Ashton - St. Mary
ASHTON - The construction of Ashton's first Catholic Church began on Oct. 10, 1880, at a cost of $1,800. It was constructed on five acres of land 2.5 miles from the Ashton railroad station. Construction was complete by March 1881. Father P. J. Lynch served as the congregation's first pastor. In 1885, the church was moved into the town of Ashton and four acres of land were bought for cemetery purposes. A parsonage was erected eight years later followed by a schoolhouse in 1889.
By 1892, the number of parish families increased to 96, making the church too small. In May of 1893 work began on a new church building and in October of the same year the church was dedicated. By 1898, the parish had grown to 115 families and a new school building was also erected. The old parsonage was moved near the new schoolhouse and enlarged for a sisters residence while the old school building was remodeled for a parsonage.
From then on, the parish continued to grow and in 1910 the interior of the church was remodeled and an addition was completed. The church was now able to seat 700 people and school able to accommodate 250 students.
In 1925, St. Joseph's School was placed on the state-accredited list. The teachers were the Franciscan Sisters of Dubuque and the enrollment at the time was 243. A parish meeting held in 1928 decided that St. Mary's should begin a building fund aimed at replacing the wooden buildings with more permanent and fireproof structures.
Ten years later, in 1938, construction began on a school building capable of accommodating 300 children. The building was ready for use on Feb. 25, 1939. In December of 1952, construction of a two-story convent with a full basement had begun. The convent was formally blessed and dedicated on Jan. 3, 1954, by Bishop Joseph M. Mueller.
In the spring of 1967, Father Daniel Lynch, who came to the parish in June 1963, had the task of informing the parishioners that due to a lack of enrollment, the bishop had made the decision that St. Joseph's High School was closed.
A C.C.D. program was started in the fall of 1967 with the high school students attending on Thursday evenings. Another setback occurred in June of 1970, when the Dubuque Franciscan Sisters left the parish due to a lack of vocations. Three Catholic lay teachers were hired to assist in the education of grades 1-4. The upper grades, 5-8, were bussed to Sheldon St. Patrick's School, which was under the direction of the Presentation Sisters.
Plans for a new church began in spring of 1971 and the building started in late September 1971. In 1976, a new rectory was also constructed. In 1984, it was decided to close the school permanently and later the school building was torn down.
Today the parish consists of 166 households or 347 members. Under the guidance of Father Clair L. Boes, the parish is a member of the Ashton-Sibley-Sheldon cluster affiliation. Parish groups include Catholic Daughters, Knights of Columbus and Ladies Guild. The church celebrated 100 years in 1980.