Celebrating St. Joseph Church in East Pleasant Plain

At left is the original St. Joseph Church in East Pleasant Plain. At right is the current structure.

(During the Year of St. Joseph, The Catholic Messenger is featuring parishes whose patron saint is St. Joseph.)

St. Joseph Church in East Pleasant Plain is located in northeast Jefferson County, southwest of Brighton.

The church, which seats 400 people, is a red Norman wire-cut brick building designed in the shape of a cross. The altar is freestanding stone of black granite. The basement holds a kitchen, pantry area, storage and furnace room, restrooms, a dining hall and office area.

On July 1, 2008, St. Joseph Parish joined with St. Francis Xavier Cabrini Parish of Richland to form Ss. Joseph and Cabrini Parish. Both church buildings remain in use. Father Robert Lathrop serves as priest administrator and Father Damian Ilokaba as sacramental priest for the parish, which has about 70 families.


St. Joseph Parish started out as a mission parish in 1900 served by Father Bernard Jacobsmeier, who was pastor of St. James Parish in Washington. In 1902, St. Joseph Parish had grown to 18 families. Henry Inkman of Fort Madison got the contract to build a church and parishioners helped with construction. The parish dedicated its first church May 27, 1903. Bishop Henry Cosgrove named Father Joe Sueppel as the mission priest to St. Joseph Parish.

In 1913, Father Joe Heller became the first resident pastor. During 1942-1943, the parish underwent major remodeling projects. The church building was braced, a new roof installed, the balcony was enlarged, a mother’s room was added, the sanctuary was enlarged, and the church’s exterior was insulated and sided. Painting took place inside, pews were re-varnished and Stations of the Cross were painted and installed in the church. The rectory also underwent major improvements.

A fire in 1944 destroyed the original wooden church. That summer, parishioners attended Mass outdoors. By fall, the parish had acquired the old Baitinger Store building in East Pleasant Plain, where Mass and parish gatherings were held. In late 1947, a temporary Quonset church building was erected on parish property under the leadership of Father Paul Wetzstein. The parish used the store building for the parish hall and religious education.

In the fall of 1956, Father Henry B. Geers became pastor and a new brick church with a full basement was built. Upon its completion, the pews and the organ were relocated from the Quonset building to the new church. Bishop Ralph Hayes dedicated the church on Sept. 14, 1960.

Major remodeling was completed under then-Father Francis Bass. On May 28, 1972, Bishop Gerald O’Keefe dedicated the bell tower that housed the bell from St. Mary Church in Polishville. In 1973, Father Louis Leonhardt oversaw more sanctuary remodeling and installation of air-conditioning. Additional upgrades and remodeling of the church and rectory were completed over the years.

In May 2001, 6.5 inches of rain fell, which caused the church basement to fill with 42 inches of water. Parish and community volunteers pumped out the water and cleanup efforts began. The parish celebrated its centennial on Sept. 8, 2002, with Bishop William Franklin. On Jan. 1, 2008, Shirley Van Dee became Parish Life Administrator (later Parish Life Coordinator). She helped with the merger of the East Pleasant Plain and Richland parishes. She retired earlier this year.

The parish celebrates the Year of St. Joseph in several ways. Every week the parish bulletin contains a short column about St. Joseph’s virtues and includes the Prayer to St. Joseph. Parishioners have a twice-weekly prayer service during which they also remember St. Joseph. Prayer cards are available at the entrance of the church as well as prayer sheets for the children that focus on St. Joseph’s life.

(Information prepared by Marian Milender, parish lay director and pastoral associate.)

Clergy vocations from St. Joseph Parish

St. Joseph Parish in East Pleasant Plain has had four men ordained to the priesthood and one ordained to the diaconate.
• Father Charles Mannhard for the Diocese of Davenport in 1934.
• Father John Scannell for the Archdiocese of Denver, Colorado, in 1934.
• Father Raymond Pacha for the Diocese of Davenport in 1941.
• Father M. Eugene Benda for the Diocese of Davenport in 1960.
• Deacon Richard Pacha, brother of Father Raymond Pacha, for the Diocese of Davenport in 1984. He ministered at St. Joseph until 1997.

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