Friday, February 20, 2009

Sioux City History and Culture by Bicycle Part 120: William LaBarthe Steele Part 15: In Memory of St. Casimir Church

Up until a few decades ago there was a need for churches that "catered to", "favored" or were more meant for certain ethnic groups of people. St. Casimir Roman Catholic Lithuanian Church was such a church. I say was because St. Casimir's was closed in 1998 and razed in 2007, But not before it had a long life, profound impact on the congregation in which it served as well as having an interesting history in Sioux City. Here is a sample of St. Casimir's life and how it served it's people;

By 1916 there were over 800 Lithuanians that had settled in the Sioux City area. There were so many Lithuanians they formed their own colony in Sioux City, most lived in what is now called the former South Bottoms area of the city near the former stockyards. Many Lithuanians worked in the stockyards and were hard working people at that. They needed a place of their own to worship. Many of the Lithuanians fled their homeland in search of something better here in the United States which included a place to freely worship how they believed. In 1916 they got their wish. On July 2 before construction was completed the new St. Casimir Lituanian Roman Catholic Church is dedicated by Bishop Garrigan. Designed by William L. Steele, it is the newest church to be built in Sioux City at the time.

St. Casimir's history almost started being recorded from day one. There are records of the first baptism, wedding, etc. that occured at the church. The history has been collected and written by more then one person and up until now in a similar format. Here is an example of that history;

More information and photo's of differant view of outside of St. Casimir's;

Over the years there additions and changes made to the church. A retaining wall had to be built and an outdoor shrine was constructed. This added to the beauty of St. Casimir's.

The inside too had undergone changes. In the 1950's it was beautifully painted.

St. Casimir's served the Lithuanian people well. It provided them a place in which to worship based on their beliefs free from persecution and prosecution that they perhaps would have suffered in their homeland. Even the first priests that worked at St. Casimir's were of Lithuanian decent.

St. Casimir's was closed in 1998 due to a shortage of priests. When it was closed it was 82 years old. The church saw it's people through part of WWI, the Great Depression, all of WWII and several other historical events in the United States. St. Casimir's celebrated 3 milestone anniversaries. A Silver Jubilee, Golden Jubilee and it's 75th Anniversary.

The church did have a rectory or priest's residence and a convent with a kindergarten school in it. The rectory is believed to be designed by William L. Steele but I do not believe the convent/school was. Both are now private residences and the only buildings still standing in Sioux City of the former St. Casimir Church.

The order to close the church could only and did come from the Vatican. But only after being requested by the Catholic Diocese of Sioux City. I have seen, but am unable to have a copy of the request letter sent to the Vatican and the response giving permission to close St. Casimir's. I have also seen and again am unable to have a copy of a letter sent by someone to the Vatican asking that the church not be closed. I have also seen, but am unable to have a copy of the letter sent by Bishop Soens giving the order, after receiving permission from the Vatican to close St. Casimir's. Part of the title in the letter sent by Bishop Soens says Suppression, not a word I really like. Prior to the order being give to close the church there was an article in the Sioux City Journal about local churches being an endangered species. I guess they called it right. Some of the church property, statues, pews, etc. was removed and is now being used at other churches. Most of the property still used in other churches are not in Sioux City. Here are copies of articles from the newspaper about local churches being an endangered species as well as the resistance and protest to St. Casimir's closing and the property being donated to other churches. I also have a copy of the Final Liturgy read at the final mass and a copy of the last bulletin about the mass that was held at St. Casimir's;

William L. Steele not only designed buildings, houses and churches he also designed furniture, at least one piece of furniture. There was a chair, called the Presiders Chair used in St. Casimir's. It is believed to have been moved to the Cathedral of the Epiphany in Sioux City. I have been unable to verify it is at the Cathedral or get a photo of it. When I do I will post an update.

After the St. Casimir's closed but before it was torn down it was added to the National Register of Historic Places;
St. Casimir Lithuanian Roman Catholic Church (added 1998 - Building - #98000388)
Also known as St. Casimir Church
2524 Leech Ave., Sioux City
Historic Significance: Architecture/Engineering, Event
Architect, builder, or engineer: Babue & Sons, Steele, William L.
Architectural Style: Late 19th And 20th Century Revivals
Area of Significance: Architecture, European
Period of Significance: 1900-1924
Owner: Private
Historic Function: Religion
Historic Sub-function: Religious Structure
Current Function: Religion
Current Sub-function: Religious Structure

This is perhaps one of the last photo's taken of the church before it was torn down;

Before St. Casimir's was torn down a time capsule was removed from the churches corner stone, reomved and opened. Inside were coins and documents. The documents are very fragile but I did get a chance to see them. Part of them look like the original roster of the congregation for St. Casimir's.

Here is the empty lot the church once stood on as it looks today;

The only part of the church building that remains in Sioux City is the dome. It is as beautiful as it is large. It is currently stored in a steel company's yard until it is decided what is to be done with the dome. The company that took it down and the steel company both volunteered the man power, equipment and storage of the dome. Ironically the dome was put on the church in July of 1916 and removed in July of 2007. St. Casimir's was torn down later in 2007, it was 92 years old at the time if it's death. A very sad end indeed.

St. Casimir dome finally down

Information about st. Casimir's was obtained through research at the Pearl St. Research Center, the Sioux City Public Library and the Sioux City Catholic Diocese. All digital scans were done from the original source document the diocese loaned to me. Some of the newspaper articles are scans from microfilm using the digital film viewer at the public library. The current photo's of the land the church used to sit on, the former rectory and convent/kindergarten school were taken by me with my digital camera.

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