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Thursday, March 24, 2022

IN THE SHADOW OF THE COURTHOUSE VIEWED FROM THE TWENTY FIRST CENTURY


 James R. Fisher, Jr., Ph.D.

 

© March 30, 2022


TWENTIETH CENTURY PERSPECTIVE

 

In the spring of 1941, we moved from St. Boniface school and parish to our first purchased home at 318 Sixth Avenue North two houses west of the Clinton County Courthouse block which would be my playground with the “Courthouse Tigers” and St. Patrick’s school and parish until 1947 when I would leave the comfort of my Irish American neighborhood to attend Clinton High School on the southwestern side of Clinton, which was something of a cultural shock as I was Irish Roman Catholic and Democrat in a city that was predominantly Protestant and Republican.  The courthouse neighborhood was working-class poor whereas many of my classmates who were equally interested in academics had parents who were corporate executives to the many now actively defense manufacturing operations or medical doctors or other well-educated professionals.

On the wall of my modest home were pictures of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) and Pope Pius XII. 

On December 7, 1941, the air force and navy of the Empire of Japan made a surprise attack on the United States Naval Seventh Fleet at Pearl Harbor in the Haiwains Islands decimating the fleet and killing nearly 3,000 US sailors and soldiers.  FDR in declaring war on Japan on December 8, 1941, declared it would be a “day which  would live in infamy.”  On December 11, 1941, the United States declared war on Nazi Germany and its Axis Powers.

The Second World War was the years of my youth, growing up in Clinton, Iowa in the middle of the United States in the middle of the 20th century and the middle of the farm belt in an industrial community of 33,000 snuggled against the muddy Mississippi River. 

In my working-class neighborhood, I came of age in THE SHADOW OF THE COURTHOUSE and the age of the atomic bomb.

There was no television, no mega sports, no big automobiles, or manicured lawns.  There was radio, newspapers, movies, high school sports, the Clinton Industrial Baseball League where men too young or too old to go to the war and played baseball for the fun of it.  Clintonians had victory gardens, accepted rationing of all essentials, drove old jalopies, took the bus, or rode their bicycles to work.

It was a time when the four faces of the magnificent Clinton County Courthouse clock chimed on the half-hour and threw a metaphorical shadow over young people’s lives.  This made certain they would not be late for meals made from victory garden staples.

The courthouse neighborhood had most stay-at-home mothers in two-parent families.  Few parents managed to get beyond a grammar school education while nearly all worked in Clinton factories or on the railroad.  Divorce was as foreign as an ancestral language.

It was a time in hot summers when people slept with their families in Riverview Park adjacent to the Mississippi River.  In their homes they left windows open, doors unlocked, bicycles on the side of the house, and if they had an automobile, keys in the car, knowing neither neighbor nor stranger would disturb their possessions.  In winter schools never closed even when snowbanks were four feet high.

It was a time when kids created their own play as parents were too tired or too involved in the struggle to make a living to pay their children much mind.  Clinton youngsters would never know such Darwinian freedom or its concomitant brutality again. 

In 1944 my parents voted for FDR to have a fourth term handily defeating the Republican presidential candidate Wendell Willkie only to die on April 12, 1945, at the age of 61 with vice president Harry S. Truman assuming the presidency. 

WII ended in Europe on May 8, 1945, with the unconditional surrender of the Axis Powers.   President Truman who was unaware of the Manhattan Project decided once aware of the atomic bomb to drop it on the cities of Japan on August 6, 1941, on Hiroshima, and on August 9, 1945, on Nagasaki, killing between 129,000 and 226,000 not to mention leaving the two cities as radioactive nuclear wastelands.  Most of the casualties were civilians.  Truman’s justification to end the war without an invasion of Japan was estimated to cause tens of thousands of lost American lives.  Japan surrendered unconditionally on September 2, 1945, on the USS Missouri battleship in Tokyo Bay.

