Parish History

History of St. Wenceslaus Catholic Church, Grade School, and High School

History of St. Wenceslaus
Catholic Church, Grade School, High School
1224 5th Street SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401-2697

St. Wenceslaus was founded in 1874 with the original church, since demolished, being built in 1882. A grade school, demolished in 1888, was added in 1893. The current church was built in 1904 and the current rectory in 1910. A high school building was opened in 1921 with the gymnasium and auditorium being added in 1926. In 1926 the high school became the first Czech parish high school in the United States to be fully accredited. The high school closed in 1958; the grade school closed in 1969. St. Wenceslaus is designated a National Czech parish, meaning that any Catholic of Czech origin can, regardless of parish boundaries, be a member of the parish.

St. Wenceslaus Bohemian Catholic Parish, built 1874.
St. Wenceslaus Bohemian Catholic Parish, built 1874.

Humble Beginnings

In 1874, the St. Wenceslaus Bohemian Catholic Parish was established and a church built. The parish started slowly, with sixty families at first. But within three decades, it had grown to 1200 parishioners.

In 1904, a substantial new church was built to replace the old structure which was later torn down. In 1879, a house for the pastor was added; it was replaced with the current structure in 1910.

The Neighborhood

The neighborhood around the St. Wenceslaus Parish campus was originally settled by Czechoslovaks (or Bohemians) who began to arrive in Cedar Rapids in the early 1850’s. Even greater numbers arrived after the Civil War and the end of the Prussian War in Austria in 1880. By the end of the century, Bohemians had become well represented in elected positions in local government and the city’s bustling economy. Initially they populated the city’s south side neighborhood east of the Cedar River but later also populated the west side directly across the river. Eventually hundreds of homes were built.

Cedar Rapids Czech Village (c. 1900)

Social Institutions

Bohemian social institutions were established and grew along with the population. The immediate neighborhood was home for the Czecho-Slovak Protective Society (CSPS), the Western Bohemian Fraternal Association (ZCBJ), and a Czech Language School. The buildings housing these organizations still exist in the southeast side neighborhood. although they have been converted to different uses. Several Bohemian churches were established. The St. Wenceslaus Bohemian Catholic Church was the first and the largest.

StWenceslaus

St. Wenceslaus, pray for us!

Original Church (2)

Livelihood

The Bohemians worked in nearby businesses, small factories, and larger industrial sites such as the J. G. Cherry Company, the Carmody Foundry and the Sinclair Company meat packing plant. As the population grew, many of the Bohemians opened their small businesses, often in the lower level of a building while they and their family resided in the upper level. The properties were well kept, and usually included flower gardens and vegetable patches. A bank was established with the primary purpose of providing mortgage loans to the Bohemian population. A bridge was constructed to connect the east and west sides of the river. And a streetcar line was run to connect the Bohemian neighborhood to the main Cedar Rapids business district to the north.

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Date Pastor
1874-1889 Rev.Francis Chmelar
1889-1891 Rev. John Broz
1891-1899 Rev. Francis Kopecky
1899 Rev. Vaclav Koerner
1899-1900 Rev. Frank Vrba
1900-1920 Rev. Florian Svrdlik
1920-1945 Rev. August Vojacek
1945-1946 Rev. Msgr. Wenceslaus Hradecky
1946-1968 Rev. Msgr. Anthony Chihak
1968-1977 Rev. Clarence Frana
1977-1983 Rev. Louis Trzil
1983-1985 Rev. John Kissling
1985-1990 Rev. Clarence Frana
1990-1992 Rev. Harry Koelker
1992-2005 Rev. Msgr. Karl Glovik
2005-2006 Rev. Ivan Nienhaus
2006-2008 Rev. Msgr. Russell Bleich
Rev. Nils Hernandez
2008-present Rev. Christopher Podhajsky