March 19th marks the principal feast day for St. Joseph, the husband of Mary and earthly father of Jesus. According to some sources, the feast day has been observed since either the 10th or the 14th century. The life of Joseph is recognized across the globe and celebrated by many peoples. Local celebrations have occurred in Cedar Rapids in the Czech community there with parades and traditional dishes. This feast day happens during Lent, so it is sometimes a more solemn day of remembrance.
Since 1870, St. Joseph was declared as the patron of the universal church in Roman Catholicism by Pope Pius IX. Many places, churches, and schools bear his name. In appreciation of the Feast of St. Joseph, we would like to remember the history of a Davenport Catholic church that was dedicated to him in 1883.
The history begins in 1854 with Judge G.C.R. Mitchell and his wife, Rose A. generously gifted two lots of land located at Sixth and Marquette Streets for the building of a second Catholic church in Davenport. The church would be dedicated to St. Kunigunde (Kunigunda) who was born in Koerick, Luxemburg, and she was the wife of “Henry II of Germany and Holy Roman Emperor” (Duncan, 11). She was canonized in 1200 following her husband’s sainthood path.
The spring of 1855 brought the laying of rough-cut stone for the church proper with dimensions of 35 by 68 feet and 25 feet high and the three-room frame annex for the pastor’s living quarters. This was the same material used in the construction of the second St. Anthony’s in 1853. The original brick church was being used as a school.
According to The Daily Gazette published on May 27, 1856, St. Kunigunde was dedicated as the new German Catholic Church on May 25 in the lower part of the city. Reverend M. Donelan, the parish priest of Rock Island, blessed this church and its new parish.
St. Kunigunde’s first pastor was Father Michael J. Flammang. Father Flammang was born on December 6, 1825, in Koerick, Luxemburg. He emigrated to the United States in 1853. Soon after his studies were completed at Key West (Old Mt. St. Bernard’s Seminary in Dubuque) he was ordained into the priesthood by Bishop Mathias Loras. His first parish assignment was the German Catholics of Davenport and St. Kunigunde’s. After his three-year service to St. Kunigunde’s, he went to serve St. Donatus, Iowa where he died on December 6, 1883, at the age of 58.
The next priest to take Father Flammang’s place was Father J. B. Baumgartner. He served as pastor from May 23, 1857, to October 10, 1858. Unfortunately due to a lack of priests, the church was left without a pastor for a period of six months where services were temporarily suspended.
The church’s search for a new pastor ended with the arrival of Father Anton Niermann. He was born to farmers in Munster, Westphalia on August 9, 1831. From an early age, his parents sought an education for him at which he excelled. Father Niermann learned of a community that needed his pastoral skills in Iowa through a local priest, Father William Emmonds who was visiting Germany at the time. Arriving in Dubuque on January 20, 1858, he was not yet ordained so he was sent to Carondolet Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri. Bishop Smythe, the successor to Bishop Loras who passed away the night the young priest arrived in Dubuque, ordained to enthusiastic and energetic Father Niermann on March 27, 1859. Father Niermann took on his new role as pastor of St. Kunigunde’s on April 2, 1859. Father Niermann became Monsignor Niermann by papal bull conferred on February 27, 1909. This coincided with his Golden Jubilee which was celebrated that same year. He retired in 1913 and died on December 10, 1914.
During this time, St. Kunigunde grew and flourished for fifty years. A new rectory, a 2 room schoolhouse, and a convent for the Sisters of Charity were built alongside the church. The addition of social organization grew the mission and activities of the church, such as in 1876, the church created a death and sick relief society. More changes were to come to this German Catholic church.
The advent of the Diocese of Davenport in 1881 brought with it Bishop McMullen as the first Bishop and planning for a new church building underway.
The Daily Democrat published an article on December 21, 1880, stating a new German Catholic Church was being built on the corner of Sixth and Marquette streets. It would replace the present St. Kunigunda’s as the congregation outgrew the old church. In another article published on November 27, 1882, in The Daily Gazette titled, “The Bishop’s Blessing”, the church was well on its way in the construction process. It was ready for its bells to be blessed and installed. The article also states that it was a brick structure with sandstone trimmings in the Gothic architectural style. It boasted 16 high stained glass windows, a 150-foot spire, and that “‘a large rose window ornaments the front center of the tower above the arch of the door-way'” (Duncan, 22). The architect of the church was Victor Huot. He mirrored it after the earlier Romanesque St. Mary’s (1867-69).
The bells of St. Joseph as another resplendent feature of the church cannot be forgotten as they were made by a firm in St. Louis and vary in size. The ringing of the bells was heard from several blocks away and sounded very melodious. A beautiful ceremony was conducted by the Right Reverend John McMullen, Bishop of Davenport, assisted by the Very Reverend H. Cosgrove, Deacon; Reverend D. Flannery, Sub-Deacon, and Reverend A. J. Schuete, Master of Ceremonies; Reverend Father A. Trevis, A. Niermann, and M. Flavin, of Davenport; F. Greve of Moline, and A. Liermann of Rock Island. The blessing was spoken in Latin and was “very impressive, particularly the forms used to symbolize the blessing of the bells” (“The Bishop’s Blessing”, 3).
On September 16, 1883, the new church was to be dedicated to St. Joseph. The old St. Kunigunda church building was to become a school. The church had a long history of offering educational services to its parishioners.
St. Kunigunde’s first school opened in 1861 with classes taught by Sister Mary Barbara Ess and 5 other Sisters from the Immaculate Conception Academy. The Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary ran the school for 35 years.
The School Sisters of St. Francis took over in 1897. In 1911, a new school was erected by architect Arthur Ebling with 8 large classrooms. At its peak in 1925, there were about 200 students. During Father Schoeningh’s time (1913-1926) a provision was made for students in need to continue their education. Girls were able to attend the Immaculate Conception Academy and boys went on to St. Ambrose Academy. In 1968 St. Joseph’s school merged with St. Mary’s and renamed Holy Trinity. The school and parish closed in 1999.
We end this retrospective look on St. Kunigunda and St. Joseph’s Catholic Churches with an image of the centenary book published and edited by staff at the then St. Ambrose Academy in honor of the 100-year history of this parish. We hope that the next time you drive past St. Joseph that you take the time to ponder its rich history.
Britannica, T. Editors of Encyclopaedia. “St. Joseph.” Encyclopedia Britannica, Invalid Date. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Saint-Joseph.
Catholic Online. “St. Joseph – Saints & Angels.” Catholic Online, www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=4.
Ducan, Francis W.J. St. Joseph Parish: 1855-1956. Davenport, Iowa: St. Ambrose Academy, 1956.
Dupuy, Michelle. “What Is St. Joseph’s Day? (And How You Can Celebrate in the Neighborhood!).” National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library, 16 Mar. 2016, www.ncsml.org/what-is-st-josephs-day/.
Hinrichs, John G., St. Joseph’s Parish. Unknown: Unknown, 1949.
Wehner, Nowysz, Pottschull, and Pfiffner. “St. Joseph’s Catholic Church.” Architectural/Historical Survey. 1983. Accessed on March 18, 2021. https://npgallery.nps.gov/NRHP/GetAsset/e30c3f1e-0d76-4ab9-921d-1c627dc4e985
(posted by Kathryn and Cristina)