St. Wenceslaus Church - a Brief History
Mid 1800's German, Irish, and Czechs immigrated to Iowa. They came to Iowa to claim their own land and flee political/religious oppression by the Austrians. Most were farmers used to farming small tracts of land. They got here by ship, oxcart, covered wagon, and later train to settle in the Midwest. They began buying small tracts of land in this area to build homes. One of the first Churches for the Bohemian people was in Cedar Rapids also called St. Wenceslaus. As it grew and more settlers moved west they added another church called St. Ludmilla. Names of St. Ludmilla and Wenceslaus were revered among the Bohemians because they where historical figures that represented their self-governance.
In Iowa City, the Bohemians were going to St. Francis Xavier Church until it burned down. Then they attended St. Mary's but the language barrier was difficult (at that time St. Mary's had mostly German homilies). In 1891 a Bohemian priest, Rev. Joseph Sinkmajer, was sent to help clear the language barrier. He would become St. Wenceslaus' first priest. By 1893 there was well over 2000 Bohemians in Iowa City. They settled around the St. Wenceslaus Church area. They were brick layers, masons, tin smiths, laborers, and carpenters. Many helped build St. Wenceslaus. Many homes around St. Wenceslaus were built by the Bohemians.
The Bohemians had large gardens and raised fowl for eggs and feathers. Geese especially were raised for down comforters. The Bohemians used geese feathers to dip into lard to make kolaches. Every morning the Bohemians would drive geese to the area near Oakland Cemetery to graze on the grass there. The geese would graze on grass during the day and in the evening they would be driven back home. The area eventually came to be known as Goosetown.
The land around St. Wenceslaus was purchased in 1892 for $825. Excavation for the new 40' x 80' building was begun April 15, 1893 (after the spring thaw) and was estimated to cost $7000. The contractor was Frank Novak. The original interior was completed in time for Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve 1893. It looks a bit different than today with the altar against the wall and a kneeling rail. The stained glass in the church was donated by parishioners. Two represent St. Ludmilla and St. Wenceslaus. The different styles are due to the original stain glass of 1892 and the stain glass in the addition done in 1921.
In 1897 the rectory was purchased for $3300. Until that time Rev. Sinkmajer was residing in the rectory at St. Mary's.
In 1904 The Rev. Aloys Cihal arrived at St. Wenceslaus. He made many improvements during his time - most notably the installation of the pipe organ. The pews were numbered and parishioners had to pay a pew rental fee of $4 - $6 a year. This was considered a necessary obligation for a parishioner to sit in his numbered pew. This practice continued until at least the 1920's/1930's.
1912 the Rev Koerner was appointed to St. Wenceslaus. He was a serious gentleman and followed church custom of a "High Mass" and "Low Mass." The main difference was in the number of songs sung by the all girls choir (men's choirs wouldn't form for several years). During this time an organist was desperately needed for Christmas Eve and Morning Masses. Edna Englert--then only 15 years old--was asked. She agreed even though she knew only how to play only piano. Someone had to help her with the bellows.
Rev Panoch's years at St. Wenceslaus (1919 -1934) were filled with activity. In 1921 the addition/remodeling was completed. Much of the labor was contributed by the parishioners. Father Panoch himself laid much of the brick and helped pour the concrete foundation. Except for interior redecorating and moving the altar, the church has stood much as it is today. The addition to the church gave St. Wenceslaus a cruciform shape of early church architecture. This is the only church in Iowa City that follows this pattern.
Father Neuzil (1934 -1970) grew up in St. Wenceslaus. He played a major role in the establishment of Regina High School. He served the longest term as pastor aided in his latter years by Father Bachman. During his time the church underwent changes such as a new paint scheme as well as a simple oak altar and crucifix and the change of the altar location. Masses were conducted in English instead of all Latin. The rectory also had an addition due to Father Neuzil's ailing health. The downstairs office today was originally a bedroom.
Msgr Madsen (1970 -1981) began a year long renovation in keeping with church guidelines. The communion rail was removed and the tabernacle was relocated to the side altar. Carpeting was added to replace the linoleum.
Rev. Joseph Denning (1981 - 1987) encouraged youth participation in mass. He was active on the Regina Board of Education and was on the Building Committee for the Elementary School at the Regina campus.
Rev. Harry Linenbrink (1987 - 1998) saw the original church organ of 1908 replaced - it could no longer be maintained. Under his guidance a committee was appointed to oversee procuring the Felgemacher organ we have today. The church windows were cleaned and a covering was placed on the outside to protect them. The altar area was renovated in 1992. He could often be found outside pruning trees and shrubs. He initiated the tuckpointing of the church as well as adding a walk from the church to the rectory with the marble bench in front of the Virgin Mary. He also helped establish S.H.A.R.E. which provides food at a reduced cost to those who contribute to community service.
Rev. Paul Deyo was pastor from 1998 -2000. He loved animals and would have a blessing of the animals - even stuffed ones on St. Francis' feast day. He also started the Parish Picnic with a baseball battle of the Padres and the Kings - funny how the score was always a draw. He also initiated the picture directory and the spirited contest for the Jubilee 2000 St. Wenceslaus logo.
Father Michael Phillips was pastor from 2000 until June 30, 2013. We appreciate his efforts in bringing Christ to the St. Wenceslaus community. His strong love for the church and his members was evident in all he did - especially his sermons. He also was instrumental in the building of the west entrance for the church.
Father Gary Beckman became pastor on July 1, 2013. He had been pastor of St. John in Houghton and St. James in St. Paul prior to his installation as pastor at St. Wenceslaus. The most recent update he helped make in the parish is refreshing the sanctuary with tile, new paint, and gold leafing around the windows and near the tabernacle.
Information taken from Centennial, St. Wenceslaus Church Iowa City Iowa, 1893-1993