Gehlen Catholic School
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History of St. Joseph and Gehlen Catholic Schools


The first Catholic Mass in Le Mars was held on April 24, 1870 in the home of Mr. Peter Gehlen, a pioneer Catholic citizen-benefactor of LeMars.  Mr. Gehlen was a devout Catholic who believed in serving the community.  He was a hard worker who believed in doing things right.  Mr. Gehlen led the movement to establish Catholic parishes in Le Mars and donated the land on which the school stands.  Mr. Gehlen started several commercial enterprises but was known mostly for his flourmill located next to his home near the Floyd River. 


Catholic education began with the establishment of St. Joseph Parish in 1875.  Father Herman Meis, the first pastor, organized the first Catholic school.  With the help of a parishioner, Mr. Manning, he conducted classes in the fall of 1876.  In May of 1879, the Sisters of Christian Charity came to staff the school.


Father J.P. Barron organized St. James Parish in 1883.  For a time, a small parochial school was conducted in the basement of the Church, first by the Sisters of Charity and then by the Dubuque Franciscans.  Since that time, St. James Parishioners have attended St. Joseph’s School and Gehlen.


In 1901, Msgr. F.X. Feuerstein directed the construction of the St. Joseph School, located on 6th Street N.W.  It was extensively remodeled in 1952 and again in 1979.  It served as Joseph’s Grade and High Schools until the opening of Gehlen High School in 1953.  In 1998 after remodeling of Gehlen, the St. Joseph building was closed.


A joint committee of both parishes began plans for a new central Catholic school in 1950.  An architect was hired and $400,000 was raised in the initial fund drive.  In December 1951, Bishop Joseph Mueller appointed Father A.W. Behrens the first superintendent.  A groundbreaking ceremony was held May 29, 1952.  The first graduating class from Gehlen Catholic School graduated on May 2, 1954. 


The name of the new central school came from Gehlen.  Mr. Gehlen donated the land on which Gehlen is situated to St. Joseph's Parish.  A 1996 capital campaign resulted in the completion of a facility joining the elementary and high school building in 1998. 


Enrollment in Gehlen steadily increased under the administrations for the first superintendents, Msgr. Behrens and Father Paul Alvey.  The Sisters of Humility joined the high school staff and two convents were built, one at Gehlen and the other at St. James.  In 1961, the Sisters of St. Francis joined the staff.  In the same year, the Parishes of St. Joseph’s-Struble, with its mission of St. Mary’s-Maurice, Our Lady of Assumption-Merrill, with its mission of St. Joseph’s-Ellendale, and St. Joseph’s Neptune, became members of the Gehlen system.  In 1961, a successful fund drive results in the construction of a new multi-purpose room and a complete remodeling of the high school building.


In 1964, Father Robert Fangman became the third superintendent.  He was succeeded in 1966 by Father Charles Bormann.  In 1971, Father Eugene Murray became Superintendent and was succeeded in 1975 by Father Thomas Geelan.  Father Gerald Feirfeil became the seventh superintendent in 1980; in 1986 Father Merlin Schrad became the eighth superintendent.  Father William Schreiber was the school’s ninth superintendent from 1994 to 1999.  Father Andrew Hoffman served as the school’s first President supported of two principals from 1999 to 2005.  In 2005, Father Kevin Richter was named President. 


A proud part of the tradition and growth of the LeMars area and the Sioux City Diocese, Gehlen continues to serve the Lord and His People by providing an outstanding Catholic education. 







Lasted Updated: 12/22/2006