Parish History

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.