Eagle Scout project pays tribute to pioneer priest

Will Sallen, right, created this roof-covered historical sign and bench outside St. Joseph Church in Fort Madison for his Eagle Scout project. Father Troy Richmond, pastor of Holy Family Parish in Fort Madison, dedicated the sign/bench May 2.

By Barb Arland-Fye

FORT MADISON — The inspiration for Will Sallen’s Eagle Scout project was a question he asked his parents: how did the Catholic Church get started in Fort Madison?

David and Sheila Sallen of Holy Family Parish in Fort Madison shared books they had on the subject with Will, who turns 16 on June 1. With those books and other research materials, the high school sophomore immersed himself in the history of the Catholic Church in the Tri-State area.

He learned that Father John Alleman was the first resident Roman Catholic priest in the region, having arrived in the Fort Madison, Iowa Territory in the 1840s. The energetic priest saw to the building of churches “in every town of promise from the southern Iowa border to Rock Island, Ill.,” while also ministering to the people’s religious needs, Sallen wrote in the historical narrative he prepared for his Eagle Scout project. Fr. Alleman built the first Roman Catholic Church in Fort Madison — St. Joseph’s — in 1840.

Will’s appreciation of history is matched by appreciation of his Catholic faith. “I’m deeply religious and I love history,” he said. A few years ago he switched his membership from a secular Boy Scout Troop in Fort Madison to the Catholic Boy Scout Troop based at Ss. John & Paul Parish in Burlington — a 20-mile commute.


“It’s a better environment. They do prayer at every meeting and it’s nice to be with other Catholics.”

With assistance from fellow scouts in the Burlington troop, Will constructed a roof-covered historical sign and bench that tells the history of Fr. Alleman and the formation of the Catholic Church in the region. 

Will said of Fr. Alleman, “I really think he needs to be honored more. He’s a role model for me, especially in his work ethic.”

The sign/bench, located near a replica of the original St. Joseph Church, is based on a design that his older brother, Joe, 20, created when he did an Eagle Scout project on the old Lee County Jail in Fort Madison.

Father Troy Richmond, pastor of Holy Family, dedicated Will’s sign/bench during a May 2 ceremony. Now Will is preparing for his Court of Honor on July 19 at Camp Eastman near Nauvoo, Ill., where he will officially receive his Eagle Scout badge.

He feels blessed to join the rank of Eagle Scout with Joe, and his paternal grandfather Urban Sallen “who is the oldest Eagle Scout in the council,” Will said.

David Sallen said he and his wife are proud of Will’s accomplishment and his tribute to Fr. Alleman for fostering the Catholic faith in the Fort Madison area.

“We are pleased Will has chosen to emphasize the life of a man who we thought really deserved the recognition and who hadn’t had the light of history shown on him as it should have been in the past.”

Fr. Alleman “was very dedicated to his parishioners. He was filled with interest in God’s world and nature.”

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