St. Thomas History

History of St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church
Webster City, Iowa

Iowa became a state in the year 1846. In 1869 Mass was celebrated for the first
time in Hamilton County at the home of Bernard Kelly when the Rev. Joseph Butler
of Fort Dodge was invited to the area. Subsequently, Mass was celebrated in various
homes and halls as a priest was available.

The Rev. Peter O’Dowd of Ackely organized a new parish named “St. Peter” in
Webster City in 1870. A brick church was built in the fall of 1871 on the outskirts of
Webster City, east of the Boone River, at the top of the Dubuque Street hill. Mass
was celebrated at St. Peter when Fr. O’Dowd, who also organized St. Mary in
Williams, was free to journey to Webster City from Ackley and Williams.

In 1875 the Rev. Eugene O’Keefe became the first resident pastor of the Catholic
Community of Webster City. He also served the Catholic communities of Williams and
Belmond. Five acres of land southwest of the city was purchased on October 20,
1881 for a cemetery which was named “Calvary.”

During the summer of 1881, the Rev. James Brennan arrived to serve the
communities of Webster City, Williams, Belmond, and a new parish in Eagle Grove.
Fr. Brennan purchased a house near St. Peter for residence soon after arriving in
Webster City. In 1883 the Most Reverend John Hennessey, the third bishop and the
first Archbishop of Dubuque, made the first Apostolic visit to Webster City when he
conferred the Sacrament of Confirmation to a class of approximately one hundred.
The Rev. Michael Daly arrived to minister in November 1895. In 1898 land was
purchased on Des Moines Street across from the Hamilton County Court House for
the construction of a new church.

In the fall of 1898 the Rev. Thomas O’Brien arrived at St. Peter and began the work
of erecting a new church and selling the old property. The cornerstone for the new
church was laid on July 3, 1900. “St. Thomas Aquinas,” as the new parish would be
called was dedicated on January 6, 1901.

The Rev. Michael Norton arrived in 1905 and in 1910 a rectory was erected. The
parish was incorporated in November of 1911.

The Revs. Thomas Barry and William Baxter served St Thomas between the years of
1912 through 1935. In 1935 the Rev. Frederick Frein assumed pastorship of St.
Thomas Aquinas. During his pastorship the St. Thomas Aquinas Catechetical School
began in 1940 in a frame house donated by Miss Maggie Smith on the corner of Bank
and Willson Streets. Dubuque Franciscan Sisters Mary Sienna Freilinger and Mary
Calista Loosbrook attended to approximately 80 students in the first year.
After the death of Fr. Frein in 1944 the Rev. Daniel Gorman became pastor. In 1950
a committee from the parish began the work of constructing a school building and a
convent. In large part to the generosity of Mrs. Anna Sullivan, the work was
completed in several stages and the school finally opened on November 11, 1952
with approximately 165 students in attendance. The first faculty was comprised of
Dubuque Franciscans: Sisters Mary Janet Schmitz, Mary Lucinda Derga, Mary Albert
Huelshorst and Mary Margaret Bunkers.

The Rev. Joseph Wiehl assumed pastorship of St. Thomas in 1953 for only one year
and in 1954 Rev. Arthur Halbach became pastor. During his ministry to the St.
Thomas Aquinas community new classroom space was added to the school because
of overcrowding. Three properties were also purchased east of the school which
became a playground. In an effort to provide continuity with the public school, the
seventh and eighth grade programs were discontinued in 1966 so that 7-9 could
attend junior high school together.

In 1966 the Rev. Bernard Collins became pastor. Renovation projects were
undertaken and completed in the rectory, the sanctuary and the church hall.
The Rev. Monsignor Edgar Kurt became pastor in 1969. A courageous decision was
made at this time by Msgr. Kurt and Principal Sr. Monica Murray to keep the school
open, despite the recommendation from Archdiocesan official to the contrary. The
first Parish Council was organized during his pastorship.

The Rev. Monsignor Joseph Sullivan became pastor in 1973. Sadly Dubuque
Franciscans could no longer staff St. Thomas Aquinas School and officially left in
1984. The first lay principal, Miss Susan Thompson was hired that year.

In 1984 the Rev. Ardel Barta was appointed pastor of St. Thomas Aquinas and in
1989 the Rev. James Duster became pastor.

An elevator addition was added to the church in 1992 and the interior of the church
was repainted. Kindergarten, discontinued in 1955 because of the overcrowding, was
also reintroduced to the school in 1992.

The Rev. John Walsh was appointed pastor in 1994. In August of 1999 he announced
plans for the building of a new Parish Center to be used for education, recreation and

In July of 2000 the Rev. John Flaherty was appointed the eighteenth pastor of the
Catholic community of Webster City. While not completed, the new Parish Center
was dedicated on September 30, 2000 by the most Reverend Jerome Hanus, OSB,
the eleventh bishop and ninth Archbishop of Dubuque.

Through the efforts of Principal Duane Siepker and the St. Thomas Aquinas School
Board, a pre-school was added for children 3 – 5 in the fall of 2001.