modern church

Holy Cross: The Early Years

Bancroft, Nebraska

In the early 1880’s, the catholic families of the Bancroft area held meetings in the Felix Givens and John Martin homes for the purposes of making plans to establish a Catholic parish in Bancroft. The Felix Givens’, who were among the leaders in this project, were the parents of Mrs. Nell Farley. Fr. Hurn of West Point, Nebraska organized the Catholic Community of Holy Cross in 1883. The first officers of the church were J.A. Rossiter and James McDermott. Other early families included: the Degan’s, McKeegan’s, Carr’s, Mackey’s, Mrs. Richard Stafford, and the Gatzemeyer’s.

        The plans resulted in the building of what is presently the sacristy and sanctuary of the present church. This building was completed in 1883. The structure had two entrances, one on the north and one on the south. There were three long rows of pews, with an aisle on each side. In fact, the structure was used for services when there were just kneeling benches. Bishop O’Connor dedicated the church. The 1883 church was moved back on the property so that the present main body of the church could be built. It was completed in 1885. In the autumn of 1871 a nice parsonage was built at the cost of $2,000.00. The original priest’s house was one story. Mr. Walter Mitchell added a second story later, because of a priest who needed room for his dogs. Mr. Mitchell was paid 26 cents per hour for his work. Another account states that the second floor was added to accommodate visiting priests, who often stayed because of slow travel and bad roads.

        The parish cemetery, named “St. Joseph Cemetery,” was donated by Louis
Gatzemeyer, Sr. He bought his lot in the cemetery in 1887. The cemetery consisted of two acres, with a large white cross in the middle of the cemetery, on which was written, “St. Joseph.” The cross was surrounded by purple iris. This cross is now gone, but no one seems to know where. Miss Laura Dowd donated the present altar and crucifix at the cemetery. The gold angels on the altar were part of the rededication of the cemetery, following vandalism in February of 2000. The angels are a memorial to Zepha Fuller. The first burial in the cemetery was in 1880:  John Carr.

        In the early days, the church was heated by two wood and coal burning stoves. One stove was located in the sacristy and the other stove was in the main body of the church. Mr. James Dixon, an early caretaker of the church, fell from the choir loft while checking the stovepipe, breaking his leg.

        A carpenter named Perdee, who was not a member of the church, made the original altar in the church of wood. The present altar was donated by the Martin family, as well as the Stations of the Cross. Nell Farley donated the baptismal font. The Ryan family donated the statues. The ladies of the church donated the altar rail (now removed for the church), and the people of the parish donated the bell. The stained glass windows were installed after 1920. The pastor usually taught early Religious Education/Formation classes. Early teachers also included Francis Farley and Marie Kelly. Classes were held in the west room on the first floor of the rectory. During the summer, classes were held on the north side of the church.

        The first baptism was recorded on August 10, 1884, Anna Marie McKeegan, daughter of Mr. & Mrs. James McKeegan. The first marriage recorded was that of Frederick Renard and Agnes Evans. The priest was Fr. D.W. Moriarty and the year was 1884.

The original organ in the church was a pump organ. It was later replaced with a used electric organ. Since then, it has been replaced with an electronic keyboard. Marie Virgo was the original organist.

        An important event in the history of the parish was the building of a parish center in 1964, to the south of the rectory. The parish center provided restrooms, a hall for dinners, parish gatherings, and religious education, and a kitchen facility.


In 1952, Lyons became a mission of Bancroft. In 1960, Bancroft became a mission of Lyons. Holy Cross in Bancroft has also been, at various times, with St. John the Baptist parish in Pender and Holy Family parish in Decatur. At the present time, Holy Cross shares the pastor of St. Joseph’s Church in Lyons.


A record of pastors includes:

1884 – Fr. D.W. Moriarity

          Fr. J.C. Freeman, substitute pastor for 2 months

1886 – Fr. Charles Clement

1887 – Fr. Peter Egan

1887 – Fr. O’Brien

1890 – Fr. J.R. McGrath

1894 – Fr. P.J. Grant

1895 – Fr. J.J. Crowley

          Fr. M.M. Lawrence, substitute pastor for several months

1908 – Fr. Michael O’Donoghue

1919 – Fr. H.H. Ferhenbrock

1920 – Fr. M.A. Quinn

1931 – Fr. Robert Burns

1936 – Fr. Ernest Graham

1942 – Fr. Frederick Irschik

1947 – Fr. Albert Krejci

1954 – Fr. Leo Wolpert

1960 – Fr. William Martin

1963 – Fr. Donald Bartek

1969 – Fr. Thomas McDermott

1970 – Fr. Patrick Carroll

1973 – Fr. James Kenny

1976 – Fr. Allen Martin

1978 – Fr. Ralph O’Donnell

1983 – Fr. William Wiedner

1991 – Fr. Russ Monzu

1994 – Fr. David La Plante

2001 – Fr. Leo Rigatuso

2007 - Fr. Paul Ortmeier


If you would like to know more about the present day parish of Holy Cross please click here.