The history of St. Joseph’s Parish in Milford begins with the story of early settlers in northwest Iowa. In 1856 the first settlers made their homes in Dickinson county. A traveling missionary, the Rev. J.J. Smith of Emmetsburg read the first Holy Mass in the county in 1873 at Spirit Lake. Rev. Smith continued his visits two or three times a year until his death in 1882 when Father M.K. Morton came to Spirit Lake to attend to the spiritual needs of the few scattered Catholic families.
Meanwhile, the town of Milford was growing, mainly because of the saw mills and the flour mill at the outlet of the Iowa Great Lakes. In about 1883 the first Catholics arrived in the territory that now makes up St. Joseph’s Parish. During the summer of 1884 Father Morton celebrated the first Holy Mass in Milford territory, in the home of Daniel Ryan, five miles southeast of town. Father Morton continued to offer Mass in private homes and above the J.P. Ellis store for at least ten Catholic families here. In 1887 Father Luke Carroll came to the lakes area, making his home at Ruthven, but serving Everly, Spencer, Lake Park, Spirit Lake and Milford as missions.
Immigration of Catholic families continued so that by 1890 the establishment of a real parish was considered. In the winter of 1890-91 the first church was constructed at a cost of $1300. Father Carroll stayed until 1895 when Father P. McCauley was assigned to Milford, with Spirit Lake, Lake Park and Spencer as his missions. He was transferred within a short time, leaving Milford and surrounding towns without a priest. Later Father P.A.R. Tierney was assigned to this territory and it was during this time that the parish debt was cleared and the church was dedicated. The parish was known as St. Patrick’s, although the Irish and Germans were equally represented on parish rosters.
During the early part of 1897 Father Tierney was followed by the Rev. L.J. Kirby. With the cooperation of the church committee, he purchased four acres of land in 1898 from John Guthrie to be used for burials. This ground became the church’s Calvary Cemetery.
With the arrival of Father Kirby, who lived in Spencer, St. Patrick’s Parish began receiving the regular services of a priest every second Sunday. After five years Father Kirby was followed by Father M.J. Quirk. Father Quirk was replaced the following year by the Rev. M.J. Heatherington, who served Milford every second Sunday until 1908, when he was succeeded by the Rev. B.A. Hunt.
For 29 years, after the building of the Church, St. Patrick’s Parish continued without a resident pastor. Finally, on May 28, 1909, Bishop Garrigan of the Sioux City diocese appointed the Rev. E.C. Meyers to the parish in Milford, with missions at Spirit Lake and Okoboji.
Father Meyers’ key role in the development of the parish cannot be underestimated. Upon his arrival he saw that there was little room for expansion on the three lots owned by the church in the southern part of town. After several unsuccessful attempts to purchase land in the town limits, Father Meyers purchased from R.E. Donaldson a two block cornfield north of town but adjacent to main street. This entire new property could be purchased by exchanging the three lots that the parish owned, including parish house and $3000 cash. Although the parish committee thought that this was an impossible deal which would result in nothing for them but a cornfield, they were induced to buy it when Father Meyers agreed to personally pay for one block, thus cutting the cost to the parish in half.
Since there was now plenty of room for expansion, Father Meyers began advertising the cheap but good land in this area in newspapers around the Midwest. More Catholic families moved into the area. Father Meyers had the old public school moved onto the new property and the old church. A new sanctuary and sacristy were added to the rear of the church, with dedication of the building in 1912. With the Bishop’s permission, the church’s name was changed from St. Patrick’s to St. Joseph’s. This change was the fulfillment of a vow Father Meyers had made in 1910 while on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.
Up to 1911 vacationers at the lakes were transported by bus to St. Joseph’s for Sunday Mass. In 1911 the Bishop had a chapel built at Terrace Park on a donated lot. The Bishop sent assistants to Father Meyers in the summertime to take care of services at the Terrace Park Chapel.
St. Joseph’s School opened on September 8, 1913 with 50 pupils, including boarders and day students. The Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration were the first teachers. Registrations continued throughout the fall so that by years end 92 students were enrolled. Pupils flocked to school so rapidly that by 1915 a new addition was needed at the school. The 34 by 36 foot addition cost $6000. With the success of the school and the growth of the parish it was necessary for the Bishop to relieve Father Meyers of mission work at Spirit Lake.
The parish continued to grow until expansion was again necessary, this time at the church. In September 1919, the Board of Directors unanimously voted to build a new brick building in the spring. Original plans to seat 400 were altered so that 800 could be seated, mainly to accommodate the influx of summer visitors. On August 29, 1920 the cornerstone was laid. Final cost of the church was $100,000, with an additional $25,000 for interior furnishings. With the completion of the new church and the advent of the automobile, the crowds began to dwindle at the Terrace Park Chapel in the summer. Services there were soon discontinued, with the last Mass offered July 6, 1923.
The remainder of Father Meyers time spent at St. Joseph’s was a valiant effort to pay the debt on the new church. Almost immediately after its completion the hard times following World War I struck here as well as elsewhere. The day to day expenses could hardly be met, much less the demands of the debt and interest.
