Bernice Modlin, a former parishioner, recalls the early days of St. Patrick’s Church.
“The first St. Patrick’s was just a little wooden garage situated west of the Jones Apartments,” she says. There is no other record of this early church, but Modlin’s memories of Mass being offered in homes during this era are documented.
“As the Graneys, O’Malleys, Kelleys, Nashes, etc., settled southwest of Perry, the need for a church was recognized,” Modlin says. “Three lots were purchased at Third and Lucinda for $15 per lot, and a small frame church was built.” The building was very plain, having been built by the congregation, and on the day before the first Mass was said members of the parish were building fencing to protect it from the numerous horses and cattle which roamed the countryside. Because there were no pews, members brought their own chairs.
This church soon became too small and “plans were drawn for a red brick church, same angles as the present structure with a very high, white steeple,” according to Modlin. The origin of the brick for that building is unclear. Modlin remembers that “on the Fahey Farm southeast of Perry there was an abundance of red clay, and Mr. Fahey suggested the congregation make and fire their own brick. That they did, building a huge kiln to fire the brick after the men had molded it.” Another report states that the brick came from Des Moines in February of 1882. Conversely, an article by James Ryan and Patricia Graney in The Patrician reports that the bricks were “burned in a foundry owned by Thomas Russell.” Whatever their origin, by September 1883 the brickwork was completed, the roof was on and the church was being plastered.
It was an improvement over the frame church, though still quite plain. There were no decorations, and stoves provided the heat in the winter. By November, the edifice costing $6,000 was completed and paid for, except for $400.
A fair was held at the American Roller Skating Rink on Jan. 30, 1884, hoping to pay off the debts. In spite of hard times, the weeklong fair was a success, and the church was cleared of all debt.
The parish continued to grow as young people moved to Perry, and soon this church also was too small.
In November of 1900, Father James Cleary submitted three proposals to his parish: Build a new church at the cost of $20,000, remodel the old church, or leave the old church as it was. A vote was taken, and it was 61 to nine to build a new church.
Excerpted from “Building A Parish.