Please click if you would like a more detailed History for the Diocese of Davenport
The record of these early years is a romantic story of strong faith and religious zeal (Our Diocese and the Institutions, Henry P. Rohlman).
Our history begins with the missionary explorations of our area.
The most famous is that of Marquette and Joliet. This missionary trip was in the late 17th century.
In 1674 until 1762, we were a part of the Diocese of Quebec as French fur traders swept the Northwest and the Mississippi Valley. With the French and Indian War, Spain took control of the Mississippi Valley and we became part of the Diocese of Santiago de Cuba. After this time until 1837 we were a part of a number of dioceses of both French and Spanish influence because church administration followed the changing tides of civil control and U.S. expansion.
In 1837 the Diocese of Dubuque was established and Pope Gregory XVI appointed Mathias Loras first bishop of a diocese which included Iowa, Minnesota and parts of North and South Dakotas. While Davenport was not to become a diocese until 1881, it was in the period after 1837 that many of the older parishes were established. Bishop Loras who was born in France of parents who suffered in the French Revolution. At the time of his appointment he was a priest in Mobile, Alabama. He thought the new diocese would be mainly composed of Indians, but this was the time of the resettlement of Indians and the coming of people from the Eastern States and from European countries. Bishop Loras was worried because there was only one priest in the area:
Father Samuel Charles Mazzuchelli who rode on horseback serving the Indians and white people who lived on the eastern edge of Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin and around the Great Lakes. The Indians called him Mathew Kelly, but he was really Italian born and he was a Dominican priest who founded a monastery and convent in Sinsinawa – across the Mississippi from Dubuque.
When it was established in 1881, the Diocese of Davenport consisted of the lower half of the State of Iowa.
The Diocese of Des Moines was created out of the western half of the then Diocese of Davenport in 1911; plus the addition of Clinton County from the Diocese of Dubuque, became the new Diocese of Davenport.
In Davenport, the prime founder of the church and the leading citizens of the city for over 25 years were Antoine LeClaire and his wife Marguerite. He was part Indian, a fur trader and friend of the Indians. He spoke 14 dialects. The Indians gave him property that made up much of Davenport and he, in turn, gave property to the Church for St. Anthony’s, St. Marguerite’s Church and St. Marguerite’s Cemetery. (They were named for his wife.) Antoine was very heavy set and weighed over 300 pounds. He not only helped found the church, but he played the bass viol in church and his wife sang in the choir.
Marguerite LeClaire, the granddaughter of a Sac Chief, educated by sisters in St. Louis. She and her husband were the social as well as the civil and religious leaders of Davenport. Their 3rd home on 9th street had a ballroom for the dances they hosted.
Antoine LeClaire gave the property and much of the money for St. Anthony’s Church (named for his patron). The first church is the school, north east of the church, now covered with Permastone unfortunately. The second Church was built in 1857. Both early churches were designed by Father Mazzuchelli. The wings were added to the east end of the church later.
The first pastor of St. Anthony’s – Father Jean Antoine Marie Pelamourgues who Bishop Loras recruited in France for Iowa. He felt that those who came to the United States should learn English which he found a very difficult task, but, he said: “I do not despair.” During his time all large gatherings were at St. Anthony’s. He also started the first Catholic school. The Blessed Virgin Mary sisters taught there from 1843 on.
Father Pelamourgues with the help of Antoine LeClaire built another church on the crest of the hill. The first church was the first cathedral. Later in 1895, the name was changed to Sacred Heart Cathedral.
The LeClair’s who were buried next to the first church were transferred to the St. Marguerite’s Cemetery which later became known as Mt. Calvary Cemetery/Holy Family. With the name change, Sacred Heart was required to have a chapel with the original name or St. Margaret’s as it is now known.
All that was needed was a shepherd to strengthen what had already been done by the sacrifice of the pioneers, and to build for posterity greater mansions on the foundation already in place. That shepherd was given to the people of southern Iowa by the name of Father John McMullen. He came to Davenport from Chicago where he had been college president and, later, pastor of the cathedral. Unfortunately, he was bishop only two years before he died of cancer. Bishop McMullen was God’s first great blessing on the people and priests of the Diocese of Davenport (Bishop Henry P. Rohlman, May 8, 1931).
One special accomplishment of Bishop McMullen was the founding of St. Ambrose. The first classes were held in the school next to the cathedral. The original building was built in 1885.
Our next Bishop was Henry Cosgrove, who led the Diocese from 1884 until 1906. He was the first native born American to head a diocese west of the Mississippi River. (Davis, Rohlman & Davis)
Sisters came to Iowa as early as 1843 when the BVM established their motherhouse in Dubuque. By the 1860’s Visitation Sisters, Daughters of Charity and the Sisters of St. Francis staffed schools in the diocese. In 1877, the Sisters of Humility of Mary came to Ottumwa and to many places in the Diocese.
One place was the orphanage which the Sisters of Humility were asked by Bishop Cosgrove to staff. Originally it was a house on 14th street, called Sacred Heart Asylum. The name was changed to St. Vincent’s Home. The original building was built by the Sisters of Humility in 1896. It was a home for children and a school until 1969. For a few years, it was a place for youth.
Then it became the center of the Diocese and it grew in size during the years.
The glories of our diocese reflect in small the miraculous development of the universal Church throughout the ages. Both have survived and flourished because, animated by the Holy Ghost, they have faithfully taught the doctrine and educated the virtue of their Head and Founder, Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (Our Diocese and the Institutions, Henry P. Rohlman).