Presentation Presence from 1887-1996
From the east windows of my home in Farley, Iowa, I look out onto a green space that once housed St. Joseph School. The doorway of the 1912 school is preserved in what is now known as Presentation Park. A lantern, symbolic Nano Nagle, stands tall atop a circular structure of brick. This structure houses four marble tablets that speak to the story of Nano and Presentation beginnings in Ireland and Iowa. Nano Nagle’s words are engraved: “Go out into the winding lanes and there you will find Christ.” Inside the doorway are the names of the project contributors both the living and deceased.
In building Presentation Park, St. Joseph parishioners have preserved a beloved tradition of their school and paid tribute to the spirit of the Presentation Sisters who served there. This tribute is a doorway that opens to visioning their future.
Not until recently did I ponder the fact that throughout my 44 years of religious life, I have been led three times by the Spirit to the St. Joseph, Farley community. Each time has given me a different learning with new insights. I did not realize all the elements of change that I would encounter in one small parish.
I entered the Sisters of the Presentation in 1964. My first year of ministry in 1969 was an assignment to Farley-Bankston, teaching elementary and secondary music. At the time there were two buildings in Farley: the grade school built in 1912 which housed grades 5-8 and the high school which opened for classes in 1958. St. Clement’s Bankston had merged with Farley and grades 1-4 were in Bankston. During this first year of ministry I learned that teaching 12 grade levels was quite challenging.
In 1983 I returned to Farley as the elementary principal. The 1912 building had been closed and the students of grades 5-8 were now in the former high school building of 1958. Bankston continued to house grades 1-4. Rainbow Circle Preschool began in the 1912 building. The convent closed in 1996 and the sisters commuted from Dubuque. Students had become parents and the circle of relationships broadened. I had reached the plateau of 40.
Years flew by. 2004 found me in Farley for a third time. Ministry would involve me as the St. Joseph Minister of Care. The school system has a new name, Seton Catholic and has expanded to include the parishes of Bankston, Peosta, Epworth and Placid. The empty 1912 school building was torn down in 2006. Seton Catholic now has three centers located in Epworth, Farley and Peosta.
Changes did not stop. By 2007, a new cluster of parishes known as St. Elizabeth Pastorate had formed. The four parishes are Bankston, Farley, Placid and Epworth. St. Joseph, Farley no longer stands alone as a parish.
As I moved into the former rectory this fall, parishioners gave the 1912 home a face lift. In this first year that Presentation Sisters are not in the Seton Catholic system, we are visible in parish ministry and in residence. Sister Jessi Beck, who teaches at St. Mary’s in Manchester, lives with me.
What has been resting on the doorstep of Farley? What has always brought me back? It has little to do with the structures and doorways that keep us for awhile. It is that place in the heart that says “home” and where there is room for loving relationships. Beyond the doorway we celebrate the life today offers.
Pastors, sisters, teachers and students have been here and gone on to new hopes and dreams. Those who have remained reminisce about what was – wise persons and newly-made friends.
Mary White Palmer, graduate of 1934: “The first school opened in 1887. In 1937 Monsignor Peter E. Donnelly was assigned to St. Joseph. One of his first projects was to build a new convent. The sisters enjoyed this home until 1996, when it was announced that there would no longer be any Presentation Sisters living in Farley. After 108 years we said good-bye. Sisters remained teaching in the school until 2007, but had to commute from Dubuque. It was a sad time, but not without much gratitude and love for the many wonderful years they gave to our school.”
Catherine Hoefer Pins, graduate of 1933: “Together our class of 18 marched down the church aisle for Mass and wore our graduation clothes. No caps or gowns, not many class rings
since it was the great depression and the sisters didn’t want us to spend more than we had to. It all worked out okay even though we had to walk to Farley public school for our last semester for a few classes and then walk back to good old St. Joe’s because we were low on funds.”
Associate Mary Griffin Welter, graduate of 1934: “For many years my Dad would begin on what is now known as Highway 20 and pick up the Heitz, Reed, White, Bell and Jasper families on our bob sled as the snow drifts were very high. I took piano and violin lessons. Today, my niece, Carol Arling, is using the same violin and taking lessons from Sister Matthew.”
Larry Healy, graduate of 1937: “I recall the first associate pastor to come to Farley in 1933. His name was Father Mann and he taught full time in the high school. We had a football team but in 1935 Father Coffey ended football as we had two broken bones that season.”