St. Boniface parish was established by German Catholics to have a church where sermons would be given in their language and where their customs could be observed. Of course the service itself was in Latin for all Catholics until Vatican II in the 1960’s. In 1861, Bishop Smyth gave permission for the parish.
The parish was named after the patron of German Catholics even though he was of English origin. It is noteworthy that the biggest challenge for St. Boniface was to convert the Saxons who were pagan and worshiped an oak tree known as Donar Oak or Jupiter’s oak. In 723, when St. Boniface started to chop it down, a wind came up and blew it down. This convinced the Saxons that his god was more powerful than their’s so they all converted to Christianity. He then built a church from the wood of the tree. This took place near Fritzlar in northern Hesse. Today a statue of St. Boniface with and axe stands in front of the Basilica of St. Peter in Fritzlar.
After permission was received to establish the parish, a search was conducted to find a suitable location. In November 1861, the decision was made to purchase the Presbyterian Church that was for sale. This was a plain brick building 56 by 35 feet. That building became too small so, following approval by the Archbishop, plans were made to construct a larger church in gothic style. The pastor at the time, Joseph M. Tritz, made a sketch of what he wanted and the noted church architect, Martin Heer of Dubuque made the plans. On November 15, 1907 the construction contract was awarded to Anton Zwack, also of Dubuque. Work started on March 19, 1908. It was necessary to haul; in over 1,500 wagon loads of dirt and other material for the church. On June 5, 1907, the cornerstone was laid. On November 21, 1908, services were held for the last time in the old church. The new church was 56 feet 116 feet with twin towers each 124 feet high. The foundation was reinforced concrete while the exterior was dark red pressed brick trimmed in blue Bedford stone. The interior was elaborately fitted out with many electric lights and statues on each of the columns. Unfortunately the statues on the columns were removed in a redecorating job in 1958. The church is significantly enhanced with windows made of imported colored glass with scenes of the life of Christ and His saints produced by the Munich Studio in Chicago. Fortunately the marble communion rail is still in place. The great high altar which was installed on September 18, 1910, is elaborately carved and painted in dull and burnished gold that is still original. The altar was the work of B. Ferring of Chicago who personally conducted its installation. It is notable that all of the electrical wiring for the altar was installed in conduit.
The relationship between Fr. Jean and St. Boniface is an interesting one in light of the fact that the Germans from St. Irenaeus broke off in 1861, from the parish that Fr. Jean had established 13 years before. Some of the German’s maintained a presence in both parishes. The Manemann’s and the Determann’s have windows in each church. Herman Rabel paid for the Holy Family round window on the east façade of St. Irenaeus. Fr. Jean was “German” on his mother’s side since she was Austrian and gave her son the name Frederic. Even though he needed the labor of the Germans to help build St. Irenaeus, he remained on good terms with the Germans. Consequently Fr. Schulte, the pastor of St. Boniface at the time of Fr. Jean’s death in 1890, offered to say the funeral Mass for him and allowed him to be buried in St. Boniface cemetery.
In the late 1880’s, a Clinton lawyer, Henry Bowers, established the American Protective Association (APA), a very anti-Catholic and anti Irish organization. He resented the Irish influence in politics and built a national organization with several million members. He liked the Germans, partly because he father was born in Germany and partly because the Germans were not as active as the Irish in politics at the time. The APA then did what they could to cause trouble for Fr. Schulte because of his friendship with Fr. Jean. There is some irony in the fact that the building the APA had used as its headquarters was purchased out of bankruptcy by St. Boniface and made into Sacred Heart Church for the German Catholics of Clinton.
St. Boniface served faithfully until after the five Catholic Parishes of Clinton were merged and St. Boniface was closed. It is now the Catholic Heritage Center at St. Boniface. It was listed in the National Register of Historic Places on February 24, 2012.