Wenceslaus Church was heavily damaged during
historic Cedar Rapids, Iowa flood of 2008.
church built in 1882
school added in 1893
Wenceslaus was founded in 1874 with the original church, since demolished,
being built in 1882. A grade school, demolished in 1988, was added in
church built in 1904
current church was built in 1904 (see
the October 5, 1905 dedication) and the current rectory in 1910.
A high school building was opened in 1921 with the gymnasium and auditorium
being added in 1926. In 1926 the high school became the first Czech
parish high school in the United States to be fully accredited. The
high school closed in 1958; the grade school closed in 1969.
High School was part of two overlapping and corresponding communities.
First, it was part of the Cedar Rapids south side neighborhood - a collection
of churches, schools, family homes, small businesses and large industrial
sites. Secondly, it was an integral part of the St. Wenceslaus Catholic
Parish. See The July 2015 Red Hawk.
around the St. Wenceslaus Parish campus was originally settled by Czechoslovaks
(or Bohemians) who began to arrive in Cedar Rapids in the early 1850’s.
Even greater numbers arrived after the Civil War and the end of the Prussian
War in Austria in 1880. By the end of the century, Bohemians had become
well represented in elected positions in local government and the city’s
bustling economy. Initially they populated the city’s south side
neighborhood east of the Cedar River but later also populated the west
side directly across the river. Eventually hundreds of homes were built.
worked in nearby businesses, small factories, and larger industrial sites
such as the J. G. Cherry Company, the Carmody Foundry and the Sinclair
Company, later Wilson & Co., meat packing plant. As the population grew, many of the Bohemians
opened their small businesses, often in the lower level of a building
while they and their family resided in the upper level. The properties
were well kept, and usually included flower gardens and vegetable patches.
A bank was established with the primary purpose of providing mortgage
loans to the Bohemian population. A bridge was constructed to connect
the east and west sides of the river. And a streetcar line was run to
connect the Bohemian neighborhood to the main Cedar Rapids business district
to the north.
Neighborhood Social Institutions
social institutions were established and grew along with the population.
The immediate neighborhood was home for the Czecho-Slovak Protective Society
(CSPS) hall, the Western Bohemian Fraternal Association (ZCBJ) hall, and
a Czech language school.
housing these organizations still exist in the southeast side neighborhood.
although they have been converted to different uses. Several Bohemian
churches were established. The St. Wenceslaus Bohemian Catholic Church
was the first and the largest.
the St. Wenceslaus Bohemian Catholic Parish was established and a church
built. The parish started slowly, with sixty families at first. But within
three decades, it had grown to 1200 parishioners. In 1904, a substantial
new church was built to replace the old structure which was later torn
down. In 1879, a house for the pastor was added; it was replaced with
the current structure in 1910.
a school was built to provide elementary education for the youth of the
rooms were added to the elementary building to provide housing for the
Sisters of Mercy who were teaching there and to provide room for high
the high school building was built on the site of the original church
and classes were held there that year.
school was closed in 1958. The elementary school continued on for several
grades seven and eight were dropped and in 1969 the entire elementary
school was closed.
school opened in 1921
1950's high school class
on The Red Hawk
school has since been torn down but the other three buildings are still
in use today. The 1904 church remains active for regular religious services.
The rectory serves as a business office for the parish. The high school
building is used for various meetings and social events.
is designated as a National Czech parish, meaning that the usual parish
boundaries are opened to all Catholics of Bohemian origin regardless of
where they reside.
of '57 reunion
have gathered a large number of artifacts - class pictures, athletic team
pictures, trophies, letter sweaters, pictures of all the parish pastors
and assistant pastors, the nuns who taught at the schools, and alumni
who went on to the religious vocation. All are displayed in Chihak Hall,
located in the basement of the church.
A newsletter, aptly titled "The REDHAWK", is published two or
three times a year. It publishes the reunion schedule, special news about
alumni and school friends, and an obituary list.
Keane Preached Sermon - Imposing Procession of Societies - Celebration
of High Mass by Prominent Priests
by what was without a doubt the greatest gathering of people that
ever attended a similar event in the city St. Wenceslaus church
was formally dedicated yesterday to the use for which it was intended.
