New Vienna is located in the northwest corner of Dubuque County, within half a mile of the Delaware County line, in a beautiful valley, on the north branch of the Maquoketa River, twenty-six miles due west of Dubuque, sixteen miles southeast--nearest air-line point-- from the Mississippi, just on the outskirts of the once beautiful woodland bordering that great river.
The township in which New Vienna is situated bears the same name, New Vienna Township. This name, however, has been distorted to "New Wine Township" by early writers or recorders of legal documents.
It may be said that New Vienna and St. Boniface congregation really are identical; both were founded by and represent the same people, the same American citizens, the same Catholic Christians.
The soil of New Vienna Township is considered the most fertile in the great agricultural state of Iowa. The county offered great inducements, especially to early settlers who were attracted by above conditions favorable to agricultural pursuits as well as by its many streams, by an abundance of building material, essential prerequisites to people in newly-settled countries.
The name New Vienna was given the town by the Rt. Rev. Mathias Loras, first Bishop of Dubuque, in honor and gratitude to Leopold, Emperor of Austria, for his magnanimous gifts and his support of the American Catholic missions.
The history of the first settlement of New Vienna, its rapid growth and its wonderful influence on the surrounding country, in fact, on all the state of Iowa and the Northwest. affords indeed interesting and instructive reading.
The first settlers were natives of Oldenburg, Hanover and Westphalia, Germany. The first five pioneers came to the United States in the year 1833 and settled on small farms near Muenster, Ohio. Ther they remained for ten years, building homes, accumulating some means as they worked with great care and diligence their small farms. But there was no room for larger settlements, no government land for themselves and their relatives and friends in Germany who were soon to join them in this country, the "promised land," America. In the year 1843 five energetic, brave men, together with their resolute wives and families, resolved to sell their farms in Ohio and move on westward to the territory Iowa. Their object was to take up government land in some location affording opportunity for a large German-American Catholic settlement. They were the following:
This band of genuine spirited German-American farmers set out with a well-defined purpose and, no doubt, were guided by Divine Providence.
On the 20th of May, 1843, they started out in the famous frontier prairie schooners, six large wagons covered with triple canvas, equipped and laden with all the necessities of camp life. These wagons were drawn by six yoke of heavy oxen. Three horses were also taken along. These, however, did not stand the hardships of the tour and soon were given ill trade for an additional yoke of oxen. As one member of the party even now states, the trip was not attended by any great hardship or unpleasant events except such incident to like enterprises.
Traveling through Indiana and Illinois, they crossed the Mississippi at Burlington about the middle of August and moved on to Iowa City, hoping to find land in that vicinity suitable for large settlements. The country did not meet their expectations, and they kept on moving northeast in the direction of the small mining town of Dubuque. They had heard of the great friend of early settlers, the pioneer Bishop of Dubuque, Mathias Loras. They pitched their camp in the vicinity where now Cascade is located and remained two weeks. Two members of the expedition were sent to Dubuque to seek advice and directions from the saintly Bishop Loras. Four others proceeded on an exploring tour northward to what was known at that time as "Wilson's Grove," a 2OO-acre patch of fine timber land. Here the great German-American explorers reached their destination. The location was eminently suitable and offered all desirable conditions for agricultural pursuits. The explorers returned to camp with glad tidings.
The emissaries to the Bishop of Dubuque having also returned bearing message of a most hearty welcome and encouraging counsel, the party thus consoled and strengthened proceeded to the promised land, so to speak, to the spot where now stands the well-known village of New Vienna. This was in the latter half of August, about 100 days after they had left their homes in Ohio. Their first habitations continued to be their well-equipped covered wagons.
In October, 1843, the first log houses were built, each family of settlers having entered claim of a quarter section of government land. The virgin soil was then broken by spade and plow. Gardens and small fields were enclosed by sod or rail fences. The work to supply all other necessaries was most diligently continued; improvements were made according to plans well fixed in their minds for the future St. Boniface Congregation. They confided in God and God bestowed on them His fatherly care.
CHARACTERISTICS OF SETTLERS.
