German Catholic Immigration to Northeast Iowa and the Magnificent Basilica in Dyersville

We drove through beautiful farm land as we left Iowa City and arrived in Dyersville an hour ahead of schedule and had plenty of time to set up for the 3:00 pm procession of the Black Madonna welcoming her to St. Francis Xavier Basilica.

The basilica was built to serve German immigration in this area of Iowa.  English settlers were the first here, but after a brief time they moved on. The current basilica is the second church of the same name that was built after the first had become inadequate for the burgeoning German population in the 1880s.  By 1888 the church was fully constructed.  An effort to elevate St. Francis Xavier Church started in 1940s and Cardinal Konrad von Preysing consecrated the church in the mid 1950s. In 1956 Pope Pius XII elevated the church to the status of Minor Basilica.

During the evening mass Fr. West made some points regarding the judgment of nations quoting George Mason “As nations cannot be rewarded or punished in the next world they must be in this. By an inevitable chain of causes and effects providence punishes national sins, by national calamities.”  As an extension of this idea Fr. West quoted German Bishop Blessed Cardinal Clemens August Graf von Galen saying, “Woe to the German people, van Galen warned, if it allows the killing of the innocent, leaving unpunished those who perpetrate such crimes”.  During our own time it looks as if the United States has chosen a culture of death so we might expect the above warnings to apply.

Encouraging people to hope Fr. West said that prayer can change events noting the Siege of Jericho prayer campaign carried out by the Polish people when their Communist government exacted very strict requirements for Pope John Paul II to visit Poland.  The Polish people prayed at the Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa for seven days and after the days of prayer the Communist government inexplicably lifted its restrictions.  The visit of Pope John Paul II lead to a chain of events that eventually saw the fall of Soviet power in Poland.

We joined local pro-lifers for pizza later and talked about pro-life efforts at the state level and about efforts relating to the Quad Cities.

The following day being Sunday Fr. West gave the homily during the four morning masses at St. Francis Xavier Basilica.  The Gospel from John 11:1-45 talked about Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead.  Jesus said to Martha “I am the Resurrection and the Life” and asked Martha if she believed in him and his power to raise Lazarus from the dead.  Fr. West mentions that Jesus’ I am statements relate to his identity as God. “I AM WHO AM” is the name God gives to himself in Exodus 3,14.  This refers to his being which is the same as his existence.  Philosophers state that God is the only necessary being whereas all creatures depend upon God for their existence.  Jesus says, I am the Good Shepherd (Jn 10:11), I am the Way, the Truth and the Life (Jn 14:6), I am the Bread of Life (Jn 6:35), I am the Light of the World (Jn 8:12).  The icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa has on the nimbus or halo around Christ in Greek letters are initials for the phrase “The One Who Is” indicating that Jesus is God.  Mary always points to her Divine Son in the icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa as if to say “listen to him” which were her last recorded words in the Gospel.

The next day Fr. West preached at the morning mass and afterwards we prepared to depart.  A special word of thanks to Donna Miller who worked behind the scenes to bring the icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa to St. Francis Xavier Basilica in Dyersville, Iowa.

Chris Morales

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