Bishop Edward Celestin Daly established a new parish dedicated to St. Mary of Nazareth in Des Moines on February 11, 1964. The site of the new parish was part of the original 370 acre Meredith property, which had been both a dairy and beef cattle farm. In 1963, the Diocese of Des Moines purchased 11 acres as part of the sale of the ET Meredith estate.
Mr. Meredith had been Secretary of Agriculture in President Woodrow Wilson’s cabinet and an early leader in the 4-H Club organization. He became renowned as the creator and publisher of “Successful Farming”, “Dairy Farmer”, and “Better Homes and Gardens” magazines. He had far-reaching influence in the fields of publishing and agriculture. By the time of his death on June 17, 1928, at the age of 51, he was highly recognized in business, political, and social worlds.
In 1936, Mrs. Meredith had a cottage built on the grounds consisting of a bedroom, bath and what is now known as the fireplace room. The big house was added on in 1939-40, growing to 21 rooms. The mansion was built as a place to entertain service men and women from Camp Dodge and Veterans Hospital during World War II. Mrs. Woodrow Wilson was a guest in the Meredith Home on several occasions.
Mrs. Meredith was also noted for her civic involvement. In 1936, she served as chair of the Independent Coalition of American Women.
Ken McDougall, director of Community Relations for the Meredith Corporation, gives his own recollections of Edna Meredith: “I remember her as a very gracious woman who supported the corporation in many ways. My most vivid memory of her is when she sat in the Meredith tower, giving away candy and cigarettes.”
Following the death of Mrs. Meredith on January 1, 1961, at the age of 83, the furniture in the mansion was sold at auction; however, the original fixtures remained. The house sat vacant until 1963, when the Diocese of Des Moines purchased it. During those two years of vacancy, the house was vandalized resulting in thousands of dollars in damages.
On January 27, 1964, Bishop Daly appointed Rev. Patrick Walsh, a retired army chaplain, the pastor of the new St. Mary of Nazareth parish. The appointment became effective on February 11, 1964. This new parish of 256 families, including 520 children, was the fourth one to be divided from the fast growing Holy Trinity parish. Holy Trinity School continued to provide educational opportunities for St. Mary’s children.
The mansion needed repairs and renovations to convert it into a parish church and center. Parishioners did these. The large living room became the chapel where weekday Masses were celebrated at 7:00 AM. Sunday Mass for the new, yet churchless congregation was celebrated at 10:00 AM at Holy Trinity Church.
In April of 1964, Father Walsh received permission from Bishop Daly to hire William Meehan as architect for a new church. In May of 1964, the diocese loaned St. Mary’s $100,000 at 4% interest. Groundbreaking for the new church took place on August 18, 1964; and on March 21, 1965, the first Mass was celebrated in the new church. Bishop George J. Biskup dedicated the church on August 22, 1965.
The new parish was on its way as organizations quickly formed. The Rosary Society met for the first time on April 21, 1964, with 85 members present. This society became the catalyst for many social, community-building and fund raising activities. Through the years, carnivals, ice cream socials, bake sales, dinners, rummage sales, bazaars, etc. were held by the Rosary Society. Spaghetti was served on paper plates to 1200 people at the first dinner in September 1964, making a profit of $1,500. The first bazaar on November 21 & 22, 1964 netted a profit of over $3,000. Even the first organ for the church was obtained with 839 books of Gold Bond Stamps! Other money raising projects included: fruitcake, vanilla, and cook book sales, as well as the testing of dishwasher soap. Place servings, silverware, kitchen utensils, etc., were obtained with Betty Crocker coupons and Gift House Stamps enabling the Rosary Society to serve numerous wedding receptions and funeral dinners. In August of 1986 the name of this organization was officially changed to St. Mary’s Women’s Association. The group continues to function in much the same manner as the Rosary Society did.
The Holy Name Society, later to be called the Men’s Club, held its first meeting on May 20, 1964, with 100 members present. The Men’s Club has sponsored a number of social/community building events for the parish: parish breakfasts, valet parking for Women’s Bazaar, golf outings and other charitable and fun events.
The Parish Council, now called the Pastoral Council, met for the first time on February 17, 1969, and continues to take an active role in assisting and advising the pastor.
The Board of Education was formed in 1976. It has been responsible for making policies regarding all educational programs at St. Mary’s.
In 1989, the pastor, Rev. Gerald Ryan, appointed the first Finance Council members. They meet monthly and offer their technical skills in fiscal manners to the Pastor.
Rev. Patrick Walsh served as pastor for the first 11 years of the parish. In 1975, he retired and moved to Texas. He returned to Des Moines in 1983. Because of ill health he resided then at the Bishop Drumm Care Center in Johnston and died there on June 4, 1983.
Rev. John Ryan, St. Mary’s second pastor, served from 1975 until 1982 when he was assigned to St. Theresa’s as co-pastor. He retired from active priestly duties. He lived with his brother, our former pastor Msgr. Gerald Ryan in their home in Johnston but passed away November 11, 2010.
Rev. John Ludwig was our pastor from 1982 to 1989. He is presently assigned to St. John the Apostle in Norwalk, Iowa.
