Parish: 233-3092 | School: 232-5290 | Faith Formation: 232-3514 | 2900 Hoover Avenue, Ames IA

Parish History

For 100 years, the members of the Saint Cecilia Catholic community have met in Ames to worship God and celebrate our faith.  As we begin a new millennium, it is good to remember our humble beginnings.

In 1899, Fr. Henry Eckart was commissioned by the Archbishop of Dubuque to establish a church in Ames as a mission church of Saints Peter and Paul Catholic Church of Gilbert.  On August 30, 1899, he oversaw the purchase of Lincoln Way lots.  The ten families and dozen Iowa State College students in the parish helped bring the building materials for the church.  They met for Mass at the William Kinkade home and in Read’s Hall at 114  5th Street in downtown Ames until the white frame Church of the Good Shepherd was built at Boone (now Lincoln Way) and Elm Streets and dedicated October 11, 1901.  The 34 by 36 feet church held approximately 60 parishioners and was heated by a wood burning cast iron stove.

After the sale of the frame church to the Bethesda Lutheran congregation in 1905, a brick church was built with the cornerstone laid in 1906.  This second church was 40 by 70 feet, seated 240 on the main floor, and was renamed Saint Cecilia Catholic Church in 1906.  In 1914 Saint Cecilia and Saints Peter and Paul parishes separated and an addition to the church was built.

Saint Cecilia School, the second Catholic school in the county, was completed in 1925 under the direction of Fr. Joseph Campbell and staffed by the Sisters of Mercy.  An addition was completed in 1960 to accommodate the growth of the parish.

With a growing congregation, a third church was constructed at 30th Street and Hoover Avenue and dedicated in 1972.  The following year, the rectory and administration center were built.  In 1977, Saint Cecilia Parish was placed under the care of the Conventional Franciscan Province of Our Lady of Consolation and our “black friars” arrived.

Building continued with the ground breaking for the social center in 1986.  A new Education Center, built at the Hoover site in 1995, marked the end of 23 years of divided parish facilities.

Saint Cecilia

Saint Cecilia is one of the most famous Roman martyrs of the early Church as well as one of the patrons of music.  According to legend, Cecilia was a Christian of high rank betrothed to a Roman named Valerian.  Through her influence, Valerian was converted.  He was martyred along with his brother.  Cecilia’s martyrdom followed.

Since the time of the Renaissance, Saint Cecilia has usually been portrayed with a viola or a small organ.  As one biographer put it, “Like any good Christian, Cecilia sang in her heart and sometimes with her voice.  She has become a symbol of the Church’s conviction that good music is an integral part of the liturgy, of greater value to the Church than any other art.”

Christian Petersen

Christian Petersen (1885-1961) was born in Dybbol, Denmark and emigrated to the United States with his family in 1894.  Petersen completed an apprenticeship with Henry Hudson Kitson, a well known artist from Boston Massachusetts.  In 1928, he journeyed to Chicago, Illinois, where he me his future wife, Charlotte Garvey. Eventually the Petersens settled in Des Moines.  In 1934, Christian accepted the position of artist-in-residence at Iowa State University.  During his 27 years at Iowa State, Petersen designed a variety of works–among these are the pieces designed specifically for Saint Cecilia Parish.  Charlotte Petersen was a Roman Catholic and a member of Saint Cecilia Parish.


In 1945, Christian designed a small figure of Saint Bernadette.  He also created a plaster sculpture of Pius X–the pope during Charlotte Petersen’s teens–in 1948.  The Petersens donated the figures to Saint Cecilia Parish and the statue of Saint Bernadette is now displayed near the northwest door at the front of the church.

The “Madonna of the Schools” statuary group was completed in 1947.  This large work, featuring the Blessed Virgin and several small children, was restored in 1996 and moved to its present location at the Saint Cecilia Education Center.  Shortly after completing this work, Christian himself became a Roman Catholic.

In 1950, as a new member of Saint Cecilia Parish, Christian Petersen carved a gift for the church–a Mankato stone bas relief of Saint Cecilia and a cherub.  The relief is presently incorporated in the brick landscape monument at the 30th street entrance to the church parking lot.

Madonna and Child sculpture formerly displayed on the south wall of the main entrance hall of the Saint Cecilia Education Center Statues of Mary and Jesus (left) and Joseph (right)
on the west wall of Burke Chapel

“Mary, Joseph, and the boy Jesus,” two sets of terra cotta sculptures originally created for the new convent chapel built in 1950, are displayed in the main entrance hall of the Saint Cecilia Education Center and in the Burke Chapel.  According to Charlotte, Christian felt it was important for the elementary school children of Saint Cecilia’s to realize that Jesus was a real little child, like them.  (The preceding was adapted from Christian Petersen Remembered by Pat Bliss, 1986 edition.)


Friar David Kocka

Friar David Kocka, OFMConv. (b. 1950) was born in Brainerd, Minnesota and completed his diaconate at Saint Cecilia in 1980.  David designed several bronze pieces for Saint Cecilia Parish.

Among these is the statue of Saint Francis, formerly displayed in the vestibule of the church and now in the hallway outside the Burke Chapel–a gift from Harry and Ann Fryar.

A small model of the same piece, given to the parish in memory of Father Zachary Kucin, OFMConv., was formerly displayed on the north wall of the hallway between the Church and the Parish Office.

David also designed a processional cross which is displayed in the Social Hall.  It was a gift in memory of Michael Campos.


Gene Hempe

A number of art works by Gene Hempe are found throughout the Saint Cecilia Parish facilities.  Gene is a long time member of the Saint Cecilia Parish family.  His art works are:

Basilica of Saint Mary, Minneapolis, April 1986, watercolor

Thank You Christian, Ames, July 1987, watercolor

Our Lady of Lourdes, Minneapolis, February 1987, watercolor, now in custody of the family.

Transubstantiation – An Impression, 1991, pastel triptych

Landscape Evolved, A Fantasy, 1990 and 1994, mixed media

Good Shepherd Church 1901
(later became 1st St. Cecilia’s Church)

Dedication of 2nd St. Cecilia Church 1907

Dedication of 3rd St. Cecilia Church 1972

Gene Hempe has been very generous in sharing his artistic talent with the people of Saint Cecilia Parish.


Jane Baty

In 2007, Jane Baty, a member of Saint Cecilia Parish, created the watercolor painting below, showing the new main entrance to the narthex and church as seen from the North.  Jane donated the painting to the parish.

St. Cecilia Catholic Church, 2007, watercolor