmother, Magdeline Birrer Mellecker, was the housekeeper in the 1940s. “I like to imagine my grandmother cleaning these same rooms of the rectory while I am now doing the weekly cleaning here. I think she would be pleased that we did this same work for St. Joseph Church.”

Carol Kirkpatrick said, “My youngest son recommended the 33-day Consecration to St. Joseph as a way to better understand St. Joseph as our spiritual father. As a mother, I always had a devotion to our Blessed Mother, but praying the Litany of St. Joseph at daily and Sunday Mass at St. Joseph Parish, I better understand, appreciate and pray to our parish patron saint as a model and protector for all families.”


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