The church was built near a cornfield, a few blocks south of a gravel road later named 53rd Avenue, and it was named for a French pastor of note.

St. John Vianney Catholic Church, Bettendorf, celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, but celebratory events have been ongoing since January. The anniversary weekend is Sept. 16-17, and includes a 5K run and one-mile walk on Saturday.

Fifty years ago, our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church, located near the Mississippi River, had been the parish church in Bettendorf. Was there room for more, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Davenport wondered?

Yes, indeed, it was decided, and Bishop Gerald O'Keefe chose the Rev. John McGrath to head the project. McGrath had been serving in Delmar, Iowa, and the bishop decided the new church should have the priest's first name, John, recounted the current pastor, the Rev. James Vrba.

"St. John Vianney" was chosen. The original John Vianney was born in 1786 near Lyons, France. The French Revolution broke out in 1789 and his family had to practice their faith in secret. Vianney was named a saint in his own time, and was friendly with Mathias Loras, who later immigrated and served in Dubuque, Vrba said. 

While the church was founded in 1967, the first cornerstone was laid in 1969.

It was a rainy day in September 1969. O'Keefe presided at the event, while church members and their children crowded under umbrellas to watch as the cornerstone was laid, according to the archives of the Quad-City Times.

Residents of Bettendorf living north of Middle Road were assigned to the new church and meetings were held in several locations.

One of the charter members was Alberto Jorge, Davenport, who was 12 years old when he first went to church in Bettendorf. McGrath and Jorge's father were friends, and Jorge said the first services were in the basement of a home.

After the cornerstone was laid, Jorge remembers the gym at Bettendorf Middle School was used as the church. Other locations, such as Bettendorf Presbyterian Church, Asbury United Methodist Church and St. Peter's Episcopal Church, were used for Masses as needed.

"St. John's has been very good to our family," Jorge said, adding that his three sons were baptized there.

The architectural firm of Bracke Hayes Miller constructed the structure, an octagon in shape. It initially provided seating for 220 people, 350 more in temporary locations, and parking for 150 cars.

Currently, 2,000 families are part of St. John Vianney, with 311 parking spaces, Vrba said. Parking spaces were counted during the June 22 Mass when Bishop Thomas Zinkula was ordained.

The octagon shape is a symbol for the resurrection of Jesus Christ, Vrba said. In the early church, the day of worship was moved from Saturday to Sunday, and that was the 8th day of creation in ancient times. 

This year's 50th anniversary celebration began with a party in January, a wine-and-cheese event in February, and the 40th anniversary celebration of Vrba's ordination in May. There also has been an ice cream social, the bishop's ordination and a parish float taking part in the Bettendorf Fourth of July Parade.

"This is a very welcoming church," Vrba said. The size of the church has grown by 50-60 families the past few years, and its known for its music program, religious education for all age levels, and its large preschool for children, ages 3-5 years old.

It's quite a change over the past half-century, but Vrba sees the benefits beyond the brick walls and tasteful landscaping.

"It's the people here who are welcoming, and who engage us in our various ministries. And, the liturgy is meaningful and moving for the folks."

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