Catholics recall Davenport parish’s history


By Anne Marie Amacher

Steve Imming shows Marie Laake an architectural drawing for Holy Family Church from 1906. An informational meeting on the history of the parish was held Oct. 20.

DAVENPORT — As stained glass windows are being restored at Holy Family Church, the parish hopes to apply for a state grant to help offset costs. A history of the church is required as part of the application process.
Steve Imming of the parish said a complete history isn’t possible because details have been lost over time. The parish learned that its windows are in bad shape; leading that holds the pieces together has softened and many of the windows are bowing.
During an informational meeting Oct. 20 in the parish’s Enright Hall, Imming shared what he had learned about the parish’s history from the beginning through its last major exterior renovation in 1955. Father Robert Harness, the pastor, also gave a brief history on the borders of the Diocese of Davenport.
While at the Davenport Public Library, Imming was told to do much of his research in The Catholic Messenger, the diocesan newspaper. He was directed to the library at St. Ambrose University, Dav­en­port, where microfilm is kept of the newspaper.
Imming has spent hours at the library reading various issues starting with 1897 when the first Holy Family building was designed and built. That building still stands and now houses the Teddy Bear Club Preschool.
Imming, who serves on the parish finance council, also learned the architectural firm’s name and with additional research learned that the company currently is in business as SGGM Architects.
After a visit there, Imming was able to get copies of the architectural plans for the 1897 school (the first church), 1898 temporary church (existing church basement/Enright Hall), 1906 plans for the existing church, 1908 refined plans and also in 1908 a set of revisions, and 1955 plans for a new layer of bricks  for the existing church building.
Father Loras Enright was appointed in 1897 by Bishop Henry Cosgrove to start a new church. Parishioners quickly outgrew the building and Fr. Enright saw the need for a much larger church. He received permission to hold a bazaar to raise funds, Imming said. Fr. Enright also solicited funds from local businesses to reduce the financial burden on his parishioners.
By fall 1898, plans were drawn to build a new church. That “new” church currently serves as the basement. After 10 years in the basement, plans for the upstairs were finally approved and work began on the main floor of the church and choir lofts. The current building was dedicated in 1909.
Parishioner Marie Laake graduated from Holy Family School in 1937. She recalled having classes in the original church as well as in the basement of the (current) church. Two grades were together at a time: first and second, then third and fourth in the old church, and fifth and sixth along with seventh and eighth in the basement of the current  church. Laake’s eighth-grade class had three girls and four boys.
Imming held up a wedding photo taken in the church, which shows windows in the sanctuary. He asked if anyone remembered the windows and whether the glass was clear or stained. Parishioners responded that the windows were stained. As to why they were covered up, no one knew.
In 1955, Msgr. Thomas Lawlor had the exterior re-bricked because the original bricks were deteriorating. Windows that let light into the sanctuary were covered over, along with a few other windows. Some of those windows remain, covered on one side by the brick.
The church’s bell tower was said to have been taken down due to a problem with pigeons, parishioners recalled. No one knows where the bell went.
Parishioner Joe Schloemer shared memories of various pastors who have served at Holy Family during his lifetime.
He noted that Fr. Enright served the parish from its inception until 1943. Msgr. Lawlor arrived afterward. “He ran this parish as a business,” Schloemer said. “He was very good.”
“Msgr. (Benjamin) Barnes was very sharp,” Schloemer said. Under Msgr. Barnes’ leadership, the existing school and former convent across the street from the parish property were built.
Msgr. Robert Welch served as the next pastor and had the existing sign in front of the church installed.
Following the informational meeting, parishioners were invited to view the architectural plans and some photos that show the changes over the years to the front entrance of Holy Family Church.

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