Logo by Ginger Cisewski
The vicinity of Dyersville was first visited by white men about 1837 or 1838. They were mostly settlers from England in the first years. They were members of various Protestant religions, and at one time,there were 4 Protestant churches in town. However, in 1846, a colony of German Catholic settlers came into the neighborhood. They attended church services at New Vienna for about 10 years. More and more German people settled here, and the place became a German Catholic settlement. The first pastor, Rev.A. Longfils, came to Dyersville in 1857. A frame building was rented and used as a church until 1858, when a church was built. Father Longfils departed soon thereafter, and the parish was without a resident pastor until 1862. That year Father Anton Kortenkamp came to Dyersville as its second pastor.
With the number of immigrants increasing rapidly, Father Kortenkamp had to enlarge the church in 1870. Fifteen years later the church was again too small, so Father Kortenkamp began making plans for a larger church. The cornerstone was laid June 3, 1888 by Bishop Hennessey of Dubuque. This is the magnificent church of today. Father Kortenkamp became seriously ill before the completion of the building, dying shortly before the church was completed. The church is of Gothic design, very impressive because of imposing size and height, and the two massive steeples, 200' high. It is large enough to accommodate 1,300 people.
Soon after his arrival, Father Kortenkamp also founded a parochial school. A building to house the school was built in 1865, and the school was taught by lay teachers until 1867. At that time, a much larger school was built, and the Sisters of St. Francis of Dubuque were engaged to teach in it.
After the death of Father Kortenkamp, Father George Heer was appointed pastor of Dyersville. In 1890, he engaged Prof. M. J. Knippel to teach the older boys. In 1894, he enlarged the school facilities since the enrollment in the school was now 400. In 1902, Father Heer engaged the Brothers of Mary to teach the boys, and a high school was started. In the meantime, the debt on the parish church had been paid.
In 1905, Father Heer was transferred and Father Theodore Warning was made pastor of Dyersville. In 1907, a new high school was built, in which the Brothers taught the boys from the 4th grade through high school. The old school housed the grade school and St. Francis Academy, a high school for girls, in charge of the Sisters of St. Francis. In 1919, a new addition was built and occupied by St. Francis Academy, while the rest of the building was taken over by the ever growing grade school.
In 1931, Father Warning retired and became Chaplain to the Sisters of St. Francis in Dubuque. He was succeeded by Father John B. Herbers. These were the depression years when times were hard but by this time, the Sisters Convent was so poor and overcrowded that something had to be done. Father Herbers built a new rectory just west of the new church, and built a large addition to the old rectory which became the new convent for the Sisters. In 1932, the Brothers of Mary left the parish and the whole school, both grade and high school, was now in charge of the Sisters of St. Francis.
In 1945, Father Herbers died and was succeeded by Father M. M. Hoffmann. When the Second World War was over, Father Hoffmann built the new grade school, and the oldest part of the old school was torn down. A new gymnasium was built in 1950, and in 1960, a new auditorium was added to it.
In 1947, the Cardinal Archbishop of Berlin, Germany visited Dyersville, and was impressed by the stately church, which resembles some of the great churches in Europe. He was also impressed by the almost solid Catholic population of the whole surrounding territory, and he remarked that it would be very fitting that this great church be raised to the dignity of a Basilica. Monsignor Hoffmann, the pastor, began to work toward that goal, in cooperation with Archbishop Binz. Finally all the requirements were met and St. Francis Xavier Church was made a Basilica by His Holiness, Pope Pius XII, in 1956, after first having been solemnly consecrated in 1955.
In 1961, Monsignor Hoffmann died, and was succeeded by Father John H. Mayer, the present pastor. In 1963, plans were begin to build a central Catholic high school, with the parishes of Dyersville, Earlville, New Vienna, Petersburg and Worthington participating. The school was sufficiently completed to begin classes in the Fall of 1966. It was named Beckman High School in honor of a former Archbishop of Dubuque.
Source: 1967 Atlas of Dubuque County
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