New churches for Iowa City, Fairfield parishes nearing completion

St. Mary Church is being constructed in Fairfield.

By Celine Klosterman

It’s the year of the new church.

Three new church buildings are slated to be dedicated in the Davenport Diocese over three weeks in November and December, in addition to the two dedicated earlier this year. In all, five new churches will have been dedicated in 2009, a total that equals that of the previous 20 years combined.

Here’s an update on the three projects in progress:

• In north Coralville, the exterior for St. Thomas More’s new church is finished, while the interior walls, ceiling, electrical work and plumbing are being completed, said John LePeau, steering committee chair. Dedication is slated for Nov. 14.


The 765-family parish is relocating from downtown Iowa City to neighboring Coralville to better serve Catholics in a quickly growing area known as the Northwest Corridor.

St. Thomas More’s new building will include a 500-seat worship space, offices and an initially-unfinished lower level to be used for religious education, meetings and large gatherings. “We’re going to have to learn how to use the building and figure out what size group goes best where,” LePeau said. “We’re looking forward to that challenge.”

Size of the main level is 13,500 square feet, with another 10,000 square feet of space in the lower level. The building doesn’t include a rectory; Father Walter Helms, pastor, will continue living in a house near the current church.

Eventually, St. Thomas More plans to begin three more construction projects: adding a larger worship space to seat a total of 1,000 people, building a social hall with expanded office space, a full kitchen and lower level, and completing a religious education building. Future needs will determine which construction project will begin first, LePeau said.

In the church now being built, the altar and ambo from St. Thomas More’s current church will be used, and wood from current pews will be incorporated into Stations of the Cross. Per parishioners’ wishes, the building will include much natural light and “look like a church” from the outside, LePeau said. Inside, fan-shaped seating will create a more contemporary look.

Cost estimate is $5 million. Supporters have pledged about $2 million, and the parish will receive $2.2 million from property sales.

• In east Iowa City, the brick exterior of St. Patrick’s new church is complete, and the interior is on schedule to be finished before the dedication Nov. 29, said Dan McGivern, building committee member.

The dedication Mass will mark the first time parishioners have celebrated a liturgy in a parish church since Holy Thursday 2006. On that April day, a tornado destroyed the downtown St. Patrick Church, and parishioners have met for Mass in their parish hall since. 

For about a year, builders have worked on a new 49,000-square-foot facility, which will include a 950-seat worship space and a 250-seat social hall that McGivern said may hold Mass overflow. Features also include an adoration chapel, prayer garden, two-level recreation space, bell tower, youth room, classrooms, rectory, offices and a 120-seat day chapel. The chapel will include pews from the former church and can host weekday Masses, saving the 960-family parish the expense of heating or cooling the main building. The facility will use geothermal heating and cooling and include energy-saving lighting features.

“We built this to last 150 years,” as long as the old church did, McGivern said.

St. Patrick’s embraced a more traditional architectural style, forgoing fan-shaped seating and creating a long center aisle. “If you’re walking your daughter down the aisle, you can’t make it long enough,” joked McGivern, whose daughter was married a few years ago. 

Cost estimate is about $13 million. Supporters have pledged a little more than St. Patrick’s goal of $4 million, and the sale of parish property and insurance are providing about $7.4 million.

• In west Fairfield, the exterior brick of St. Mary Parish’s new church is complete, and drywall is nearly finished, said John Hammes, co-chair of the parish’s steering committee. Late last week, window frames were being installed to hold stained glass from the current church.  

The 370-family parish is moving because its century-old church suffers from chronic structural problems; its social hall lacks reliable heating and cooling systems, and both buildings lack handicapped accessibility. 

In contrast, Hammes said the new 25,000-square-foot building — to be dedicated Dec. 6 — will use cost-efficient geothermal heating and cooling. And “it’s very user friendly; there’s not a step in it.” 

Features include a worship space with fan-shaped seating that will hold 340-420 people, a gathering space, classrooms, offices, a family/choir room and social hall that seats 300-350 people.  A reservation chapel will be lit at night and visible to passing drivers.

No rectory is currently being built, but the master plan includes an area for a priest’s residence, Hammes said.

“It’s a very traditional style with all the modern conveniences,” he said of the new church. “It’s looking beautiful; it’s really coming together. We are very fortunate that the whole community has come together in so many ways to make this possible.”

Cost is estimated at $6.7 million, and supporters have pledged $5.5 million.

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