- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 12, 2005

CLINTON, Iowa - For nearly 50 years, Dorothy Freund was a fixture at Sunday Mass. Her children were baptized under St. Irenaeus’ stone arches, and she spent countless hours preparing funeral dinners in the church’s basement kitchen.

But memories one day could be all that remain of St. Irenaeus, which along with three other Roman Catholic churches in this eastern Iowa city are scheduled for the wrecking ball.

“I love everything about this church,” said Mrs. Freund, 78, standing outside its front doors. “I even just loved being here alone in the middle of the night, just scrubbing floors.”

Earlier this month, demolition began on St. Patrick’s, a century-old, Romanesque-style building that for decades served Catholics who lived in downtown neighborhoods. St. Irenaeus is expected to be next, followed by St. Boniface, built in 1905, and St. Mary’s, erected in 1884.

Church leaders say they are open to exploring alternatives, but Mrs. Freund and others say diocesan officials have been ignoring their suggestions while planning a new, modern church on the outskirts of Clinton, about 90 miles northeast of Iowa City. A spokesman for Davenport Bishop William Franklin denies that the prelate has brushed aside parishioner concerns.

Critics say if the diocese moves forward with the demolition, it would erase some of the city’s most important cultural icons.

“Basically, they are destroying the rich Catholic history here in Clinton,” said Leonard Pease, 69, who was married in St. Irenaeus. “These buildings are gems in this city.”

In the past 30 years, Catholics increasingly have traded urban life for the suburbs. Membership in inner-city parishes has plummeted. Many bishops have opted to close churches.

“Parish realignment is going on all across the country,” said Sister Mary Ann Walsh, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. “And more than anything, that reflects changing demographics. So you’re seeing parishes merged, or some even closed.”

For decades, Clinton had five parishes. But as the city lost manufacturing jobs and population, church membership dropped and donations dwindled. The last Mass at St. Irenaeus, named for a French saint and built in 1864, was held last fall.

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