To deal with this serious situation the first thing Father Meyers did was to organize the “Mortgage Lifting Pig Club” in the parish. Every member of this club donated a young pig, raised it and then marketed it for the benefit of St. Joseph’s parish. Within two years the Bishop gave permission for the pastor to solicit in other parishes also – this first effort resulted in obtaining 700 pigs from farmers outside the parish. The Mortgage Lifting Pig Club was in existence for a number of years, netting over $10,000 most years.
Other efforts by Father Meyers to ease the church debt included the raising of silver foxes for their pelts and for breeding stock. Annual three day church fairs were also held at Terrace Park over the Fourth of July. Father Meyers also invested a portion of his salary in a $40,000 life insurance policy on himself, making the parish the beneficiary. At his death in 1936, the parish debt had been reduced to far less than half its initial amount.
Father Otto Dentlinger was assigned to St. Joseph’s in 1936. Father James Greteman arrived in 1945. Both priests worked diligently to continue to improve the parish and to reduce the debt. In 1947 the mortgage was completely lifted. During Father Greteman’s tenure, the number of parish families rose to 200 while enrollment in the school passed the 150 mark.
Because of Father Greteman’s ill health, beginning in the fall of 1950 the LaSalette Fathers of Terrace park assumed the duties at St. Joseph’s. In June, Father George Benjamin was appointed for a short time. On August 17, 1951, The Rev. Carl Ernst was assigned the pastorate. Father Joseph Fitzpatrick came February 28, 1956.
The parish now entered another era of building improvements. The rectory, built in 1913, had its porches enclosed and interior improvements completed. The Sisters had been living in the front part of the school – in the fall of 1961 construction of a two story brick convent began, with the open house June 3, 1962. In the spring of 1966, the old school was torn down to make way for a new brick grade school, with students moving into the new structure January 20, 1967. St. Joseph’s school closed in 1974 and the school building is now used as the center for religious instruction and as a parish meeting facility.
Msgr. Othmar Koester came to St. Joseph’s parish in 1967 and Father James Fandel was assigned to St. Joseph’s from 1974 to 1986. Under Father Fandel’s direction continued repairs and improvements were made at St. Joseph’s, including the renovation of the tower clock mechanism. Father Fandel also oversaw the removal of the old 1913 rectory and the building of the Shrine to the Blessed Virgin.
In 1985 a parish highlight was the ordination of Father Steven Brodersen, son of Mr. and Mrs. Bill Brodersen of St. Joseph’s Church. M. Peter Hart was ordained a permanent Deacon in 1986. Two other priests have come from this parish: Father Francis J. Berning was ordained in 1927 and Father Leonard Clausen was ordained in 1941.
Msgr. A.J. (Joe) Elbert served as pastor briefly from 1986 until his death in September 1987. Father Joe served our parish in the summer months for many years while holding an administrative position at Heelan High School in Sioux City, IA.
Father Roger Augustine succeeded Msgr. Elbert and served the parish until July 1988.
Father Richard Remmes replaced Father Augustine and served until 1993. The stained class windows were restored in 1991 by Reinhard Stained Glass Studios, Inc., of Winona, MN. The windows were originally created in Munich, Germany in 1920.
Father John Vakulskas was next to serve St. Josephs from 1993 – 1998. Redecoration of the church was completed in 1994.
Father Jim Bruch served from July 1998 – June 2005. A groundbreaking ceremony was held on August 30, 2003 for a new parish center. Fifteen months later the center was completed with a dedication ceremony held on November 21, 2004. Two new classrooms were added to the school to augment the use of two classrooms for office space and kitchen for the parish center. New energy efficient windows replaced the original windows in the school and air-conditioning was also installed.
Msgr. Ken Seifried – July 2005 to July 2009. Calvary cemetery addition of 1.92 acres completed on November 29, 2005. This land was adjacent to the north of the established cemetery and was purchased from Marjorie Bever. The land was cleared of trees in 2006 and was seeded in spring of 2008. Old fence along south entryway was removed and new two rail white vinyl fence was installed in August 2008. Renovation of the convent building to become the parish rectory begun in late 2007 and completed in May 2008. Major improvements included: air-conditioning, energy effecient heating system, kitchen cabinets and appliances, bathroom fixtures, woodwork, carpeting, lighting, and painting.
Father Shane Deman, a newly ordained priest of the diocese, joined us as a summer helper in July 2008. Father Deman is a native a Sioux City and a Heelan High School graduate. After a truly wonderful summer of his presence in our parish we bid a fond farewell to him on September 28. He will be returning to Rome to complete his studies.
Father Brian Danner, Pastor, July 2009 – August 2010. 50 Black Hills spruce trees (gift of Pheasants Forever) were planted in Calvary Cemetery in the Fall of 2009. Old rectory on A34 sold and moved in Fall of 2009 to make room for additional paved parking. New state of the art electronic sign installed in front of church in Fall of 2009.
Father Tom Flanagan, Associate Pastor July 2009 – August 2010; Pastor August 2010 – present.
Father Francis Makwinja, Associate Pastor November 2011 – present. Father Francis comes to us from Malawi, Africa.