(During the Year of St. Joseph, The Catholic Messenger is featuring parishes whose patron saint is St. Joseph.)
The parish: Holy Family Parish in Fort Madison, which includes St. Joseph Church, has 731 families. Father Joseph Phung is the pastor. The parish has two open and functioning churches and Holy Trinity Catholic School (K-12, which serves multiple parishes), a bookstore, rectory, convent, two parish halls and parish office (the former convent).
History: In 1840, starting with eight Catholic families in Fort Madison, Father John George Alleman, under the direction of Bishop Mathias Loras, began construction of the first Catholic church on the east side of town and dedicated it to St. Joseph. The brick structure, completed in 1841 was just 16 x 18 feet in size. The building served a three-fold purpose: the church, the pastor’s residence and a school.
Over the years, St. Joseph was rebuilt a number of times. The second St. Joseph Church was completed in 1847 to accommodate the growing number of parishioners (75 families). Father Alleman lived in a small room in the basement of the second church. He also established the first parochial school. The third church building, constructed in 1886 of brick in the Gothic Revival style, still stands today.
In 1915 when St. Joseph celebrated its diamond jubilee, Father Arthur Zaiser, its pastor, using the original foundation, constructed a replica of the first Catholic church in Fort Madison. The replica stands today just a few yards southwest of the former St. Joseph Church.
In the late 1990s and into the 21st century, the city’s demographics, and thus the parishes, began to change. Fort Madison lost population and the number of priests available to minister began to decline. In 1996, St. Joseph and St. Mary of the Assumption merged to become Ss. Mary & Joseph Church. With the continued decline in practicing Catholics and the number of available priests to serve, in September 2008, Ss. Mary & Joseph joined with Sacred Heart Church to become the current Holy Family Parish.
(Much of the early history of Catholicism in Fort Madison is chronicled in Father Arthur Zaiser’s book “The Diamond Jubilee of St. Joseph’s Church” written in 1915.)