Year of Mercy Pilgrimage Sites, part II


By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger

Nine churches serve as pilgrimage sites for the Year of Mercy in the Diocese of Davenport. Last week The Catholic Messenger featured the pilgrimage churches representing the diocese’s six deaneries. They are: Jesus Christ, Prince of Peace, Clinton (Clinton Deanery); Sacred Heart Cathedral, Davenport (Davenport Deanery); St. Mary Catholic Church, Pella (Grinnell Deanery); St. Mary Catholic Church, Nichols (Iowa City Deanery); St. Paul Catholic Church, Burlington (Keokuk Deanery); and St. Mary of the Visitation Catholic Church, Ottumwa (Ottumwa Deanery).

Lee Iben Father Steve Witt, administrator at St. Mary Parish in Iowa City, blesses the Holy Door Dec. 13.
Lee Iben
Father Steve Witt, administrator at St. Mary Parish in Iowa City, blesses the Holy Door Dec. 13.

This week, we’re featuring the four pilgrimage sites chosen because they were founded and built by Father Samuel Mazzu­chelli, O.P., who is being considered for sainthood. Those churches: St. Anthony Catholic Church, Davenport; St. Paul Cath­olic Church, Burl­­ington; St. Mary Cath­olic Church, Iowa City; and St. Mathias Catholic Church, Musca­tine.

All of the pilgrimage sites celebrated liturgies Dec. 13 to open the Holy Door of their churches. In the Catholic Church, the opening of the Holy Door is a symbolic ceremony begun in 1423. It reminds the faithful that God’s mercy removes any obstacles and provides an entryway to hope and forgiveness. Pope Francis opened the Holy Door to St. Peter’s Basilica on Dec. 8 to begin the Year of Mercy.


The Mazzuchelli  churches

St. Anthony Catholic Church, Davenport

The original St. Anthony’s was built in 1837. The parish is the oldest in the Daven­port Dio­cese. “It is an honor to be chosen, to be selected one of the pilgrimage sites,” said Father Apo Mpanda, the pastor. “People will be coming to our church for spiritual need. That’s what it’s about.”

In addition to opening and blessing the Holy Door (the main entrance), “we are thinking of having some gatherings to talk about the Year of Mercy and the Scriptures,” Fr. Mpanda said. A booklet featuring the parish’s history and its ministries is available for pilgrims.

“For me, the Year of Mercy is special here. In the world today we need to be merciful for people. With all the conflicts, we need forgiveness. For me as an African priest, I was so happy to see the Holy Father go to Africa and especially in Central Africa where there is conflict between Muslims and Christians. And the opening of the cathedral doors in Bangui (Nov. 29) is a sign of mercy and a sign of peace. It’s very meaningful for me, and to also be the pastor of St. Anthony’s, a pilgrimage site, is great.”

Visit the parish website:

Contacts for arranging a visit: Fr. Apo Mpanda: (563) 322-3303.

St. Mary Church, Iowa City

Fr. Mazzuchelli built the first St. Mary Catholic Church in Iowa City in 1841, and the existing church was built over it, said Father Steve Witt, the parish’s administrator.

To distinguish the church’s Holy Door, the parish is displaying the Year of Mercy plaque just inside the entryway along with a painting of the Prodigal Son, because of its theme of mercy, Fr. Witt said. “We have the same picture we’re using in our confessionals,” said Patti McTaggart, who coordinates youth ministry, music and liturgy for the parish. She’s also assisting with Year of Mercy planning, along with Fathers Jeff Belger and Corey Close, the parish’s parochial vicars.

One idea the parish is exploring is an evening prayer opportunity. A group of people standing outside with unlit candles will invite passersby to enter the church, light the candle and pray. “It’s a neat opportunity for people to enter the sacred in the interruption of their life,” Fr. Belger said. Even if the passerby declines the offer, “it interrupts what they’re doing, getting them to think about prayer.”

The parish also has booklets available that depict the saints featured in the church’s stained glass windows and statues. “It’s a wonderful guide to the different saints of the church,” McTaggart said.

Visit the parish website:
Contacts for arranging a visit: parish office: (319) 337-4314 (Fr. Steve Witt, Fr. Jeff Belger, Fr. Corey Close, Sister Agnes Giblin, Patti McTaggart or Rachel Santos)

St. Mathias Church, Muscatine

Father Troy Richmond, pastor of Ss. Mary & Mathias Parish in Muscatine, points out that the original St. Mathias church, built in 1842 by Fr. Mazzuchelli, is located on the present-day church property.
“We still have inside the original church some of the original pews, or at least some quite old pews, and some of the historical documentation photos and narratives of the building of the first church as well as the second St. Mathias Church (which was built in 1910).

“I’m excited about our church being a pilgrimage church. We’ve focused in on being a more hospitable, welcoming parish,” Fr. Richmond said. Some parishioners donated a 6-foot by 3-foot image of the Divine Mercy to display above the doorway leading into the adoration chapel. “It’s a beautiful image for the Year of Mercy and beyond,” he added. A flyer has also been created to provide information about receiving the Lord’s mercy and how to share that mercy through the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.

The parish plans to invite people to return to confession, especially those who have been away from the sacrament. Parishioners also are being encouraged to reach out to somebody in their life who is away from the church and begin to pray for that person and take advantage of opportunities to invite them to confession, to Mass and other events during the Year of Mercy.

Religious Education Director Sister Cheryl Demmer, PBVM, has organized the Ministers of Mercy to check on the homebound, spend time with them and bring them Communion. “Our parish has a great number of people who are homebound or recovering from illness,” Fr. Richmond said. “This is a great way for us to keep in touch with them.”

The most challenging goal the parish will undertake is encouraging parishioners to forgive all of their enemies. “Forgiveness can be a long process. We’re encouraging parishioners to put words into action.”
Visit the parish website:

Contacts for arranging a visit: parish office (Linda Niedergeses or Maria Frausto): 563-263-1416.

St. Paul Catholic Church, Burlington

The original church was built in 1840. The existing church serves a dual role as pilgrimage site for the Keokuk Deanery and as a Mazzuchelli church. “I suggested that since it was a Mazzuchelli site it should also be a site for the deanery,” said Father Marty Goetz, pastor of Ss. John & Paul Parish, Burlington.

The church will be open on Tuesdays (noon to 6 p.m.) and Saturdays (9 a.m. to 5 p.m.) for people to come in and pray. Activities and services are still being planned. “It’s kind of like a race,” explains the pastor, an avid runner. “We don’t want to start too fast that we’ll fizzle at the end.”

Visit the parish website:

Contacts for arranging a visit: Nancy Lowthorp (319)752-1057 (home); (319) 750-7029 (cell) or email: njlowthrop@gmail. com; Jane Tadelski (319) 752-1454; email: (home)

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