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.
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
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.