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How Stuart Turned Tragedy into Triumph
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How Stuart Turned Tragedy into Triumph

The Saints Center for Culture and Arts in Stuart is a must-see—and a testimony to the never-say-die attitudes of some small-town Iowans. Dick Doherty is one of those determined people. He met us at the Saints Center and shared its tragic history. The center was once the All Saints Catholic Church. Dedicated in 1910, it was voted the most beautiful church in Iowa…with a copper dome that reached 90 feet into the air, Italian marble altars, stained-glass windows from Germany and hand-painted frescoes that adorned the arched ceilings.

That beauty came crashing down one night in 1995, when the church fell victim to a hate crime by an arsonist with 25 gallons of gasoline.

By morning, all that was left were the limestone walls and steel girders that had supported the copper dome.

So complete was the devastation that the congregation opted to build a new church elsewhere—and what was left of the old church was to be demolished.

Dick’s family had worshiped in the church, and his mother told him, “You’ve got to save it!” So he and a handful of other dedicated townspeople set out to do just that.

They poked through the rubble and salvaged what they could. Then came the hard part—raising the money they’d need for restoration. Nearly $5 million.

While the money was being raised, a demolition crew arrived to bring the walls down. On that fateful day, Dick’s nephew climbed up on one of the steel girders and refused to come down. He was arrested and spent three days in jail. “Best three days I ever spent,” he said.

That publicity bought the restoration group some time, and in 2007 they began rebuilding and opened the center in 2009. It’s now available for concerts, school events, conferences and wed-dings. It’s particularly popular for weddings from couples from Des Moines.

Mennonite craftsmen re-created the woodwork with quarter-sawn white oak. Dick had salvaged a charred door to the sanctuary, and using it for a pattern, they were able to create new ones just like the originals.

The restoration continues as, one by one, the windows are again adorned with stained glass. “In my lifetime, I’m working to get all of the windows on the main level restored,” vows Dick.

In alcoves between some of those stained-glass windows are two kiosks called the Learning Museum of Religious Tolerance. They’re touch-screen displays with videos explaining the seven major religions practiced within a 50-mile radius of Stuart— Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Indigenous, Chinese Tradition—and even atheism.

The idea is not to convert anyone, but rather to promote religious understanding and tolerance that the arsonist lacked.

This content previously appeared in the popular “Road Trip” series in Our Iowa Magazine. Learn more about the publication at www.OurIowaMagazine.com.

More about Culture, arts, saints, church, Stuart

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  1. Travel Iowa Team
    Travel Iowa Team
    Thanks for this terrific & informative post!
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