REFLECTIONS

One of the blessings, when you are racked with an incurable disease, is that you have time to ponder, in my case, my writing. Responders to my works are always honest if sometimes frustrated with my approach to all my efforts as an author. I plead “guilty.”

Since I was a small boy, I have always felt that if honest with ourselves and consistent with that honesty in our reflections, we will make connections with others whatever their circumstances and experiences because we share a common humanity.

The uncanny truth is the more we attempt to ignore the nature of our roots the more we reflect on those initial impressions acquired as infants and carry on into our adulthood and old age.

A common cliché is that you can take a child out of his hometown but you cannot take the hometown out of the child. Unfortunately, this confounds many young people today because they have never experienced a hometown being forced by circumstances to be their parents as both parents work with them being reared by surrogate parents. Then there is the constant moving from place to place as parents’ jobs demand never staying for long in one place.

Add to this that many parents and grandparents came of age during the boom period after WWII that philosopher Eric Hoffer calls “the terrible 60s,” where parental adolescent guidance often did not exist. To fill this vacuum as essentially their own parents, they grow from adolescence to adulthood with no guidance system. This brings to mind the chilling novel "Lord of the Flies" (1954) by Nobel Prize-winning British author William Golding. The book focuses on a group of privileged British boys stranded on an island after their plane goes down killing the pilot leaving them to govern themselves with disastrous results.

As uncommon as a hometown may have become, it is that experience as a child that determines to a large measure the adult that we become.

We are living in an age without roots where grown-ups are a rare commodity as we witness the world of today.

Adults often reflect the scars of youth where physical abuse may have been rare but vocal, emotional, and psychological verbal abuse was common scaring children permanently by belittling or treating one child preferably to another.

Today half of the American population is in some kind of psychotherapy not necessarily by a professional therapist but by looking for emotional therapy through friends or their electronic devices.

Sanity is uncommon in the best of times. Now no attempt can mask the fact that sanity or being under control is futile to suggest. The American family is dysfunctional with that status the new norm.

It is not only in America as in this electronic age sanity is the exception to the rule for the world.

In the opening lines of this missive, I write not to assuage the torments of my audience but to write about the perturbations that haunt us.

THE AUDIENCE TILTED TOWARD CELEBRITY

American British travelogue writer, Bill Bryson (born 1951) is an Iowa boy who claims to be an atheist but writes with a compelling gift to entertain which is apparent in the international bestseller memoir of his youth in Des Moines, Iowa, “Life & Times of the Thunderbolt Kid" (2007).

Then there is the NBC personality Tom Brokaw (born 1940) who published an equally successful memoir of his youth, "A Long Way from Home: Growing Up in the American Heartland" (2001).

I share a common Iowa youth background with Bill Bryson, and with Tom Brokaw in having graduated from the University of Iowa. Beyond that my memoir, "In the Shadow of the Courthouse: A Memoir of the 1940s Written as a Novel" (2003) has little in common with either authors' memoir.

When the Des Moines Register published a stunning review of Bryson’s memoir in 2007, I wrote the newspaper about my courthouse memoir, reminding it that my book covered my adolescence during the war years of WWII in one of Iowa’s important industrial cities. When I failed to hear anything, I called the editor and received little satisfaction. A second letter was sent to the newspaper’s publisher, which resulted in a small insignificant mention of my book.

Nor did this book receive a bump from print, radio, or television as “Confident Selling” (1971) had, leading to a national bestseller in hard and soft-covered copies. "The Shadow of the Courthouse" generated sales in the low five figures mainly from Clinton residents and those Iowans living across the country of that WWII generation.

Between 1990 and 2003, I made a dozen trips from Tampa, Florida to Clinton, Iowa (a distance of over 1,000 miles) interviewing more than 100 residents using their names in the story, visiting all the sites elaborated on in the book while providing pictures in the second edition of my family and others who touched my life.

Clinton, Iowa then as now was mainly a Protestant community with some fifty active Protestant congregations or about 80 percent of the population of 33,000 in the 1940s.

THE MOST REVEREND FATHER JAMES A. MURRAY (1864 – 1928), THE CONSUMMATE BUILDER




 Father Murray in the red cassock of a Monsignor.