As will be proved by further developments, the first settlers and founders of St. Boniface were eminently qualified for the task before them. They had received an early Christian training at the good old German family home in Europe. They were well instructed by Catholic teachers and especially by the pastors of the native, well-organized Catholic congregations. They had received a good education in the renowned public denominational schools of Germany. They had learned the great lessons taught by observation and experience. When they came to Iowa the greater number of the party were able to speak, read and write English. In politics the first settlers were whole-souled Americans by free-will choice, no bias; without "isms," not narrow-minded, would-be hyper-patriots.
Besides the English they determined to retain the German as the family or home language. This they soon found was necessary if they desired to retain the many good German characteristic traits and their universally admired social habits. Whither should they look for better models of American type?
GROWTH AND SUCCESS.
After the five pioneer families had fairly come to rest, having built homes and made other necessary improvements, they hastened to communicate to relatives and friends elsewhere concerning the good things they had found in the new world, and before long many accepted the invitation to come and join the colonists. In the year 1846, when the venerable Bishop Loras visited Nem Vienna for the first time, he was pleased with the progress made, the number of colonists having increased to seventeen families, and he was accustomed to address them as "My beloved seventeen."
From this date forward a large number of settlers came from Europe, especially from Oldenburg, Hanover and Westphalia, Bavaria, as also from the eastern states of the Union, seeking better and more land, but especially to find better church and school facilities. As the newcomers arrived they selected and entered land, often small pieces, many only forty acres, not having the means to pay for more even at the government price of $1.25 per acre.
Within fifteen years they spread to the south, the east, the north and the west within a radius of about five miles. Then, about the year 1856, it looked as though the progress of the German-American settlement would be checked by emigrants from various European countries and from the eastern states of the Union. Five miles south of New Vienna the vacant land was rapidly taken into possession by some hundred British colonists, mostly direct from England. They located and organized what is now the thriving town Dyersville, surveyed and platted in 1854. On the east of New Vienna parties from the New England states formed the McKee settlement; on west was located Yankee settlement and on the north Dixon settlement. All the above mentiond lands have, within the last quarter century, come into the possession and control of German-American Catholics--in other words, into the possession of the five pioneer families and their kin and kind. The change was effected by the most friendly dealings. In those days people knew nothing of national strife and wranglings.
When in time the number of members of St. Boniface Church had grown to such an extent that they could not be accommodated, the people urged that other churches be built. Thus the first offspring of St. Boniface was St. Francis, at Dyersville, five miles south of New Vienna. It now outnumbers St. Boniface by 200 families.
In the year 1860 a new daughter congregation was formed, Luxemburg, five miles north of New Vienna. Holy Trinity, at Luxemburg, is today a most thriving German-American Catholic congregation.
In 1865 it was necessary to form a fourth congregation, five miles west of New Vienna, in Delaware County, many of the German-American families having bought land in the adjacent district. This was the foundation of SS. Peter and Paul congregation at Petersburg.
Then the sons of the original New Vienna settlement bought more than two-thirds of the land hitherto in the possession of the good and thriving Catholics of other nationalities at Bankston and Holy Cross. So the German-American Catholic colonists grew within the short space of forty years and spread in Dubuque and Delaware counties over an area of land twenty miles square, numbering about 1,100 families.
The German-American Catholics proved here as elsewhere to be the most successful farmers in the United States. Moreover, it should be mentioned that the baptismal records of St. Boniface and neighboring congregations show 10,000 baptisms. We may figure that in Iowa, Minnesota and Nebraska there are living 5,000 German-American families who may trace their lineage directly or indirectly to St. Boniface at New Vienna.
An immense success, these energetic farmers built up the western country, cultivated the broad prairies, constructed comfortable homes, erected churches and schools.
So far we have narrated mostly the material progress made by the five pioneer families. We will now speak of what has been done along the religious line.
