History of Saint Patricks

St. Patrick’s Church shares a rich tradition and history, both of its people and buildings. The Church and her people have seen throughout their tenure world wars and peace movements, unspeakable acts of violence, and insurmountable love. Yet, the fundamental values of the church have been maintained through our pastoral leaders, and through our own dedication to prayer, community, and faith-filled family life.

Our mission statement reads:

We, the people of St. Patrick Church in Council Bluffs, Iowa,
a community of Catholic believers,
accept our mission of proclaiming and living the gospel of Jesus Christ.
We seek to deepen our relationship with God and one another through individual and communal prayer,
celebration of the Eucharist,
reflective study of scripture,
and social activities.

The mission of St. Patrick’s Church is one of community, clearly outlined in our mission statement. It has called, and continues to call us all as a community of believers to strive for unification and stronger communal life. This work includes us to be dedicated patrons who work to strengthen our own parish life and the wider community of Christians and non-Christians alike in Council Bluffs and everywhere else we might be.

The responsibility our church has put upon itself is illustrated best by the fourth grade class of St. Patrick’s School in 1960. The children were saving for a class Christmas party at a rate of one nickel a week per student. When it came time to celebrate, instead of buying treats for their party with the money they had saved, the students donated the money, a total of $8.44 to the Goodfellows program with the intent to give their savings to those who needed it more than them during the holiday season.

This idea of stewardship, communal outreach, and parishioner involvement has been practiced since St. Patrick’s dedication in the 1920’s. Here is a look at St. Patrick’s through the decades:

History prior to Church Construction

In 1838, Fr. Pierre-Jean de Smit S.J., a Jesuit missionary established the first Church in Council Bluffs between Grace and Union Streets, South of Broadway. It is known today that this location is within the present boundaries of our modern church at 223 Harmony St. This church was not known as St. Patrick’s, but the ground our current building resides on has housed church facilities prior to our modern structure.


St. Patrick’s Church was founded in 1924 as the fourth parish in Council Bluffs. The intention of building St. Patrick’s was to serve the northeast section of the city as well as the personnel who worked at Mercy Hospital. The red granite stone used to construct the church previously paved Broadway. The stones were used for our church, a church in Dunlap, Iowa, and the parish hall in Defiance, Iowa. The current church property was purchased in December of 1924 at the corner of Baughn and Harmony Streets. The land bought was previously owned by John and Emma Curry and Ella and R. Ottelia Falk. Total price for the property was $14,500 with payments going to the Curry’s for $75.00 a month. The first pastor at St. Patrick’s was Fr. Cletus Portel. He was granted permission by Bishop Thomas W. Drumm of the Diocese of Des Moines to obtain a $25,000.00 bank loan for land costs and construction of the church. Building began on June 1, 1925.

While the church was being built, parishioners attended Mass at Mt. Loretto Catholic High School, an all-girls Catholic School serving the city in the 1920’s. As a school Mt. Loretto did not close until the founding of St. Albert’s in 1964. Mt. Loretto stood at the corner of North Broadway and Oak Street. St. Patrick’s was officially dedicated by Bishop Drumm on April 25, 1926. Fr. Portel presided at St. Patrick’s only a few years before being transferred to a church in Dunlap, Iowa in 1927. After Fr. Cletus Portel left for a new assignment, Msgr. J.F. Costello was assigned to St. Patrick’s and presided for 25 years.

The first Baptism for a St. Patrick’s parishioner was recorded to have taken place on October 26, 1924, before the church was even built. The first funeral took place on May 9, 1925, and the first marriage was celebrated on May 16, 1926.


St. Patrick’s continued to grow and develop through the tumultuous times of the Great Depression. Fr. Costello led St. Patrick’s through the entire 1930’s. The first annual report on record dates from 1937. It reports that St. Patrick’s Church had 119 families registered as parish members. This totaled 325 adults and 127 children. The church also reported 13 baptisms, 8 deaths, 8 marriages, and a budget of $7,153.17.


The 1940’s saw change to the church grounds. In 1945, Msgr. Costello commissioned the building of the Church Rectory. After the building of the Church Rectory, efforts were focused on raising funds for the building of a parish school.


The dream of a parish school came true when St. Patrick’s School was opened on September 5, 1950. The school was purchased from the Council Bluffs public school system. The building that St. Patrick’s purchased was formally known as the Oak Street School. The public school system had just completed construction of Hoover Elementary only a few blocks away where public school children would attend. St. Patrick’s opened its school offering classes the first year for grades 1-5. A total of 52 pupils were enrolled the first year. The school eventually opened classes for students of grades kindergarten through 8th grade. St. Patrick’s School became one of five parish schools in Council Bluffs. The other parish schools at the time were St. Peter’s, St. Francis, Queen of Apostles, and Holy Family. St. Patrick’s school was led and taught by the Sister’s of Mercy. Sister Paula Radosevich who was principal, started the school with Sister Doloretta Rinehart. For daily Mass, the students would walk from the school (located where the Pizza King now sits) to St. Patrick’s Church. During the 1950’s the Church hall was also used for students to put on plays. A stage once stood where the current deli table is located. Plays and other social activities that the students partook in also were held in the church hall. Because the school only went to the 8th grade, students for grades 9-12 were either sent to public schools or attended St. Francis’ High School, or Mt. Loretto’s all girls boarding school.

In 1952, Msgr. Costello at the age of 69 died suddenly of a heart attack on a return voyage from Ireland. Msgr. Thomas J. Moriarty was assigned to continue the pastoral duties at St. Patrick’s Church. By the time Msgr. Moriarty became the pastoral leader at St. Patrick’s, the parish had grown to 287 families. Msgr. Moriarty was born in Fall River, Massachusetts, on July 20, 1899. He was ordained in 1925 and elevated to Monsignor in 1959. He retired and left St. Patrick’s in 1969. Moriarty was also a co-founder of the St. Albert school system and a World War I veteran. He also became Chaplain for the American Legion in 1946.

Our Lady of Grace statue which stands in front of the church rectory was constructed in 1954. The statue was commissioned after an anonymous donor gave funds for its construction. Fr. James J. Hannan, S.J. designed and built the shrine to Mary the Mother of God. Fr. Hannan was a Jesuit priest well known in the Midwest for the shrines that he built and dedicated to Mary. He never signed any of his works. His requirement for payment while building statutes, aside from materials, was three meals a day and a place to sleep. Several of his shrines stand in Council Bluffs including Mercy Hospital, St. Bernards, St. Francis Convent, St. Patrick’s, St. Peter’s, St. Joseph Cemetery, and one for Mrs. E.R. McDonnell. The last shrine Fr. Hannan built was in 1969 at the age of 85 two years before his death. Fr. Hannan’s sister, Mrs. Anna Miles Scofield, was a long time member of St. Patrick’s parish.

Fr. Patrick Bacon the first associate pastor on record at St. Patrick’s Church served between June and September 1959.


The 1960’s was a decade of change for our the Catholic Church in general. Yet, despite change, St. Patrick’s continued to grow. By 1960, the church had 590 registered families and 259 children attending St. Patrick’s School. It was during this time that a three room edition was also added to the school to make room for more pupils.

Between the years of 1962-1965, a large body of cardinals, bishops, and experts met at the request of Pope John XXIII to reorganize and renew the Church and its understanding of liturgy, and sacred scripture. This meeting was called the Second Vatican Council. Decisions made during this time period directly affected our own Church and parish here in Council Bluffs. For example, in 1964, the altar was turned around to face the congregation in accord with new precepts put out by Vatican II.

The decade saw great change in Council Bluffs’ Catholic Education System when St. Albert’s High School was dedicated by Bishop Edward Daly on June 7, 1964. The first year of the high school started with a freshmen class of 175 students. Each year, a new class was added with the hopes of reaching a total high school population somewhere between 900 and 1000 patrons. The first years of the school saw separate classrooms for boys and girls.

Though change abounded, the parishioners of St. Patrick’s Church continued to practice the fundamental value of all faith life: prayer. On Ash Wednesday, 1961, the St. Patrick’s Holy Name Society initiated an adoration of the Blessed Sacrament for two days each week. By the time Easter had come, registration for adoration of the Blessed Sacrament was filled and expanded. The expansion of the project ensured that two people would be praying before the altar continuously for an hour each, with new members coming in to fill their position. The response was so overwhelmingly positive that adoration continued 24 hours a day, seven days a week by adults and high school age teens logging a consecutive total of 10,000 hours of prayer!

The 1960’s also saw one of St. Patrick’s own become bishop. The Reverend Vincent McCauley, a St. Patrick’s parishioner was appointed Bishop of a Catholic territory in Fort Portal, Uganda, Africa by Pope John XXIII. Rev. McCauley had begun his missionary work in Africa in 1958 as a member of the Holy Cross Foreign Mission Society, headquartered in Washington D.C. Rev. McCauley was a graduate of Creighton Prep in 1924 and died November 1, 1982.

Msgr. Moriarty who led St. Patrick’s through the majority of the 60’s was replaced by Msgr. Michael W. Schwarte. Fr. Sam Palmer (1959-1961), Fr. Frank Palmer (1962-1967), and Fr. Robert Schoeman (1966-1970), assisted Msgr. Moriarty and Msgr. Schwarte during the 60’s.


Msgr. Michael Schwarte stayed at St. Patrick’s until 1972 when Fr. Gerald Stessman took his place. Fr. Stessman stayed at St. Patrick’s until 1980. In 1973, St. Patrick’s Church sold its school to those who would eventually build the Pizza King. After the sale of the school, St. Patrick’s consolidated its school children with three of the five parish schools on the east side of Council Bluffs. The consolidation included the schools at St. Peter’s, St. Patrick’s, and St. Francis.

A major renovation of the interior of the church also took place in the 1970’s under Fr. Stessman. The renovations included the installation of a wood carving of the risen Christ. The wood carving of the risen Christ replaced the original altar and communion rail, both of which were removed and are not known to exist anymore.

Fr. Keith Engel (1970-1971), Fr. John Cunningham (1970-1971), Fr. Don Bruck (1971-1972), Fr. Ray Fitzpatrick (1972-1973), Fr. James Kleffman (1973-1975), Fr. Bob Weis (1975-1977), Fr. Don Daleke (1978-1979) all were associate pastors during the 1970’s.


During this decade, the pastoral leadership of the church saw change four times. Fr. John Lorenz replaced Fr. Stessman in 1980. He was then replaced two years later by Fr. Richard Wagner who stayed until 1987. In 1987, Fr. Wagner was replaced by Fr. Don Bruck who stayed until 1989 when Msgr. Edward Pfeffer came. Msgr. Pfeffer remained at St. Patrick’s Church until 1996. By 1984, the church had grown to approximately 875 registered families. The church carried out 57 Baptisms, and 30 marriages in that year.

One of St. Patrick’s own, Michael Berner was ordained to the priesthood on May 15, 1986. Fr. Berner wrote to the congregation of St. Patrick’s that, “(A) vocation comes from God through people. People like those of your family and those of the parish who give you a spiritual lift now and then. St. Patrick’s is very good for all of this.” Prior to ordination, Fr. Berner attended St. Albert High School, received a bachelor of arts from Creighton University, and a Master of Divinity from the University of Notre Dame, and attended Moreau Seminary

Fr. Gerald Deere, who came as an associate pastor between 1981-82 retired in Council Bluffs and purchased the property directly adjacent to St. Patrick’s. The house has since been known as the Deere House. While retired, Fr. Deere continued to aid in ministries at St. Patrick’s through 1993. Fr. Kevin Cameron was also an Associate Pastor from 1987-1989. The church also built a handicap ramp in 1988 so those in wheelchairs could easily gain access to the church worship space.


The 1990’s saw major changes to the interior of the church. The idea for renovation was initially conceived as a project to repaint and replace the carpet. Instead, a full-blown renovation of the entire interior was undertaken. To help with the renovation, Brother William Woeger of the Archdiocese of Omaha was consulted. Brother Woeger is well known as a Liturgical Consultant and designer and has taken part in the restoration and redesign of many churches in the area and across the country.

When Brother Woeger began to redesign the interior of St. Patrick’s he had three key themes he wanted to retain and build upon, “preservation, restoration, and renovation.” The renovations included the opening of rooms on either side of the altar, one that holds the Blessed Sacrament, the other as a Reconciliation room. The original confessionals from the back of the church were then removed allowing more room in the entry of the church. The cry room in the back of the church was also removed and replaced with a vesting sacristy. A new crucifix replaced the wooden one that was built in the 1970’s.

The new icon was painted by Brother William Woeger himself. Brother Woeger’s idea was to capture the Icon of Jesus found in the Book of Kells, one of the best known decorated manuscripts produced by Celtic monks around the year 800 AD. The altar space was moved out further towards the congregation. This forced the removal of some front seating but it also allowed for the congregation to be more of a part in the celebration of the liturgy. A ramp was also constructed to the altar welcoming all to God’s table. A new baptismal font was permanently placed in the back of the church using the same cobblestone found on the outside of the church and rectory. To complete the vision of Brother Woeger, the church hired the architect firm, RDG Schutte Wilscam Birge, and Andersen Construction Company. The project began on July 15, 1994, and was estimated to have cost nearly $300,000.00. With the final project complete, the church could hold 370 people.

During the renovation process, parishioners would come in after construction projects had been completed for the week and clean the church as best they could and set up folding chairs. A temporary altar was also setup. Following the weekend services, parishioners would take down what they set up so that construction could continue during the week. Funerals and weddings during the construction were held at the other three local parishes in town.

When Msgr. Pfeffer left in 1996, Msgr. Edward Kelly replaced him and presided until his retirement in 1999. Fr. John O. Bertogli came to St. Patrick’s in July of 1999 and stayed until July of 2005. At this point in our history, we had 1035 registered families as part of the parish. Fr. Frank Cordero (1992-1995), and Fr. Raphael Masabakhawa (1995-2003) were associate pastors in the 90’s.


The new millennium saw the celebration of our Church’s 75th anniversary. Many of our former pastors returned to St. Patrick’s Church to celebrate our 75th year as a parish. The new millennium saw more changes of pastors at St. Patrick’s as well. After Fr. Masabakhawa took a new assignment at St. Patrick’s Church in Neola, Iowa; Fr. Dean Nimerichter came to St. Patrick’s to assist Fr. Bertogli in ministry. Fr. Nimerichter stayed through the early part of 2004.

Once Fr. Bertogli’s tenure was complete in July 2005, Fr. David Fleming came to St. Patrick’s church. Under Fr. Fleming, a major overhaul of the outside of the church was completed including sandblasting and cleaning of the granite as well as major tuck-pointing. The church rectory was converted into parish offices where daily church business could occur. This move made available rooms for ministries and RCIA, and church bought an off-site townhome where the church pastor could reside.

Along with updates and changes to the building, St. Patrick’s saw a growth in parish communal activities including the launch of the annual St. Patrick’s festival. The church had 833 registered families and continues to minister in the present while looking forward to the future.

At the direction of the bishop, St. Patrick’s Church bought 12 acres of land at the corner of State Orchard and Steven’s Road with the intent to build a new church sometime in the future.  It was deemed that this space would prove ineffective due to its inefficient use of space.  A new parcel of land was purchased at the corner of Valley View and College Rd, early 2014. In 2015, a funding campaign began to raise money to start the building project.  This was prompted by the selling of the church’s parking lot to the YMCA by Mercy Hospital.