In 1889 Father Murray emigrated from Ireland and settled in Clinton, Iowa where the enterprising priest set out to create an extensive Catholic community consistent with what his predecessors had done elsewhere in Clinton. The Catholic community was less than 10 percent. Today, it is much smaller than when Father Murray came to America. Even so, this did not stop him from realizing his vision. Father Murray is buried in St. Mary’s Cemetery in Clinton.

ST. PATRICK’S CHURCH

Father Murray was able to raise funds to construct St. Patrick’s church, rectory, and school in “The Shadow of the Courthouse.” To supply nuns to teach at St. Patrick’s school, K-8th grade, he persuaded the Sisters of St. Francis to come to Clinton building Mt. St. Clare Convent & Academy on Bluff Boulevard in the sight of the Clinton County Courthouse.

[St. Patrick Church was built in 1905 for $40,000, closed in 1997, and was demolished in 2005. It was located at 240 Fourth Avenue North, Clinton, Clinton County, Iowa.]

MT. ALVERNO

Father Murray didn’t stop there. He created Mt. Averno Home for elderly nuns and others of advanced age on Thirteenth Avenue North in North Clinton or Lyons.

[The Canticle, located adjacent to Mt. Alverno was built in 1997 extending Father Murray’s work long after his death in 1928 becoming the home of the Sisters of St. Francis. It was named after the inspirational song of praise, 
The Canticle of the Creatures, written by St. Francis of Assisi. The Canticle houses some 35 residents. While the good sisters may live and minister in other parts of the United States and South America, the Canticle will always be their home.]

SACRED HEART CHURCH

The Sisters of St. Francis became teachers of K-8th grade of students of Sacred Heart church, rectory & school, a facility purchased from a mystical organization located in downtown Clinton.

[Sacred Heart Church in Clinton was established as a mission of St. Boniface in 1891. The priests from St. Boniface took care of that parish until 1903 when a resident pastor was assigned to Sacred Heart.]

ST. BONIFACE CHURCH

Students attended St. Boniface school K-8th grade in Lyons off Main Avenue. Parishioners were mainly of German ancestry and farmers in rural North Clinton.

ST. IRENAEUS CHURCH

St. Irenaeus School K-8th grade, like St. Boniface, met the needs of immigrant and working-class families.

[Saint Irenaeus Church is a former parish of the 
Diocese of Davenport. The church was founded in the town of Lyons, which is now the north side of Clinton, Iowa, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 2010. It is now the property of the Clinton County Historical Society as a museum.

Bishop 
Mathias Loras (named for Loras High School & College in Dubuque, Iowa) of the Diocese of Dubuque said the first Mass in Lyons in a log home in 1848. He came to Lyons from Bellevue and started building the church as soon as he arrived and it was completed in 1852. The building was built of brick and cost $1,500 to construct.

St. Irenaeus church is a 
Gothic Revival style building constructed in limestone, which was quarried just outside the town. The building was completed in 1871 and cost the parish $45,000. The building measures 130 by 60 feet and could accommodate 450 people. The ceiling is 50 feet off the floor. The stained glass windows depict the Twelve Apostles. Two offset spires front the building. The south spires rise 166 feet and the north spire is 136 feet high.

The ornate golden chandelier modeled after the crown of France was a gift from the French Bonaparte family to the parish to be used as the 
sanctuary lamp. The parish school was staffed by the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary from Dubuque.

In 1861 the German members of the parish formed their own parish a few blocks away called 
St. Boniface. This left St. Irenaeus a predominately Irish Catholic parish. Other parishes were formed to the south in Clinton: St. Mary's (1867), St. Patrick's (1889), and Sacred Heart (1891).]

In 1911 all five Clinton Catholic parishes joined the Davenport Diocese when 
Clinton County was transferred to that jurisdiction.

