125 years of worship: St. Mary’s of Hanover celebrating church’s 125th Jubilee with outdoor mass this Sunday

Celebrating its 125th Jubilee ... The church at St. Mary’s of Hanover was built in 1898 under the supervision of Father Francis McCullough and will celebrate its 125th Jubilee with an outdoor mass this Sunday, June 11. The submitted photo below was taken at the church dedication in 1898, and its original steeple was replaced in 1948. The photo above taken by Lissa Blake is the church as it stands today, offering a handicapped-accessible ramp for attendees.

Outdoor altar ... In 1957, this outdoor altar in honor of Our Blessed Lady was built in the St. Mary’s of Hanover churchyard in memory of two priests who are buried in the church cemetery, Father John McCullough (1873-1952) and Rt. Rev. Msgr. Patrick McCullough (1872-1943). A redwood shelter has since been constructed to protect the altar and was dedicated by Archbishop James J. Byrne. Submitted photo.

Outdoor mass celebrates special events, including this Sunday ... Through the years, special events in the parish or diocese were celebrated with an outdoor mass at St. Mary’s of Hanover, such as the one pictured above from sometime within the church’s 125-year history. The church’s 125th Jubilee will be one such celebration, which is scheduled for this Sunday, June 11. Submitted photo.

Church interior, from years past and today ... The submitted picture above of a large group of St. Mary’s of Hanover youth receiving their First Communion, and the picture below taken by Lissa Blake of today’s interior of the church show the differences and remaining similarities in the church’s sanctuary area. A mainstay throughout the years has been the ornamental structure of the tabernacle area of the sanctuary that is the centerpiece of both photos. The church is celebrating its 125th Jubilee with an outdoor mass this Sunday, June 11.

Editor’s note: Due to space and other considerations, this story includes an abridged history of St. Mary’s of Hanover in honor of its 125th anniversary. A commemorative binder, which chronicles the parish’s complete history and includes photos, will be available to order.

by Lissa Blake

St. Mary’s of Hanover, the little limestone church nestled along State Highway 76 north of Waukon and south of Dorchester, will celebrate the church’s 125th Jubilee this Sunday, June 11 with an outdoor mass at 10 a.m. (In case of bad weather, the mass will move indoors.) Father Jerry Blake will be the celebrant, assisted by Deacon Jeff Molitor. Both are native sons of the parish.

The Hanover parish was established in 1875, when Father William Jacoby, pastor in Lansing, started saying mass in a small structure two miles north of the current church site. When the congregation began outgrowing its modest structure, the parish replaced it with its current building in 1898. Native limestone blocks used for the construction were quarried nearby. In the early years, the parish’s first pastors came from Lansing and then from Dorchester. Father Francis McCullough, pastor at Dorchester, oversaw the building of the church in 1898. Later he initiated the building of the rectory, as he realized the parishioners’ interest in having a resident pastor. “The parish was mostly Irish (Bresnahan, Byrnes, Collins, Cunningham, Delaney, Fitzgerald, Gallagher, Kennedy, O’Brien, O’Malley, Purcell, Russell, Stack) and one family of Greek ancestry by the name of Zoll,” wrote Rev. Msgr Edgar Kurt in a parish profile which was published in The Witness April 10, 1988.

Through the years, many pastors took up residence at St. Mary’s, while others filled in from other parishes. The church’s first resident pastor was Father Thomas Campbell, who celebrated Mass only one Sunday before he took ill and died March 7, 1915.
In August of 1915, Father Patrick Reynolds came to Hanover, where he stayed until his death January 11, 1947. He is buried in the church cemetery. Twelve days later, fire destroyed the parish rectory and all the records. A new steeple was erected on the church and a new rectory was completed in 1948. In 1957, an altar in honor of Our Blessed Lady was built in Hanover in memory of two priests buried in the cemetery, Father John McCullough (1873-1952) and Rt. Rev. Msgr. Patrick McCullough (1872-1943). It was dedicated by Msgr. Michael Martin, a son of the parish. Some years later, Archbishop James J. Byrne dedicated the redwood shelter, which still protects the statue today.

Over the past 125 years, 14 young women from Hanover have entered the convent. Family names include McCormick, Collins, Gavin, Liddiard, Blake, O’Malley, Delaney, McCarthy and Gallagher. Three sons of the parish entered the priesthood: Msgr. Michael Martin, Father Maurice Gallagher and Father Jerry Blake. Jeff Molitor became a deacon and still serves the parish today.

Parish secretaries and parishioners have chronicled life at the church formally and informally over time … from the “social hour” after Mass, which often moved up the hill to Zoll’s Hanover Store, to the success of the formidable boys baseball team. In the 1930s, the girls had their own softball team referred to as “kitten ball.”

Father Jerry Blake, currently stationed in Clarion, grew up just two miles south of the church. He remembers how altar server duties changed considerably when Mass went from Latin to English. “I also remember Father Charipar, in later years, saying that someday one of us would have to take his place. It was his way of encouraging assignments,” said Blake. Father Blake, who was ordained June 3, 2000 in Dubuque, said it meant a lot to him when Father Charipar extended his second six-year assignment by a year in order to remain in Hanover until his (Blake’s) ordination. “I remember the electricity went out during my first Mass (at Hanover) and someone mentioned that had happened when Martin or Gallagher said their first Mass,” he said. Today, Father Blake spends his vacation time at his home farm in Hanover, and he participates in church events, such as funerals, whenever he can. He emphasized the importance of parish life: “What people need to remember is how important parish life was for communities and families and faith,” he said.

Deacon Jeff Molitor is thankful for being able to grow up as part of the St. Mary’s of Hanover community. “It is a nice farming community connected to the land,” he said. When describing his memories of his own faith development, Molitor said he remembers some brothers from Wisconsin coming to teach CCD for a couple of weeks in the summer. “I also remember my confirmation teachers, Mary Blake and Jean Byrnes … that laid the foundation for me,” he said. Molitor’s path was made clearer to him when he attended a CEW (Christian Experience Weekend) where he met four or five deacons and learned about their role in the Church. “Deacons are committed to their own faith, committed to God and to serving God’s people,” he said. Molitor, who works for Allamakee County Secondary Roads, has spent time ministering to people in jail and prison, as well as calling on those who are homebound and in nursing homes. “Ministry is not about money, it’s about people. We give what we have and God makes up the difference,” he said.

Father John Moser served as associate pastor at St. Patrick’s of Waukon from 1989 to 1991. He returned as pastor in July of 2020 and also serves St. Mary’s of Hanover and Dorchester as well. When asked how he views the role of churches like Hanover, he said, “Small, rural parishes serve as truly a family to their people.”