Mass was celebrated for the first time at New Vienna January 6, 1846, in the log house of Hermann Wiechmann by Rt. Rev. Bishop Loras. In this house mass was celebrated and the sacraments were administered for two years. Rev. John G. Allemann and Rev. J. G. Raffe visited New Vienna in those days from time to time, offering the holy sacrifice and administering the sacraments in the same house. The name of one pioneer must be mentioned here as deserving the name, as it were, pioneer missionary--the Honorable John Fangmann, Sr., leader of the colonists. Mr. Fangmann, a layman, could not offer the holy sacrifice or administer sacrament; he conducted, however, lay services on every Sunday and holy day either in some house or later in the first church when no priest could be sent by the bishop. The writer remembers well how Mr. Fangmann would kneel at the sanctuary railing, make the sign of the cross, and with a loud voice commence: "I will go unto the Altar of God to God, the joy of my youth," etc. Then he would read the mass, prayers of the prayer book, the epistle and the gospel for the day, and finally conclude by leading in the rosary.
Mr. Fangmann lived to be 94 years of age. He died April 4, in the year 1883.
The first church was built in the year 1848 on a large lot near the primitive graveyard. The foundation was of stone, the superstructure hewn logs. It was dedicated to St. Boniface, the great apostle of the Germans. History tells us how he felled the huge "Donar Oak" in the land of the Teutons and out of the trunk formed the first cross erected in that country. So the offsprings of the German race at New Vienna felled the oak of the primitive American forest beneath whose majestic crown the red man had for centuries unknown offered sacrifice to the great spirit Manitou, and from its timbers built the first Christian church. Each member of the small congregation was taxed six logs, 200 split shingles and some other building material. The interior was nicely finished in frontier style of architecture and supplied with altar and pews. All the work was done by home talent. The dimensions of this building were 24 by 30 feet, walls 10 feet high, the whole surmounted by a neat cross. This little log church served its purpose for seven years and is held dear in memory by the writer and many old settlers still living.
When the congregation grew larger the first church proved too small, even after an addition had been built. So in 1853 the construction of a new and more capacious house of God was planned. This second church was built in good plain church style, of solid stone taken from the nearby quarries. Dimensions--64 by 100 feet; walls, 22 feet high, surmounted by belfry; arched windows and arched ceiling; neat sanctuary, well furnished in the interior. The altars were of no mean design and artistically executed by John Kuhlmann. The sanctuary railing built by him in 1858 is a piece of art which as a memorial from the old church is today serving its purpose in the present church edifice. This second church, as it is sometimes called, was dedicated by Rt. Rev. Clemens Smith in 1855 and continued to be the house of God until 1887. In that year, when the present "new church" was finished, the former was remodeled and has since been used as a school house and hall.
The present church edifice is the crowning effort of the New Vienna people in church building art. Early settlers and later arrivals, pastor and flock, joined to build a temple of God, a monument in memory of the past often wonderful events, a token of gratitude to the Most High for the bountiful blessings bestowed on the people of New Vienna and the surrounding country. This house of God it is intended shall be a continual silent sermon to the coming generation, speaking to them in the language of art, of the faith and love of their forefathers.
The question has often been asked the pastor of St. Boniface: Why build such a church away out in the country? Such foolish questions bespeak the strange notions some people have regarding the future of church and state. Any one having studied the history of the past and watched present events must come to the conclusion that the future welfare of church and state lies largely with the people in the rural districts, with the tiller of the soil. The far-seeing, big-hearted Bishop Loras, unlike others, foresaw that we must look for the welfare and growth of the Catholic church in America, not to the large cities, but to the country--the American farm. He that owns the land will eventually rule the country. The new St. Boniface Church was built at a cost of $80,000. It is of white magnesia limestone, Gothic style of architecture, broken ashler, smooth cut trimmings. Its dimensions are 172 feet long by 62 feet wide, the forty feet transeipt included. The walls are 35 feet high, the main nave has a clear story ten feet high. The steeple is 20 by 20 feet and 200 feet high.
