Commemorative plates serve up history

Lindsay Steele
Chancery staff enjoy a social at St. Vincent Center in Davenport. The collection of commemorative plates shown in this photo includes decades-old pieces from current and former diocesan parishes and schools.

By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger

DAVENPORT — Not all the plates in the St. Vincent Center cafeteria are meant for food service.

Some are meant for serving history.

The collection of 31 plates and three decorative tiles is displayed on the north wall of the cafeteria at St. Vincent Center, the headquarters of the Diocese of Davenport. The decades-old plates and tiles were collected or taken out of storage during the center’s remodeling in 2011, with encouragement from then-Vicar General Msgr. John Hyland. He thought it would be nice to hang them in the dining hall so people could see them, he said.


A plate commemorating the diocese’s 100th anniversary is at the center of the display. The design includes the dates 1882-1982 along with images of the six bishops who served the diocese during that time.

Three of the plates feature a relief of St. Ambrose Hall on the St. Ambrose University (SAU) campus in Davenport. Audubon, Iowa, native Judy Sutcliffe designed the plates in 1974 as a fundraiser for plant renovation and scholarships, said SAU archivist Onnica Marquez. “They were also supposed to be a collector’s item,” she said.

Many of the plates commemorate the anniversaries of parishes that have since closed or merged, including St. Joseph in Bauer, St. Mary in Muscatine, Ss. Peter & Paul in Clear Creek, St. Elizabeth in Harper, St. Mary in Newport, St. Mary in Kingston and Sacred Heart in Kinross. Many of these parishes were involved in the diocese’s three-year parish realignment and reduction in the early 1990s, according to diocesan records. Some of the buildings still exist while some have been torn down.

Other pieces feature parishes that still exist, although some of the buildings have changed. A tile commemorating the 125th anniversary of St. Mary Parish in Fairfield depicts a church building replaced in 2009.

While commemorative plates are less common today than in decades past, the display wall has room for more, Msgr. Hyland said. The newest plate in the diocesan collection commemorates the 150th anniversary of St. Peter Parish in Cosgrove in 2011.

Father Thomas Stratman, 96, a retired diocesan priest in residence at St. Vincent Center, said the plates bring back memories of past assignments. One plate that caught his eye features the copper steeple covering on St. Joseph Church in DeWitt. He served the parish as parochial vicar in the early 1950s. “I saw them put that up” he said, recalling how it appeared brown before transforming into its current green shade.

For him, the plates represent the pride and affection people have for their parishes and schools. “These are people who made great sacrifices for their communities,” he said.

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