OUR LADY OF ANGELS COLLEGE

Our Lady of Angels was originally the Lyons Female College, a Presbyterian school dedicated on September 15, 1858. It was the first institution of higher learning in Clinton County. The school was sold in September 1872 to the Sisters of Charity, a Catholic order in Clinton. Our Lady of Angels Academy, a boarding school and convent was dedicated on October 2, 1872. The Sisters of the Blessed Virgin Mary (popularly known as BVMs) were teachers at the academy and St. Mary’s school K-12th grade. St. Mary’s in its day was the largest parish of Clinton.

Ancestors of St. Mary’s were struck with awe as they experienced their magnificent new church home for the first time on Sunday, June 24, 1888.  


ST. MARY’S CHURCH

St. Mary’s Church was built mostly by immigrants, and it took four long years to complete — from laying the cornerstone on Aug. 17, 1884, to full completion of the massive church in 1888. The Rev. P.V. McLaughlin (pastor 1867-1879) started the church and his brother E.J. McLaughlin (1879-1932) led the growth of the parish after his brother died.

 

The first pastor was buried beneath the altar of the first church, originally called Holy Family, on the southwest corner of Sixth Avenue South and Fourth Street (the Roosevelt Building followed). Later, he was interred in the lower level of St. Mary’s before, finally, being reburied elsewhere.

In 1916, the second Rev. McLaughlin was elevated to Monsignor. At that time, the popular priest was given an electric automobile by his parishioners. He was the only priest known to wear a full beard, a fact attributed to chronic health problems caused by his years of suffering the cold damp winters of Ireland, Dubuque (where he was raised), and, of course, Clinton.

This didn’t deter him from using his fine voice to become one of the best speakers around. That tradition would become a St. Mary’s standard noted in Monsignor Ambrose Burke… down to its present-day priests, Frs. Anthony Herold and Thomas Hennon.

Those who remember Monsignor Thomas Galligan (pastor from 1932 to 1956) recall that he was one of the few “fire and brimstone” orators in the Catholic Church of that era. He was known to shout about “going to hell” and to pound the pulpit with high emotion. All of these things made a great impression on the congregation, especially its youth.

On St. Mary’s 1888 dedication day, a parade and other events lasted several hours. Among those who marched that day were included three Irish Societies, a brass band, The Roman Catholic Total Abstinence Society, the Right Reverend John Hennessy of Dubuque and numerous priests. Their gathering began assembling at 2 p.m. for a three o’clock event. One thousand five hundred people attended, and the party was adjourned at 5:30 p.m. Two hundred dollars was collected that day by ushers named Sheppard, Hall, Purcell, Koetter, Spaulding, and Mooney. The cornerstone had been laid four years earlier, and it noted that Leo XIII was then Pope.

A feature article in The Clinton Herald was entitled “The Grand Edifice” and it is noteworthy that one of the builders, (later Realtor) J.Q. Jefferies laid many of the 800,000 bricks which were ordered in 1884. By March 1888, however, only 3,800 bricks remained. The beautiful stained glass windows and other adornments were donated by families with names such as DeVine, Welsh, Rosenberger, Kennedy, Hayes, McCarthy, McFadden, Conroy, Dougherty, Redden, Quinn, John New, the Altar and Rosary Society, and Ladies of the Sodality.

 

Who were these people? How did they affect what we today have done? And, how did immigrants of such limited means pay for such a magnificent church?
 
When St. Mary’s parishioners climbed the Hill and built a church ascending toward heaven, they literally “came up in the world.” The little church downtown became inadequate; they needed a church for 1,000 people. The parish quickly had grown to 500 families with 600 schoolchildren, as immigrants flooded Clinton to get desirable jobs in the lumber industry, some “moving up” to railroad work.

 

This was during a time when all Irish Catholics attended church every week and confession every other week. Many wouldn’t receive communion unless they’d recently confessed their sins. And, if they forgot a sin, they might go right back into the confessional. Lines were long; lectures and penances were harsh. Nevertheless, people were happy and seldom chafed under the hard realities of life.

