1912 and Beyond

Fr. Cook and nunsRight Reverend Monsignor William Cooke was born May 24, 1866, in County Longford in Ireland.

Ordained in Dublin, Ireland, at All Hallows College June 24, 1893, his first assignment was far from home - Delmar, Iowa. The then Father Cooke was assigned pastor of St. Mary’s Parish in Storm Lake in June 1909 where he would serve for a quarter century. 

He immediately began preparations to open a Catholic school in Buena Vista County. The promise of such a school for the area brought a greater influx of new members to St. Mary’s Church, and Fr. Cooke needed to increase the church’s capacity in 1910.

In the summer of 1911, he was absent from the parish for three months, traveling out east to arrange a teaching staff to fulfill his dream of opening a Catholic school.

In 1912, Fr. Cooke purchased the old Congregational church at the corner of Third and Cayuga Streets for $3,500 and soon began renovations. The Clinton School Teachers of St. Francis “accepted the charge of the infant school” and in September 1912, St. Mary’s opened with a full elementary and ninth grade. (See picture to the right of Msgr. Cooke with the Clinton Franciscan Sisters.) Some of the rural students boarded with the sisters during the week. Our first graduating class was in 1916 after high school grade levels were added one by one. We’ve educated thousands of students over the years to prepare them to be faith-filled adults contributing to society, their workplaces, and their churches.

The old school building served the Catholic community for 15 years until Fr. Cooke built the current elementary building in 1926 for approximately $60,000. It was touted as a “modern fire-proof edifice.” He is credited with the construction of two Catholic school buildings in Storm Lake.

In addition to his vision and years of work to open a Catholic school in Storm Lake, Msgr. Cooke donated the marble altar and crucifixion group found today in the St. Mary’s Cemetery. He was laid to rest there in 1934. Always serving his flock, after his death it was found that Msgr. Cooke personally paid some debts of his parishioners who suffered financially during the depression. 

Cleo J. Ivis was responsible for the building of the new high school addition in 1964. The St. Anne Convent opened in August 1967 for the Presentation Sisters of the Blessed Virgin Mary from Dubuque who helped run the school. (The sisters "traded" with the Clinton Franciscans around 1950–51.) Our last Sisters of the Presentation retired in 2009. The Franciscans served St. Mary’s for 38 years, while the Presentation Sisters of the Blessed Virgin Mary served for 60 years.

May the Catholics of St. Mary’s Parish and School remember and honor Msgr. Cooke, Msgr. Ivis, the Franciscan Sisters and the Presentation Sisters for their dedication to Catholic education, their generosity and their service. To honor the legacy they left, we must never forget the significant role they played in making St. Mary’s School what it is today.
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