Rev. Gerald Ryan was appointed pastor in July 1989. In 1993 Bishop William Bullock named him a Monsignor. Rev. Msgr. Gerald Ryan served as our pastor from 1989 till his retirement in July of 2008. In recognition of his exemplary service the parish hall was named the Msgr. Gerald Ryan Parish hall. Msgr. Gerry passed away March 20, 2011.
Rev. Gregory Leach was appointed Pastor in July of 2008 by the Most Rev. Richard Pates, Bishop of Des Moines and currently serves as Pastor. Father Leach was officially installed by Bishop Pates on August 24, 2008.
In July 1991, Rev. David Santoro, OP, was appointed by the Bishop Bullock as Parochial Vicar for our parish. In January of 2006 his Dominican Order transferred him to Michigan where he now ministers. In July of 2006 Bishop Charron appointed the Rev. Ly Chu as Parochial Vicar for St. Mary of Nazareth. Parochial Vicars are also called Associate Pastors. They assist the pastor in ministry. Father Ly now has been appointed pastor of St. Peter Vietnamese Catholic Community.
In August of 1997 Bishop Joseph Charron assigned the Rev. Mr. George A. Catanzano, Jr. to St. Mary of Nazareth for diaconal service to the parish. Deacon Catanzano joined the staff as a full time Pastoral Minister in December of 1998. He passed away in December, 2009. Rev. Mr. Michael Cord was assigned by Bishop Charron to St. Mary of Nazareth in August of 1997. Deacon Cord ministered at St. Mary’s until January, 2000. The Rev. Mr. Troy Thompson was assigned to the parish for diaconal service by Bishop Charron in August of 2006. Deacon Troy is now serving at Our Lady of the Americas. In September of 2010, Rev. Mr. Terry Schleisman and Rev. Mr. Steve Reed were appointed by Bishop Pates to St. Mary of Nazareth Parish to serve as Deacons. Both have since been assigned to other parishes in the Diocese.
As the parish has grown, so has our need for a bigger staff. In 1976, three Dominican Sisters were welcomed to the parish community. They were Sisters Margaret Elaine Arcand, Imelda Cote, and Jean Frances Jacques. Sister Jean has since moved to Iowa City. In August of 1981, Sister Clement Paradis joined the Dominicans as superior at that time. Sister Yvonne Comeau was also a part of the Dominican community for two years. Sister Denis Pelletier, also a Dominican was a part of this parish community. She was a nurse at Bishop Drumm. In 1991 Sister Adrian Paradis, a sister of Sister Clement, joined the group. In August of 1983, Sister Cathy Talarico, a Sister of Humility, joined the staff at St. Mary’s then left in 1995. Sister Adrian died in November 1996 and Sister Clement died June 14, 1997. Sister Margaret Elaine and Sister Denis left the parish. Sister Margaret Elaine went to Iowa City, and Sister Denis went to Maine. They left June 23, 1998. Sister Margaret died August 19, 2004 and Sister Denis resides in Sabattus Maine.
Throughout the years, St. Mary’s has attempted to meet the needs of all parishioners. It has an active religious education program for those of preschool age through adulthood. For those interested in becoming a Catholic, or those wishing to update their faith, a catechumenate process is available. Social events are an integral part of parish life. In the fall of 1989, Don Boucher was hired as Parish Youth Minister to direct youth activities for the parish. He left this position in August 1998. On July 20, 1999, John Hanna was hired as our Youth Minister. John resigned in August, 2011. Maggie Schopp is the current Youth Minister.
The mansion soon became too small to handle all the programs and activities at St. Mary’s. Consequently, in 1977 a building fund was started and plans were discussed for enlarging the parish center. It wasn’t until 1983 however, that permission to build was given by the diocese. Environmental Design Group, Ltd. P.C. was the architectural consultant and the new building was designed in keeping with the design of the mansion. The Msgr. Gerald Ryan parish hall is used for most parish activities. To facilitate these activities a parish hall manager Rita Davis was added to the staff and served until her retirement. Carol Sheldon currently serves in that capacity. Volunteers took care of the care of our buildings and occasional paid help for many years. In 1990 Don Davis was hired as maintenance man for the parish. As the parish continues to grow, a full-time maintenance person was needed. Don retired from this job in June, 2000. Pete Kingsley was hired. Pete passed away in March of 2010. In July of 2007, Jim Sheldon came on board as an office assistant. He is now our maintenance person. Tom Fickbohm was hired in June, 2010 to help with maintenance.
Building the new center necessitated other renovations in the mansion. The Sisters’ residence, which had once been the servants’ quarters in the time of Mrs. Meredith, had to be leveled to make way for the new building. As a result, the second floor of the mansion was converted into a residence for the Dominican Sisters. This is now a private residence. Modifications have also been made in the downstairs of the mansion to provide more office space as staff members have continued to grow.
The past 50+ years have been good ones for the parishioners of St. Mary’s. We started with approximately 200 families and have grown to over 1,700. Of those original 200 families there are still 30 of them registered at St. Mary’s, and many second-generation families are now becoming active families of the parish. Through hard work and sacrifices, the church and parish center has been built. The church has doubled in size, and a beautiful gathering area as well as six more classrooms has been added. The parking lot has been increased in size to accommodate many more cars. Most importantly, through a deep faith conviction, a parish community continues to evolve.