The beauty of the exterior lies in the correct and symmetrical proportion and harmony of style throughout. The interior of the church makes an awe-inspiring impression. The groined ceiling has strong, projecting, interlacing arches. The highest point in this ceiling measures 60 feet from the floor. The half octagon sanctuary is an extension of the middle nave and a receptacle for the high altar. The two window hidden from view when in the nave by the triumphal arch are four feet wide and twenty-eight feet high and throw abundant light on the high altar. The stained glass windows are placed in such positions as gives direct and sufficient light to every part of the church. The stained glass windows are decorated by natural colors cast in the glass and have beautifully executed pictures. The windows in the transeipts are 14 by 30 feet high. They represent in life-sized groups St. Boniface felling the Donner oak, and opposite the coronation of the Blessed Virgin. The model for these windows was executed in life-sized oil paintings by the renowned portrait painter, John Schmitt, of Covington, Ky. The high altar was planned in style and in keeping with the architectural construction of the interior of the church. The model was taken from a Gothic ostensorium and was artistically executed, carved by hand from the base to the crowning cross, the whole being 35 feet high.
The tabernacle is truly a masterpiece of art carving. It is in itself a small altar. The whole altar in all its details is decorated with wood carved vines, reeds, branches and leaves, about sixty angels and figures all carved in wood. It was planned under the direction of the pastor of St. Boniface by E. Hackner of La Crosse, Wis., and built by the latter at a cost of $5,000.
We will now name the reverend fathers who in succession were appointed pastors of St. Boniface.
The first resident priest was Rev. Gerhard Plathe, a native of Wessum, Prussia, born October 5, 1808, ordained priest 1838, appointed pastor of St. Boniface 1848, and remained until 1851. During his time here the first parochial residence was built. He died in April, 1860, and his remains rest in the mortuary chapel in St. Boniface cemetery.
The next priest was Rev. Mathias Leutner, a native of Bavaria, pastor of St. Boniface from 1851 to 1855.
The third pastor was Rev. Jacobus Orth, appointed to New Vienna March 1, 1856. He was a most zealous priest, attended from here many small missions and built the second parochial residence.
Rev. John B. Weikmann was the next pastor. He was born in Wuertenberg, Germany, January 24, 1811; ordained priest January 5, 1851. He was sent to New Vienna by Bishop Hennessey May 1, 1866. He was taken sick and died very suddenly on the first day of October, 1870.
In the same year the Rev. Conrad L. Schulte was appointed pastor. Father Schulte was a native of Leiberg, Westphalia, born 1836, and when five years old came with his parents to America. He was ordained in 1863 and was pastor at New Vienna for eleven years.
Under his direction a large new school building was erected which served for many years for school purposes, dwelling for the sisters and as boarding house for scholars living at a distance. Rev. Schulte's last appointment was at Breda, Iowa, where he died in 1895. Rev. Pape, the present pastor, has been in charge for the last twenty-four years.
PRIESTS GONE FORTH FROM ST. BONIFACE.
It has been remarked that undoubtedly God destined the people of New Vienna to carry westward and to spread Christianity. They have fulfilled their mission well. St. Boniface has given the church a great number of priests. The appellation New Vienna priest is generally given to those clergymen born or reared at New Vienna and also to those who had permanent domicile here prior to the time when they commenced their studies for the priesthood.
Our motto is, "If we do not teach, we may not preach." If we do not instruct our young people, they will not comprehend and much less profit by our sermons in after life. It has therefore always been and is still the practice in St. Boniface Congregation to give, as far as possible, a complete Christian instruction on the truths contained in the precept of our Divine Lord: "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God above all things and thy neighbor as thyself." Matt. 22:37. Catechical instructions are given daily in each department of our schools and for half an hour by the pastor, his assistant, teacher or sisters. To this is added a practical instruction on morals, manners and discipline.
FIRST HOLY COMMUNION CLASS.
On the first Monday in September of each scholastic year such pupils who have reached the age of 12, boys and girls, are formed into a "First Communion Class." In this class they receive special instructions preparatory to First Holy Communion. These instructions continue during ten months and are conducted by the pastor in person; no substitutes are accepted. The children are called from the school and assemble in the church or chapel. These instructions, lasting one hour each day, embrace practiclal lessons and examples applicable to the duties of every day life, founded on faith--"The Apostles' Creed"--on morals--the "Ten Commandments''--and on the means of grace-"The Sacraments."