That wave of Clinton immigrants came here in the 1850s and rapidly filled up the flatlands where Hy-Vee and ADM now rule the landscape. Many locals were Catholics who worked in the aforementioned factories and businesses. There was plenty of work and, as their lot in life improved, they moved into bigger and better homes. Slowly, they moved up Ninth Avenue hill and out Comanche Avenue, as trolley cars helped them navigate about their growing city.

People stayed in this “hilltop” neighborhood and seldom even went “downtown” because they had banks, grocers, and bars right on Fourth Street. Many visited relatives in Chicago or went to ball games there via the many passenger trains that passed within blocks of their homes.

The first three pastors of St. Mary’s, remarkably, encompassed the years 1867-1956. Since then, they’ve been followed by Monsignor Burke, Reverends Leahy, Soens, and Father Tom Doyle — the last St. Mary’s pastor before Father Ron Young was asked to create one parish under the name, Prince of Peace. Father Tony Herold is the present pastor of this parish.

THE CLINTON CATHOLIC COMMUNITY TODAY

All five of Clinton’s Roman Catholic churches have been either demolished, abandoned, or converted into museums. Likewise, Mt. St. Clare Convent & Boarding Academy and Our Lady of Angels College & Boarding School are no more.

The Lady of Angels School was sold in September 1872 to the Sisters of Charity and dedicated on October 2, 1872. In 1966, the school was closed. The buildings were demolished in the 1980s.

Mt. St. Clare Convent & Academy was purchased from the Sisters of St. Francis in 2010 by the Ashford University of San Diego, a for-profit online university. Two years after staff cuts were announced, troubled Ashford University closed its Clinton campus.

Ashford University had made extensive remodeling of Mt. St. Clare and elsewhere in Clinton but could not weather the scandals associated with recruiters lying to convince prospective students to enroll in online classes.

 

Two years after staff cuts were announced troubled Ashford University closed its Clinton, Iowa campus in May 2016 and agreed to pay $7.25 million to settle claims against this practice. Ashford and the company that owns it, Bridgepoint Education, settled the lawsuit filed in Iowa, denying any wrongdoing.

JESUS CHRIST, PRINCE OF PEACE CHURCH & PARISH

Catholic optimists claim Prince of Peace parishioners, a church dedicated on July 30, 2014, will have the same experience that their forbearers did over a century ago.  That is unlikely as the mind and morals of the times are essentially indifferent to church attendance much less committed to the somewhat draconian practices of Roman Catholicism a century ago.

 

The new Prince of Peace Church, a faith outlet to a much smaller active Clinton Catholic community, can easily accommodate all the Catholics of Clinton, with space for 600 parishioners and overflowing space in the atrium, and generous side aisles for those “extra” folks who join in at Christmas and Easter.

On any Sunday estranged members of Roman Catholicism can come back and enjoy fresh modern surroundings in a comfortable and non-judgmental atmosphere.

Gone are the numbers and nameplates designating where each family once had its rented pew. Modern Catholic families may remember but have no time to delve into the private lives of others. They simply endeavor to “love one another,” as once taught for them to do.

A few old artifacts have been blended into the new facility. Pew ends from St. Mary’s have been refinished and hold the same place of honor in Prince of Peace. As Mass participants continue to run their hands over them, they’re touching spots that long family lines have rubbed. The ancient wooden confessionals were refinished and now serve as a backdrop to the altar. Many of the ornate, old candelabras and other items have been refurbished for continued use. One particularly fine piece is the original sanctuary lamp from St. Irenaeus, which is exhibited in its golden crown. It was brought from France by Father Frederic Cyrille Jean — a gift from the Bonaparte family.

St. Mary’s Church environs/neighborhoods are now very different from those of bygone years. Many early immigrants’ homes are gone… having been demolished or remodeled. Apartments now line the brick streets where parishioners once raised large Catholic families. Yes, times do change. The new church has been built, as some say, “way out” on the beltway. The dedication of Jesus Christ, Prince of Peace Church was on Saturday, March 14, 2009.

