Not exactly Energy Star rated: The Lennox “Torrid Zone” furnace from 1920 at St. Patrick’s Church near Churdan is possibly the only one still in use. A new grant will allow the 100-year-old church to update its heating and cooling unit.

St. Pat’s to retire its 95-year-old furnace

Celebration Aug. 15 to mark centennial of storied brick church

Special to The Jefferson Herald
CHURDAN — The St. Patrick’s Preservation Committee recently received word that St. Patrick’s Church west of Churdan is a recipient of a Historical Resource Development Grant in the amount of $10,338 to update the heating and cooling elements in the church.

The 1920 Lennox “Torrid Zone” furnace will be retired, but stay in place as a museum piece. People will be able to view the nearly 100-year-old furnace and compare it to new technology.

Three of the grant reviewers commented positively on the retention of the old furnace.  “Retention of the historic furnace is highly commendable.  Many would just rip it out.”

When writing the grant, the need for a new system that would be efficient to operate — but also improve the ventilation during the dramatic fluctuations in temperature and humidity in Iowa — was expressed. One reviewer commented, “The justification for the significance of the furnace, and the church, is clear and well-articulated.”  

The Lennox “Torrid Zone” furnace is possibly the only one still in use.

This became possible due to the dedication of countless volunteer hours by custodial parishioners including the Searys, the Janssens, Robert Minnehan, John Brend, Joan Nugent, the Hardy family and especially Johnny Shoemaker for the last 30 years as the “go to repairman” for the existing furnace.

In its long history, the parish has gone through many trials, always persevering. While the church was always a mission church, never having had a resident priest, the strong Catholic faith of its parishioners kept the church a cornerstone of the community.

The church begins its history in 1852, when the first settlers came to the area.

By 1863, other Catholic families had settled in the area. The first Mass was said in Cedar Twp. in June 1863 by Father Marsh.

In the fall of 1872, five acres of land were donated for the establishment of a Catholic church. The church was a white frame building with a high bell tower.

By 1915, St. Patrick’s had outgrown its small church.

A new church — the one still standing today — was constructed of brick and stone and designed by the now-renowned architect William LaBarthe Steele.

In 1916, the church was struck by lightning, causing much damage to the bell tower. On Trinity Sunday, June 15, 1919, fire damaged the building.

Using the original brick foundation and walls, the design was modified by removing the side entrances and, with the help of parishioners, the church was rebuilt by August 1920.

Suffering through the Depression in 1934, the church property was in receivership and, at a public auction, Dennis E. Hayes purchased the property. In 1936, he returned the ownership of St. Patrick’s Church to the parish.

In 1988, with the decreasing number of available priests, the first cluster of Sioux City Diocese churches was organized and included St. Patrick (Cedar), St. Columbkille  (Churdan), St. John (Paton) and St. Brigid (Grand Junction). The parishes were used as an example for the reorganization of parish churches throughout the diocese.

It was a difficult adjustment, but the faithful of St. Patrick’s once again were able to share and accept the change, making the organization work far better than in other parishes pressed into the same situation.

In 1992, the church was appointed to the National Register of Historic Places.

In the years since this designation, the parishioners have spent tireless hours in an attempt to keep the building in good condition. Many local artists were enlisted to recreate and reclaim various aspects of the church’s statues and structure.

In 1996, the church was officially reduced to oratory status. This meant that only St. Patrick Day Masses, Memorial Day Masses and funerals of parishioners at the time it became an oratory could be held.

The 125th anniversary of St. Patrick’s parish in 1997 was celebrated with a daylong celebration with a Mass, dinner for hundreds and Irish music.

In the years that followed, the building interior suffered under the extreme temperature fluctuations.

In June 2011, a group of former parishioners formed a committee to investigate the measures it would take to repair the damage.

In the past four years, extensive repairs, including the damaged stained glass windows, crumbling plaster and flat roof leakage have been accomplished. The confessional has been restored to the original brick walls.

The Stations of the Cross are currently being painted.

A ramp was installed to the rear of the church, so it is now handicap accessible.

The public is invited to join in the celebration of the updating of the heating and cooling units that will assist in the preservation of the only Steele-designed Catholic church still standing.

A furnace retirement ceremony and presentation of the grant money will be held at 6:30 p.m. Aug. 15 during the daylong, 100th birthday celebration of the first brick church in Cedar Twp.

Other events that day include: An open house, kids games, horse rides and “The Calling” (a friendly musical competition) from 1 to 3 p.m.; Mass at 4 p.m.; the first-ever Team St. Pat’s Church to Church Relay (bike from Lohrville, run from Churdan) at 5 p.m.; a pioneer meal grilled by the Greene County Cattlemen from 5:30 to 7 p.m.; an Irish beverage garden; and a dance from 7 to 11 p.m.

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