St. John Catholic Church History
The Irish Catholics who settled near Clarion, attended Mass in Fort Dodge, Webster City, and Belmond. In 1875 Fr. Eugene O’Keefe, the first resident pastor in Webster City, celebrated Mass in the homes of the Clarion Catholics and later on top of John Overbaugh’s furniture store. The next year they were given into the care of the Belmond pastor, Fr. John Hanley and later John Toohill. Because fire destroyed the furniture store, Mass was then celebrated in the old courthouse.
Fr. John Hanley supervised the building of the first church. On January 3, 1883, Fr. Toohill dedicated the church St. John the Evangelist. Fr. John Egan came to Belmond in 1888 and cared for St. John until 1900.
When a tornado destroyed the church on June 20, 1894, Mass was held in the public hall. A new brick veneered church was dedicated on January 1, 1895. Fr. Martin B. Murray became the first resident pastor of St. John in 1900 and served until 1913. He also took charge of St. Joseph Parish, which was established about 1890 in Woolstock Township. In the late 1940’s St. Joseph Church dismantled leaving only the cemetery and the bell from the bell tower as reminders.
Fr. Richard P. Murphy came in 1913. On Christmas Morning of 1914 the church burned down, so parishioners again had the task to rebuilding. The present Romanesque brick was completed and dedicated in 1917. Fr. Murphy remained until 1918. A school was also built under his pastorate served by the Cedar Rapids Sisters of Mercy. The high school closed in 1920. The new grade school remained open until 1969.
Fr. William J. Torpey saw to the interior decorating of the church when he became pastor in 1918. Fr. John M. O’Donnell followed him in 1931. When his health failed, Fr. John Thornton came as assistant in 1943 and later Fr. Leo Hogan stayed until Fr. O’Donnell’s death in 1947.
Other priests who served as pastor were Fr. Carl E. Curt (1947-1952); Fr. James E. Slowey (1952-1965); Fr. Albert Hoffman enclosed the front entrance of the church and attached a rectory to the church (1965-1974); Fr. Dennis Colter served as interim; Fr. William Menster (1974-1978); Fr. Cecil McSweeney (1978-1988); Fr. David Pepper (1988-1989); Fr. Wayne Droessler (1993-1999). Deacon Michael Whitters was ordained in 1994. Sister Mary K. Doughan, RSM served as the first Pastoral Associate for St. John. In 1998, it was recommended by the archdiocese that St. John Parish of Clarion be clustered with St. Francis Xavier Parish of Belmond and Sacred Heart Parish of Eagle Grove. The priest is to be shared between the three parishes. It is formely called The Wright County Catholic Community, now is called Holy Family Cluster. Fr. David Beckman became pastor in July of 1999. In 2000, the Cluster Committee formed a Cluster Council to assist with structure and decisions. The church hall and kitchen were remodeled and completed in 2004. Carla Kem, Pastoral Outreach Coordinator and Jo Ann Kramer, Liturgy and Spiritual Formation Coordinator, were hired to serve the needs of Sacred Heart and St. John parishes in 2004. In July of 2005, Fr. Christopher Podhajsky came to the cluster catholic community. The interior of the sanctuary was repaired and restored in the Fall of 2005, with many similarities of earlier days. It is a beautiful place to gather and celebrate Mass. In July 2008, Fr. Nils de Jesús Hernández became the pastor for the Holy Family Cluster in the Wright County. Following his time in the Cluster, Fr. Jerry W. Blake was appointed pastor of the Cluster in 2014. He is assisted by Deacons Michael Whitters and Pedro Garcia as well as a full staff and volunteers.