Oto - St. Mary
OTO - In 1868, on land donated by the Martin Sawin family northeast of the town of Oto, a 20-foot by 30-foot sanctuary standing on four-foot pillars was constructed by settlers, most of them Corklers from the County Cork in Ireland. Among them were the Curtin, Coyne, Collins, O'Connell, Mahoney, McKenna, O'Meara, Hawn, McDonald, Morgan, and Sawin families.
This first Oto St. Mary's Church was of native walnut; the pews of split walnut logs with unfinished sides still having the bark on them. The Gary Sawin family, direct descendants of M. Sawin are present day members of the parish.
In 1875 the church was moved to the foot of the hill below the cemetery. To accommodate the large influx of Catholic settlers an addition was constructed at this time.
Under the guidance of Father J.J. Murphy, the first resident priest, the church was moved across the Little Sioux River in 1911 to its present location on the hill in the town of Oto.
An excerpt from the diocesan records submitted by Father LeBlond and dated Aug. 16, 1913, states as follows: 1) The first Mass was said in the church of Oto, June 6, 1872 by B.C. Lenehan. 2) The parish was established Aug. 9, 1911 (believed to be date of first resident pastor). 3) There is no mission attached to Oto at the present time and there was none in the past. 4) There were 100 souls when the first Mass was said; at the present time there are in the parish 160 souls. There is but a few German families, they are all Irish.
In the early 1940s the rear of the building containing the altar was remodeled to include a modern heating plant, electricity, new organ. The oil paintings were by an Italian artist. In August, 1943, St. Mary's Hall in downtown Oto was the site of the 75th anniversary celebration of the church. Father A. Ahlers was the resident pastor.
The annual August bazaar was a parish event and a big boost financially, often serving nearly 1,000 dinners. Each family furnished four fried chickens, four homemade pies, four heads of chopped cabbage, fancywork, two pounds of homemade candy and many hours of donated time waiting tables, serving food, building stands for games located on main street. This event was discontinued in 1967.
To accommodate the large number of parishioners, a brick building was dedicated in December 1965 when Father A. Loeffelholtz was the resident priest. This facility has an adjacent hall for parish functions.
At the present time the 61-family parish is in a four-cluster arrangement with Anthon, Danbury and Mapleton. Representatives from each parish form the cluster board. Oto St. Mary's directors are Mrs. Jerome Weber and Mrs. Gerald Forch. On the parish council are Michael Weber, Mrs. Dennis McCall, Vince McDonald, Gerald Forch and Berniece Schroeder. Mrs. Vince McDonald is parish financial secretary.
The ladies Altar Society meets monthly. Officers are Carolyn VanVoorst, president; Gerry Meylor, vice president; and Berniece Schroeder, secretary/treasurer. The care of St. Mary's Cemetery is guided by the committee of Gerald Forch and Jerome Weber.
Preschool through sixth-grade CCD is held at Oto with the older grades attending at Anthon. Teachers are Susan Douglas, Kim Weber, Mrs. Ron Weber and Berniece Schroeder.
Pastors serving Oto St. Mary's have been J. Cadden, J.J. Murphy, Lynch, Hayes, McNulty, Lenehan, Barron, T. Meagher, T. Reynolds, M.M. Tierney, G.D. O'Brine, Kelly, Cooke, F. LeBlond, J. Harty, O'Brien, W. Graf, L. Klein, A. Poeckes, J. Hausmann, C. Ernst, D. McGoey, F. Illg, A. Ahlers, E.J. McCoy, A. Conlon, G. Schumacher, L. Carel, L. Frank, T. Lawless, L. Kelm, R. Wieling, Gabriel O'Rourke, Terpstra, A. Loeffelholtz, Robert Leiting, Thomas Munn, Jan Lisowski, John Vakulskas, Gerald Zensen and since 1994, Father Edmund Tiedeman.