Vail - St. Ann
Prior to 1878, the territory around Vail was missionary country. Catholic settlers, who were mostly of Irish and Bohemian descent, came to the area from eastern Iowa and Illinois. In January of 1878, Bishop Hennessey of Dubuque appointed Father Roger McGrath the first resident priest of Vail. Father McGrath purchased seven acres in the northeastern part of Vail to erect a parish church.
In March of 1880, Father Mathias Lenihan succeeded Father McGrath, and under his direction a frame church was erected. This church was destroyed by a tornado in September of 1881. The public school served as a temporary church until the completion of the new brick church in December of 1882.
Father James Murphy became the pastor of St. Ann's in 1887, where he remained for 33 years. A mission church, St. Matthew's, was erected in Westside in 1887. Mass was offered monthly at Westside, and weekly during those times when there was an assistant assigned to Vail.
During the early years of his pastorate, Father Murphy erected a parish residence and a parochial school. Father J. W. Ryan (1920-1923) and Father J. J. Sullivan (1923-1930) both served St. Ann's.
Mass was discontinued in Westside in 1923 due to the automobile and improved roads between Vail and Westside. Father A. J. Lynott (1930-1937) and Father Denis Clark (1937-1968) also served their pastorate at St. Ann's.
Work was begun in 1950 to replace the old church and rectory with an English Gothic church and rectory at a cost of $380,000. Mass was said in Memorial Hall for more than a year and a half until the completion of the new church in the fall of 1951. Also during 1950, a grotto in honor of Our Lady of Fatima was constructed incorporating the cornerstone, the cross and stone from the old church.
Father Reinhard Nemmers (1968-1969) and Father Harold Cooper (1969-1979), Father Gerald Zeman (1979-1980), Father Paul-Louis Arts (1980-1986), Father Richard Macke (1986-1991), Father Victor Ramaeker (1991-1999) and Father John Thomas (1999-present) have all worked at St. Ann's over the years. From 1898-1969, 15 assistant pastors were also assigned to St. Ann's.
St. Ann's School opened on Oct. 6, 1890, with an enrollment of 60 students under the supervision of Father James Murphy and four Franciscan Sisters. A year or so later, the Sisters of St. Francis of Clinton established their first mission west of the Mississippi River at Vail.
After 68 years of continuous operation, St. Ann High School closed in 1960 when the parish joined Kuemper Catholic High School in Carroll. In 1969, students in grades 5-8 went to St. John School in Arcadia, and grades 1-4 to the public school.
In 1973 the schools at Vail and Arcadia consolidated into Holy Cross Grade School. The attendance center in Vail, located in the church hall, housed grades 1-3. Grades 4-8 attended St. John's center in Arcadia. The old St. Ann School was torn down.
St. Ann convent, built northwest of the church in 1962, was converted into classrooms and grades pre-K through 6 currently attend class there. Enrollment for the 2000/2001 school year was 22 students.
Today St. Ann's has 475 parishioners and is clustered with St. John Parish in Arcadia.
The parishioners of St. Ann's have always had a great devotion to their patroness. A Novena to St. Ann, begun during the pastorate of Father Denis Clark, continues to be said July 18-26, the feast of St. Ann.
There have been four vocations to the priesthood at St. Ann's, one brother, and 12 women to religious life.