By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
CLINTON — The Catholic Historical Center at St. Boniface, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was hit hard last year by the derecho on Aug. 10 and the COVID-19 pandemic.
The storm damaged two sides of the historical center’s roof, with one side needing immediate patching, board members said. Built in 1908, the historical center occupies the former St. Boniface Church. A nonprofit group began turning the building into a religious heritage museum shortly before the decommissioning of the church in 2008. The Catholic Historical Center at St. Boniface purchased the property from Jesus Christ, Prince of Peace Parish in 2011.
The historical center is home to artifacts from the five original parishes in Clinton, as well as a Knights of Columbus display, a Sisters of St. Francis-Clinton display, and a papal display. The Catholic Historical Center also keeps a list of pre-1970 baptisms, marriages, confirmations and deaths from these churches. The center has taken in items from other closed churches in Clinton County.
“The Center’s missions are to preserve the building, serve as an education and event center, and as a repository of (local Catholic) artifacts and records,” said Mary Kay Wik, president of the Catholic Historical Center at St. Boniface.
The historical center’s ability to continue these missions may be in jeopardy, due to roof damage sustained during the derecho last summer, supporters say. The temporary covering on the roof was made to last six months, Wik said. It is now nearly a year old. “It got us through the winter, but every time there is a storm, board members are concerned. We know something could happen; a (permanent repair) must be done before winter.”
A local contractor has offered to perform a partial replacement, along with preventative work, for about $25,000. This is about $100,000 lower than bids the historical center received for a full replacement of the slate roof. Still, raising the money has been a challenge, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, Wik said. The historical center currently receives funding through the yearly dues of about 80 members, the local Knights of Columbus council and freewill donations from tours, events, reunions and concerts.
The historical center was closed to the public for several months in 2020 due to the pandemic, Wik said.
Donors have been generous in giving larger-than-usual sums, anywhere from $60 to $2,000, she said. Collections so far total about $11,000. A grant request submitted to the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs for a Historical Resource Development grant was denied, however, the department recommended that the historical center apply for a Historical Preservation Emergency Grant. The historical center has applied for that grant and is awaiting a response.
As the winter deadline approaches, board members and volunteers hope to expand awareness of everything the historical center has to offer. “The preservation of the St. Boniface church building has great meaning” to those who grew up in the parish, as well as in other Clinton parishes, Wik said. “The center has many visitors each year who reminisce about their time spent at St. Boniface and the other churches. On our Facebook page, we receive many comments from former parishioners who have moved away from the area” and who share memories of baptisms and weddings. “People who moved away from the area seem especially appreciative of the group of volunteers who are maintaining the history here.”
To learn more about the Catholic Historical Center at St. Boniface, visit its Facebook page at www.facebook.com/CatholicHistoricalCenter, call (563) 206-1314 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Guests are welcome Tuesdays year-round from 9 a.m. to noon and Saturday from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. May through October, or by appointment.