The building has been in use several months, but the dedication
ceremonies were postponed until yesterday because of the absence
of Archbishop Keane, who has been in Europe the greater part of
the summer and whom it was desired should take a prominent part
in the dedication services. Although the new building is one of
the most commodious structures in the city, not more than one-third
of the crowd were able to get seats, and probably one-half of them
could not get into the building at all. The street in front of the
church was crowded for half a block, and there was an impatient
though orderly rush for seats when the doors were thrown open.
The procession, headed by a platoon of police and Kubicek’s
band, and followed by the different Catholic societies of the city
in uniform; left the old St. Wenceslaus church at 8 o’clock
and from there marched to Twelfth Avenue, where the procession was
joined by the Iowa City visitors, who came up on a special interurban
The procession then went on Third avenue to Fifth street west, where
the Catholic Order of Foresters of the west side and half of the
Knights of Columbus of this city joined the procession; from there
the procession marched across First avenue bridge and up First avenue
to Second street, down Second street to Third avenue, up Third avenue
to Seventh street, where the east side Foresters and the rest of
the Knights of Columbus joined the procession, and where they were
reviewed by Archbishop Keane. From here the procession marched to
the church, where the dedication service began at 10 o’clock.
The services opened with a procession of the archbishop and the
several priests present around the building. A short service was
then held on the steps, and the priests entered the building and
gave it their blessing. The doors were then thrown open and the
ladies societies of the church entered and took seats, followed
by as much of the crowd as could get into the building. After the
opening service Archbishop Keane preached the dedicatory sermon,
and spoke in part as follows:
Archbishop Keane’s Sermon
With all my heart I congratulate the pastor and people of this parish
upon the splendid work they have accomplished in the erection of
this lovely church, which we have this morning dedicated to the
work of God under the patronage of St. Wenceslaus. I congratulate
you upon the work which have done; it is a noble work which you
have undertaken, and nobly have you accomplished it. The heart of
your pastor must have been very full of confidence in God’s
protection in order to think of such a work, and thanks be to God
we have this day dedicated it our blessed Lord and His holy religion.
My heart is full of gladness and from my heart I invoke God’s
blessing upon him and upon every one of those who cooperated with
him. From my heart I bless every one that has contributed even the
smallest offering to the building of the church. God knows your
hearts; God knows your minds; God knows how generously you have
given and I am sure the rich and the poor gave according to their
means. I am sure there has not been a stingy soul among those your
good pastor has approached and asked for help--I am sure he has
not met with one refusal.
Therefore, in the name of the dear blessed Savior, in whose honor
you have done this work, and to whose glory you have constructed
this building, in His name I thank you , and in His name I bless
I know your hearts are full of gladness this morning that so large
and so noble a work has been done. You deserve my congratulations
and you deserve my blessings, and I am glad that besides the people
of this parish there are many hundreds and thousands of others that
are rejoicing and giving thanks to God and offering you their congratulations
on this blessed morning. I am glad they have come from every part
of his state and from neighboring states to offer you their congratulations
and their blessing. But oh my friends, there are some others who
are with you this morning, giving you their blessings and their
congratulations. Think of your friends in the old country - fathers
and mothers and brothers and sisters in the old land. They knew
you have been engaged all these months past in this blessed work;
they have taken an interest in it, perhaps a deeper interest than
you, and have been praying for your success. Perhaps some of those
have sent their contributions to help you, and this morning they
are rejoicing with you that the Catholic Bohemians of Cedar Rapids
have built such a good temple to the good. God has consecrated such
a magnificent church to the service of His holy religion.
And there are others who are rejoicing with you today - your parents
or grandparents who have left this life. Do you remember how you
visited the cemetery far over the sea and there prayed for them
and asked them to pray for you that God might protect you in your
voyage across the Atlantic -- that God might prosper your life in
the new world? They are praying for you today and they are rejoicing
for you, your grandparents whose bones lie in the old country, but
whose souls are with God. They are rejoicing and giving thanks with
you today. Our brethren in God are nearer us today than the brethren
of this world. When you started across the ocean to try your fortunes
in a new world they were praying for you that you might succeed.
They did not want your lives to be failures -- they were praying
that your lives might be a success, and therefore were praying that
God’s (a couple of sentences here are illegible) says that.
Your dear friends across the water have been praying for you that
you might save yourselves. They know very well that in coming to
this country you will be exposed to many temptations -- that in
this country you would find many dangers to your holy faith; that
in this country you would find people who would say to you, ‘Never
mind the church, come and serve the devil.’ But when they
hear of this beautiful church being built they say: Oh God, the
Father, our people have kept their faith, for unless the people
love their religion they would not build a church like this one.
See to it that our children and your grandchildren are educated
as Christians,that they are taught from the earliest years to walk
in the footsteps of St. Wenceslaus. And friends, beware of mixed
marriages. In seeking for the partner of your life, seek one of
the Christian faith. Seek for one who will be united with you in
giving your children a Christian education; for if you begin your
family wrong do not be surprised if the family should go wrong eventually.
Without God’s blessing nothing can be a success. Labor for
the things of this world, and labor still more for the things eternal,
that your lives may be a success here below and in eternity.
Now you will be addressed by one in your own grand old language,
and in its sweet strains all lessons will go deeper into your hearts,
and while of course you must love the stars and stripes and raise
your children to be Good Americans, still never forget the old country.
Again I congratulate you, and again I bless you”.
Those Who Assisted
the sermon of Archbishop Keane the congregation was addressed in
Czech by the Very Rev. A. Vranek of Omaha.
At the close of Rev. Vrane’s address, high mass was celebrated
with the following priests participating:
Right Rev. John N. Jaeger of Chicago, celebrant.
Rev. John Bleha of St. Louis, deacon.
Rev. Aloisius Kolar of Clutier, Iowa, sub-deacon.
Rev. Rud. Lakoumy, Chelsea.
Rev. Flor. Svrdlik, Cedar Rapids.
Present in the sanctuary:
Very Rev. A. Vranek, Omaha;
Archbishop J. J. Keane, Dubuque;
Very Rev. Dean Gunn, Cedar Rapids;
Very Rev. Fichy, New Prague, Minn.;
Rev. N. Barry, chancellor to Archbishop Keane, Dubuque;
Rev. C. Vones, secretary to celebrant;
Rev. T.J. Sullivan, Cedar Rapids.
Immediately after the ceremonies dinner was served in St. Wenceslaus
hall, which stands just south of the new church. The band gave a
concert during the afternoon, and the day closed with a play in
the hall, which was given in the Czech language.
Church a Beautiful One
new St. Wenceslaus church is a most beautiful structure, as well
as a commodious one. The main floor will seat 600 people, and the
gallery seventy-five more. The building is handsomely lighted by
300 electric lights, and when they are all turned on the interior
is as light as day. He walls of the building have been left unstained
for the present, but the stained glass windows are some of the most
beautiful samples of stained glass work in the city.
The altar pieces are of especial beauty and are all three concerning
the life of St. Wenceslaus. The picture above the main altar is
of stained glass and represents St. Wenceslaus as the duke of the
Bohemian people, mounted on a horse; it is the gift of Anthony Kopecky
and is valued at $200. It is a very fine piece of work.
Over the side altar at the right is a painting of St. Wenceslaus
receiving a jewel, painted by Miss Mary Burk of DeWitt, a sister
of the mother superior at Mercy hospital. Over the other side altar
is a picture of the death of St. Wenceslaus; this was the main altar
piece in the old church.
The stained glass windows were presented by the following people:
St. Cyrillus, one of the first apostles to the Slavonic peoples,
presented by Joseph Brush and family.
The crucifixion, a large double window, stained in soft yet brilliant
colors, valued at $250, presented to the church by Emma Pecenka,
Mary Pecenka and Barbora Lukes.
St. Ludmila, presented by Anny and Francisca Vanous.
St. John of Nepomug, by Anna Sonka.
Mater Dolorosa, by Mary Kuba.
A head of Christ, presented by Francis and Francisca Smid.
St. Adalbert, presented by Anthony and John Hac.
St. Agnes, presented by Anthony Kopecky, Jr., and Anna Kopecky.
Resurrection, given by Roshek brothers of Dubuque. This is another
large window valued at $250, and is of marvelous beauty.
St. Methodius, one of the first apostles to the Slavs, presented
by Frank Sonka.
At the back of the church, over the gallery, is a large round stained
glass window, presented by the architects, Dieman & Fiske.
The church and the grounds are valued at $400,000 and the Bohemian
Catholics of the city certainly have a church of which they may
be proud. --