Iowa American Legion helps save Sullivans' church windows at Grout

Posted by Pat Kinney on Friday, July 1, 2022

The American Legion of Iowa Foundation has helped preserve a meaningful reminder of the upbringing of Waterloo's five Sullivan brothers at their namesake museum -- in a way that honors all Iowans who died in service to our coutry.

Bob Wegner of Atkins, Legion foundation district representative, presented the Grout Museum District's Sullivan Brothers Iowa Veterans Museum with a gift of $2,000 to defray costs of preserving painted two glass windows from the former St. Mary's Catholic Church, where the Sullivans, who died together during World War II, attended church and grade school.

The windows are located in the "Veterans Memorial Area" of the museum, on either side of a rolling scroll of names of Iowans who died in military service -- including the Sullivans. It is a chapel-type alcove on the museum's upper level, featuring the flags of various U.S. service branches, where visitors may pause for reflection.

It is an appropriate remembrance to the brothers and all other Iowans who made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our nation and the ideals of liberty and justice for all to have a part the Sullivans' home parish in this place of honor. The windows are opaque glass, contain no religious symbols, but are still reminders of the brothers' faith-based upbringing, which is a matter of historic fact.

Wegner presented the check to Kelly Sullivan, granddaughter and grandniece of the Sullivans, on June 29, during one of the weekly Wednesday morning veterans coffees at the museum. The money will be used to defray framing, welding and lighting expenses to display the windows.

St. Mary's closed as a worship site in 2003; the school closed a few years prior to that. The city of Waterloo took title to the property two or three years ago through court action after it became tax delinquent and fell into disrepair during a period of private ownership. In December 2020 the city granted access through a local contractor allowing people connected to the church to save as many items from the church and school as possible.

Kelly Sullivan and a group of former St. Mary's parishioners, led by Mary Ann Noland and John Hayes, saved numerous artifacts from the church and school.

Many former St. Mary's parishioners and school alums were on hand for the Legion Foundation's donation presentation.

Kelly Sullivan, who teaches third grade at Lincoln Elementary School in Cedar Falls, noted one of her first student teaching assignment was at St. Mary's, and was overcome with emotion when she saw a portrait of her grandfather and great uncles at the school.

She was choked up again in another emotional presentation at the June 29 event when St. Mary's alum and veteran Jake Blitsch of American Legion Post 9 in Oelwein and a regular columnist for the Oelwein Daily Register, presented Kelly with a miniature facsimile St. Mary's church window with painted glass from a window of the church. He manufactured others for a fundraising project at Columbus High School.

The Grout Museum District is grateful to several individuals and organizations for Sullivan Brothers/St. Mary's windows project. In addition to the American Legion Foundation of Iowa, Kelly Sullivan and St. Mary's parishioners, alums and friends, they include the Waterloo Knights of Columbus, the family of Robert O. and Lavonne Schultz and Pat Koch and family.

Kelly Sullivan also has provided items from the church to the Buffalo and Erie County Naval & Military Park in Buffalo, N.Y. where the original USS The Sullivans (DD-537) is located, and the National Museum of the Pacific War in Fredericksburg, Texas hometown of Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, commander in chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet in World War II.

George, Francis, Joseph, Madison and Albert Sullivan of Waterloo died during World War II after their ship, the USS Juneau was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine and sunk off Guadalcanal on Nov. 13, 1942. It is considered the greatest combat-related loss of life by one family at one time in U.S. military history. The Grout Museum District opened the Sullivan Brothers Iowa Veterans Museum in 2008.

Image Descriptions: Kelly Sullivan is flanked by St. Mary's Church and school alums Mary Ann Noland and Jake Blitsch. 

Kelly Sullivan and parishioners and alums of the former St. Mary's Catholic Church and school, home parish and school of Waterloo's five Sullivan brothers, stand between two windows of the former church now on display in the Veterans Memorial Area of the Sullivan Brothers Iowa Veterans Museum.

Veterans and former members of St. Mary's Catholic church attended the June 29 veterans coffee at the Sullivan Brothers Iowa Veterans Museum for a donation from the American Legion Foundation of Iowa to preserve and display windows from St. Mary's, the Sullivans' home parish, at the museum.

Bob Wegner of Atkins, district representative of the American Legion Foundation of Iowa, presented the Sullivan Brothers Iowa Veterans Museum with a $2,000 on behalf of the foundation to pay for the costs of preserving and displaying windows from the former St. Mary's Catholic Church at the museum.

Kelly Sullivan is presented with a miniature window of painted glass from St. Mary's Catholic Church by St. Mary's alum Jake Blitch of the American Legion post in Oelwein.

About The Author

Pat is the Oral Historian for the Grout Museum District.