As time marches on (perhaps in another hundred years) Prince of Peace could be in the center of town once more, and future parishioners may once again be thinking thoughts of change (much of this has been taken from the late Clinton educator and historian Gary Herrity who wrote historical columns in The Clinton Herald).

MUSING

Our Lady of Angels Convent & Academy provided nuns of the order of the Sisters of the Blessed Virgin Mary as teachers at St. Mary’s K-12th grade.

 

St. Patrick’s school, St. Boniface School, Sacred Heart School, and St. Irenaenus School, K-8th grades, were provided with the Sisters of St. Francis as teachers from Mt. St. Clare Convent & College.

Sacred Heart Catholic Church & K-8th grade was located in downtown Clinton.

St. Mary’s is the largest Catholic parish in the city and the school, K-12th grade located on the west side of Clinton.

BANKRUPTCY OF A CORPORATE SYSTEM

The Davenport Catholic Diocese, with which Clinton’s Catholic parishes were associated, was ravaged by the scandals of priests' sexual abuse of children over generations and students in their care causing this diocese (as with many others across the United States) massive financial indemnities. Children of these families were victims carrying scars of their youth into their adult lives.

When I was doing my research for the courthouse book, few of these institutions were viable and functioning, but ultimately all five Catholic churches and schools as well as Mt. St. Clare and Our Lady of Angels were erased as if they never existed.

Clinton is a city that prides its architecture and landmarks. These Catholic sites may no longer exist but in the imagination of old-timers. The Roman Catholic Church failed to act morally, judiciously, and timely when first aware of the problem.

The Roman Catholic Church in the United States On December 17, 2019, Pope Francis issued canon law instruction "On the confidentiality of legal proceedings" lifting the "pontifical secret" in the cases relating to violence or abuse of authority in forcing sexual acts, sexual abuse of minors or vulnerable persons, crimes of pedophilia involving children under 18

For the most part, responding to allegations of sexual abuse in a diocese was left to the jurisdiction of the bishop or archbishop. Many of the accused priests were forced to resign or were 
laicized or dismissed as in a clerical state and reduced to a layperson. Several bishops who had participated in the cover-up were forced to resign or retire.

It was revealed that some bishops had facilitated compensation payments to alleged victims on the condition that the allegations remained secret. In addition, rather than being dismissed, the accused were often instructed to undergo psychological counseling and, on completion of counseling, reassigned to other parishes where, in some cases, they continued to abuse minors.

The dioceses in which abuse was committed or in which abuse allegations were settled out of court found it necessary to make financial settlements with the victims totaling over $1.5 billion as of March 2006. The number and size of these settlements made it necessary for the dioceses to reduce their ordinary operating expenses by closing churches and schools. In many instances, dioceses were forced to declare bankruptcy as a result of the settlements.

As the breadth and depth of the scandals became apparent in dioceses across the United States, declared that a joint response was warranted at the episcopal conference level calling for “swift, sure and final punishment for priests who are guilty of this kind of misconduct.” In contrast to this, the Vatican's primary concern as wanting to make sure “that everyone’s rights are respected, including the rights of accused clergy" and wanting to affirm that it is not acceptable to "remedy the injustice of sexual abuse with the injustice of railroading priests who may or may not be guilty.”

In my naiveté, I have painstakingly gone through this second edition thinking one day it might be treated as a historical and cultural data point. It never occurred to me that almost everyone today lives only in the present and the future therefore vulnerable to periodic corruption.

My sweep of a presence long gone has little gravitas to the conscience of the times. In my ignorance, the Catholic community reduced to Jesus Christ, Prince of Peace Catholic Parish on the outskirts of Clinton seems only an embarrassment to me.

"In the Shadow of the Courthouse," now edited and revise, has taken this old man some time to complete perhaps more for his satisfaction than that of anyone else.

It is not a recent inclination as critics have occasionally informed me, stating that I don’t write to entertain but to provoke thought, thinking about things readers may prefer to ignore to get on with their lives. If that is true, once again, I plead guilty.