The parish of St. Francis of Assisi was established on July 11, 1991, by Bishop William H. Bullock. With the rapid growth of the area, the need for a new parish in West Des Moines was very evident. In 1988, Monsignor Edward Pfeffer, then the pastor of Sacred Heart, and Father Edward J. Hurley, Vicar for Finance for the Diocese of Des Moines, were delegated by Bishop Bullock to begin the search for property for a future parish. Land was located on Ashworth Road just east of the intersection with 74th Street. The Diocese purchased 15 acres of land on Ashworth Road just east of 74th Street.
Parish boundaries were set, which included territory from the parishes of Sacred Heart, St. Theresa and St. Pius X. Father Stephen L. Orr was appointed as the first pastor. By October 1, 1991, 295 families had registered, and the first Mass of the new parish community was celebrated on Sunday, October 6, 1991, in the ballroom of what is now the West Des Moines Marriott. Over 600 people participated.
Through the kindness of Dowling High School, the school's auditorium became the temporary home for the worshipping community of St. Francis. Religious education programs for youth and adults as well as many parish activities also were held in the Dowling facility. Mercy Hospital offered the use of office space in a building just east of the high school. By October of 1994, the parish grew to 621 families and then to over 2,200 families by January of 2003.
An intense planning process for building facilities for the parish began in January 1992. The parish, guided by the architecture firm of RDG Shutte Wilscam Birge, developed a vision of program and service needs which were then developed into a master plan for facilities to meet those needs.That master plan included a church that seats 1000, a gathering space for welcome and hospitality before and after Mass, a parish center, administrative offices, rooms for religious education and meetings, and the possibility of a parish elementary school with a cafeteria, gymnasium and playing fields. The price tag for the master plan was $11 million, obviously beyond the reach of the parish at that time.
After much discussion, the choice was made to build the gathering space with baptismal area, a worship center seating 500 (which would later be adapted into a parish hall), administrative offices and twelve classroom/meeting rooms. Ground was broken on October 3, 1993, and the completed Phase I facility was dedicated exactly one year later, October 3, 1994.
Following the opening of the Phase I facilities, the parish continued to grow at an even more rapid pace. A preschool for three- and four-year-olds was opened in the fall of 1998.
In February 1997, Bishop Charron appointed Father Orr as Vicar General for the diocese effective in June. Father Edward J. Hurley was appointed the new pastor, and he began his duties in July 1997. Father Chris Fontanini, newly ordained, was appointed associate pastor at the same time.
Planning for Phase II began in October 1997. The parish had grown to nearly 1,500 families and the need for space was immediate. The temporary worship center was overflowing, and classroom, meeting and social space was in short supply. St. Francis of Assisi Parish also had entered into an agreement with Sacred Heart Parish in June 1995 to provide access to Sacred Heart School for St. Francis parishioners with the condition that, because this would push Sacred Heart School beyond its capacity, St. Francis would have some classrooms available by the fall 2000 for day school.
Phase II plans included the building of the permanent church with seating capacity of 1000; an administrative office section for parish, religious education and school offices; an education center with classrooms for both a day school and religious education; and remodeling the existing building to provide a parish center, meeting rooms for parish committees, a large meeting room with a capacity of 60 to 80 people, and a permanent location for the preschool.
Groundbreaking for Phase II was on April 25, 1999, and construction began in June. It included 45,000 square feet at a cost of nearly $6.9 million. A unique feature of the new church is the Peace Tower that was built primarily through the donations of the youth of the parish as a sign that the parish is building for the needs of future generations. The architects for the Phase II addition were Bahr Vermeer, Haecker, & Associates of Omaha, Nebraska. Breiholz Construction was again selected as the general contractor for this phase. The architecture for the new addition continued the Assisi theme that was the trademark of Phase I. The church in particular, incorporated large round windows and the bell tower that would be very characteristic of the town of Assisi.
In July, 2000, Father Ray McHenry, newly ordained, was assigned as associate pastor of St. Francis.
The First Mass in the new Church was held on Saturday, August 27, 2000, with Bishop Joseph Charron presiding at the Dedication for the Phase II additions, which included the new Church, Education Center, and the remodeled area of the Phase I. The altar, San Damiano Cross, and other furnishings from the original Worship Space were moved into the new church to be permanent additions to the church.
August, 2000, also saw the opening of St. