Remembering Charles City
Presentation Presence from 1952-Present
“In 1854, as prairie schooners moved westward, a small band of pioneers settled along the Cedar River in a village which was to become Charles City. Missionary priests from the Diocese of Dubuque … were assigned to visit the area a few times each year. In 1867 a pastor was assigned to the community, and Mass was celebrated in Taylor Hall, the Court House, as well as in private homes.” Open House booklet, June 10, 1973
After some years of fundraising, a Gothic brick structure was erected under the direction of Father Clement Lowery, and dedicated as the parish church in 1885. While the building was plagued by fire on two separate occasions, and by a tornado in 1968, the faith of the parishioners was undaunted. In 1972 a new church was constructed which reflected changes in liturgical thinking and serves today as a place of worship and community gathering.
In 1895 the pastor, Father Patrick McGrath, saw to the building of a school for the children of the parish. The Sisters of Mercy from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, welcomed 160 boarding and day students on the first day of school. In 1912 a new wing was added to accommodate increasing enrollment.
Continued changes marked the history of the school. In 1949 enrollment had reached 281, and by 1958 it reached 500. A tornado which destroyed a large section of town damaged the school building also. At that time the high school grades were dropped and students from St. Mary Parish of Roseville were added to the enrollment. Over the years grades seven and eight were dropped, kindergarten and preschool were added, and in 2002, an early childhood wing was added to the building.
Because of lack of personnel, the Sisters of Mercy were unable to continue staffing the school, and in 1952, 14 Sisters of the Presentation from Dubuque came to assure the parishioners that the high quality of education would remain in place. Sister Mary Angela Feeney was principal for grades first-12th from 1952-1958, with an enrollment of 118 in the high school and 286 in the elementary.
Over the years, 100 Presentation Sisters have ministered in Immaculate Conception School and Parish, including Sister Mary Diana Blong who presently serves as pastoral associate.
A new convent was constructed in 1960, but was not ready for the sisters to move in before school began that fall. Sister Martha Boland remembered that the move took place the last day of school before Christmas vacation in “the worst snow storm of the year.” In spite of the short notice, everything was in place for the Christmas celebration, “including the tree.”
Immaculate Conception School was cited by the National Catholic Education Association in 1989 for its efforts at fundraising, and for increasing teacher salaries. In 1954, 63 students petitioned Congress to add the words “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag. Both the House and the Senate passed a resolution to add the phrase to the pledge.
In addition to teaching in the school, several of the sisters were involved in parish ministry, notably from 1977-79, 1985-97, and 1999 to the present. They also participated in other widespread projects during their work in Charles City. Among the activities in which they were involved were: Habitat for Humanity; catechetical schools in Nashua, Charles City and Roseville; speech and music festivals; and the Child Abuse Prevention Council for Floyd and surrounding counties for which they helped to get a grant established. At the time of the tornado in 1968 many of the sisters were involved with the Red Cross, Salvation Army and other civic organizations in taking care of the needs of the citizens.
According to a newspaper article in The Witness in September 1987, “Four young men from the parish entered the priesthood, and two became religious brothers; at least 25 women entered religious life.” Five Presentation Sisters count Charles City as their home.
Left photo: L to R: A group of retired teachers from the Immaculate Conception School in Charles City, Iowa, made a special trip to the Sisters of the Presentation to visit their former co-workers. These ladies cherish a special bond having taught together over the years. Left to right: Front row: Sister Ellen Mary Garrett, Sister Linus Coyle, Sister Catherine Wingert and Sarah Barrett; Back row: Sister Anne McCormick, Marilyn Rochford, Susan Strong, Lynn Redenius, Sister René Laubenthal and Sister Sheila Kane.
Right photo: Immaculate Conception School in Charles City, Iowa, in 1954.