THE PAROCHIAL SCHOOL.
The highest ambition of the early settlers and present inhabitants of New Vienna has always been to provide the very best means of education. All interested in this noble work have been solicited to lend a willing hand--parents, church and state. All have worked hand in hand, so our schools might in many respects be justly termed "public denominational." I will add here a declaration of principles regarding the school question. I hold that the public denominational school system is the best system for all Christian people. I say the best, not the only system. Our schools must be free; they must be the schools of the people and for thee people. Further, I hope that the public denominational school system may one day be the system for all Christian people. For this end, I will pray and labor, the paltry attacks on the parochial schools by certain sectarian writers of the press notwithstanding.
The first school was opened in 1847. It was conducted by John Klostermann. a well-educated farmer. It was held in part of the old log church, a boarded partition separating the school from the sanctuary. The writer was one of his pupils and gladly recalls to memory events of early school life.
One of the first books that gave us much pleasure on account of the pictures it contained was an illustrated English reader. I mention this incident here as I have often mentioned it in conversation to dispel the seemingly invincible ignorance of some of our friends who still believe that the English language is being neglected in German-American parochial schools.
Mr. John Rauch later was teacher and organist, from 1853 to 1865. He was succeeded by other teachers, who mostly stayed but for short periods. In 1885 Mr. B. W. Schulte, a graduate of the Teachers' Seminary at St. Francis, Wis., was appointed teacher and organist. Mr. Schulte proved to be very efficient in all his works and accomplished much good in the art of rearing young men. Mr. Schulte has lately resigned his position. He takes with him the best wishes of the New Vienna people wherever he goes. His successor will be Prof. A. S. Birkmeier. In the year 1864, when the number of school children so increased that more rooms became necessary, Franciscan sisters of La Crosse, Wis., were called. They have ever since conducted the preparatory classes and the girls' department of St. Boniface School. The sisters have labored at New Vienna with much success. While St. Boniface has always steered clear of fads, it has ever been in the very front rank among the truly progressive parochial schools. It has never prided itself in distributing countless gold and other medals nor in putting university Dr. cups on the heads of graduates. It has ever been true to its mission, namely, to give its pupils a solid parochial school education.
We will close by giving the names of the heads of families now constituting St. Boniface Congregation:
Boeckenstedt, Frank H.
Boeckenstedt, A. H.
Buenker, Frank, Jr.
Fangmann, John Henry.
Gerken, Haver F.
Hoefler, Mrs. Clara.
Honkomp, Hein Anton.
Hullermann, John Bernard.
Klostermann, Henry A.
Klostermann, F. H.
Kramer, F. H.
Koch, Frank H.
Kipp, A. H.
Lechtenberg, Henry V.
Miller. Dr. J. A.
Meis, Conrad L.
Meis, Henry E.
Naber, J. B. H.
Nauhaus, J. H.
Oberbroekling, Jos. G.
Oberbroekling, Henry, Jr.
Ovel, John G.
Pape, Louis H.
Pasker, Henry, Sr.
Pasker, John H.
Pasker, Bernard Henry.
Sudmeier, John T.
Sudmeier, John G.
Steffen, H. Wm.
Schulte, John H.
Smith, Henry F.
Vaske, Clement J.
Vaske, Bernard Henry.
Vaske, Bernard, Jr.
Vaske, Henry J.
Vaske, Clement B.
Vanlemden, F. H.
Vanlemden, Jr. H.
Vorwald, John, Jr.
Vorwald, Frank S.
Vonder Heide, J. H.
Wente, Bernard W.
Wessels, Jos. W.
Wessels, Bernard, Jr.
This early history of New Vienna and St. Boniface Church was written by the the pastor of St. Boniface, Reverend F.W. Pape, who was a first cousin to my great-grandfather Henry Gerken. T.L.
New Wine Township, Dubuque County, Iowa
St. Boniface Congregation, New Vienna, Iowa
Last revised January 4, 2004.