Mass was seldom celebrated in the community of Guthrie Center in its early days. Generally, it was only on a Holy Day of obligation that a priest from St Ambrose Church in Des Moines would saddle a horse or climb aboard a wagon to travel the 40 or so miles to the community. A few times, historic records state, a priest would make the trip on foot. During these times, when Mass was celebrated at best once a month, the daily citation of the Rosary sustained the faith of the Catholics in the community. So, perhaps it was fitting that when a parish was officially established in Guthrie Center, it was called St. Mary’s, in honor of the Blessed Mother.
At its beginning, as with so many places in southwest Iowa, Masses were offered in people’s homes. The first Mass recorded as having been celebrated in Guthrie County was offered in the home of Maurice Carberry in the spring of 1859. Father John Brazill from St. Ambrose was the celebrant.
Another mission priest from St. Ambrose, whose identity was not recorded, would offer the first mass in Guthrie Center itself in brick schoolhouse sometime during 1866.
There were no set times for these early Masses to begin. Worship didn’t begin until all parishioners had arrived. To attend these rare Masses, families rode many miles along the roads and through the fields in horse drawn wagons, sleighs, or bobsleds. The only time during the year Catholics in the area were certain a service would be nearby was on St. Patrick’s Day. Because of the huge number of Irish in the area, A mass was always celebrated somewhere in the county on March 17th every year.
The first church in Guthrie Center was constructed in 1872. Father Edward Gaule, who was appointed by Bishop John Hennessy of the Diocese of Dubuque tended the new church. Fr. Gaule lived in Dallas Center about 30 miles away. The parishes at Guthrie Center & Panora were his missions, as were several other communities.
The first church was a white frame building, which was constructed on the south side of Bluff Street on a full block of land generously donated by Jacob Ginrich, who wasn’t even a member of the congregation.
As with most settlers at the time, the Catholics of Guthrie Center had very little capital and even less cash, yet, somehow, they had managed to raise enough money to build the church. To reduce some of the constructions costs, members of the parish hauled the lumber used to build the church in their own wagons pulled by their own horses. Several members of the parish, with saws and hammers in hand, did much of the actual construction work.
A year earlier, Panora, the neighboring Catholic community to the east of Guthrie Center, had constructed its own church. It was officially the first Catholic Church constructed in the county. But, a short time after the Panora church was completed, severe windstorm demolished the building on Sunday, June 18, 1871, at six in the evening. Thereafter, the Catholic community of Panora became members of St. Mary’s until 1906 when a new church was built in their own community.
Stability began to take shape for the Catholic community of Guthrie Center in 1877 when Father James Foley of Stuart began to serve the mission parish. He celebrated Mass the first Sunday of every month.
Father T. P. Murphy established residence in Guthrie Center in 1905 or 1906. Shortly after arriving, he began preparations for the building of a new St. Mary’s. Deciding the new church should be more centrally located that the old church. Fr. Murphy was fortunate to secure the property across from the Courthouse Square on the northeast corner of Sixth and Main Street, where the church currently stands. On July 7, 1909, the cornerstone for the new St. Mary’s was laid. The inclement weather discouraged some from attending, though a sizable crowd was present to witness the ceremonies. Monsignor Michael Flavin from St. Ambrose officiated at the services.
Over time, the community of faith grew in number, on one point having as many as 400 families as members. As of 2006, 125 families call St. Mary’s their parish.
In January of 2006, Fr. Michael G. Peters made arrangements with Dave Hunter Painting to restore the gothic beauty of St. Mary of the Annunciation Church. The finished product has resulted in a very intimate environment to encounter our Lord and Savior. The Rosary continues to be recited along with the Divine Mercy Chaplet before Mass. The weekly hour of Adoration allows the parishioners the opportunity to make Jesus the focus of their lives.
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