The uniqueness of Immaculate Conception Parish, Wexford, is in its founding by Father Thomas Hore. Fr. Hore left Ireland with close to 1200 of his parishioners and other fellow countrymen to come to America. He came as pastor, to establish a parish, for his Irish flock.
The History of Immaculate Conception Parish, Wexford, goes back to 1851, just two years after Allamakee County was established and records put on file.
While Thomas Hore, a native of County Wexford, Ireland, was a student for the priesthood at St. John's Seminary in Kilkenny, Ireland, the Rector, Rev. Dr. Patrick Kelly, was appointed first Bishop of Richmond, Virginia. After completing his course of studies, Thomas Hore joined his former Rector in Virginia and was ordained there by him. After six years of missionary labor there, he returned to Ireland in 1828
During the famine of 1840's, things became dreadful in Ireland and Fr. Hore was determined to do something to help his flock. He told them of his experience in America, talked and reasoned with them and it was resolved that he would lead them in making their trip across the Atlantic.
On October 24,1850, both the 'Ticonderoga' with 450 of Fr. Hore's parishioners, and the 'Loodianah' with almost as many, sailed within a short time of each other. The 'Chasca', with the remaining three hundred members of the group on board, left dock eight days later on November 2, for New Orleans. Their destination was Arkansas.
Fr. Hore wasn't satisfied with the location in Arkansas and decided to locate elsewhere. Leaving some hundreds of people in St. Louis awaiting his orders, he arrived in Dubuque, Iowa on January 23,1851 and spoke to Bishop Loras. After some days with the Bishop and Brothers of New Melleray Monastery, he set out to explore the country along the Mississippi River. He selected a location in Allamakee County, which seemed to embrace all the natural advantages necessary for a prosperous colony. On Feb. 22, 1851, he purchased over a thousand acres at $1.25 per acre. Later on he bought more land for the same price.
Upon returning to the hundreds waiting in St. Louis, only eighteen families joined Fr. Hore in founding his colony at Wexford. This group boarded the Franklin steamship at St. Louis and came ashore about Mar. 25, 1851, at Lafayette Landing near Wexford.
Even though there were settlers in this area before Fr. Hore came, no church had been erected. Soon after Fr. Hore's group arrived, the first log church was built. The day of dedication, April 23, being the Feast of St. George, was the reason why the first church was dedicated to this Saint. Beside the church there was a two-story house erected which was on Fr. Hore's farm. Here he raised crops and had a fine herd of cattle and sheep.
Records show the first baptism was Mary Ann Heatly on May 25, 1851. The first marriage was on January 26, 1852 - James Murphy and Mrs. McNamara, John and Bridget Lamb were the witnesses.
After Fr. Hore arrived in the county many Catholic settlers followed him, so it was necessary to build a second church (also called St. George) to meet the needs of his growing parish.
Fr. Hore was the only resident priest in the county until 1855. He not only looked after Catholics in Allamakee County, but also in neighboring counties, even going into Minnesota. He regularly visited these settlements on horseback.
Seventeen children were attending catechism in 1853. By 1855 regular classes began, probably in the Rectory. By 1857, many children of Wexford attended school at Lafayette.
The present rock church erected during the pastorate of Fr. Hannon, (1863-1868) was built of limestone rock quarried from the hills of Wexford, by the united effort of the parishioners, under the guiding hand of Hugh Vincent Gildea. It was built of necessity because of the growing population at Wexford and because of the collapse of the floor of the previous church. It was dedicated to the Immaculate Conception.
The present rectory was built in 1905 when Fr. Laffan was pastor of Wexford. The belfry and vestibule were built in 1919 under Fr. Laffan.
The Parish Hall was built in 1952.
A shrine was built in 1965. Archbishop Byrnes came to Wexford on Aug. 15, 1965 to offer Mass, bless and dedicate the shrine to the Blessed Mother as "Our Lady of the Wayside Shrine". He said it was his wish that she would reign over these beautiful hills and valley of Wexford, and that we would all benefit by her guidance and protection.
There were no vocations to the priesthood in early years of the parish. Three women entered convents in the first 25 years. All together 17 women have entered the religious life over the years.
Fr. Cletus Hawes was ordained in 1952 and Fr. Donald Hawes was ordained in 1953. Another son of our parish, Fr. Raymond Bohrer, moved to Lansing, IA shortly before his ordination.
Some of the priests who have served in the Wexford Parish are: Reverends Hore, Walsh, Hannon, McGown, McManus, Kiernan, Nelson, Cooney, Boylson, Hetherington, Laffan, O'Sullivan, Louis White, Craney, Klassen, Tracey, McDonald. Al White, Krocheski, Kolfenbach, Rahe, Perry, Condon, Tiedemann, Lang, Levenhagen, Heineman, Smith, Raftis,Trzil, Knipper and Moser.
For many an old-timer early life at Wexford was an ideal. More important however is the fact that the Wexford colony of 1851 was responsible to a certain extent for the rapid growth of Catholicism in the county. After they had arrived, many other Catholic settlers followed them, especially people of their own nationality. The younger generations at Wexford can truly be proud of their rich heritage.
Immaculate Conception - Wexford was the oldest parish between Dubuque and St. Paul, Minnesota that still had a resident pastor until November of 2010. The parish is now linked with St Ann St Joseph in Harpers Ferry; Immaculate Conception in Lansing; and St Joseph in New Albin. The pastor now resides in Lansing.
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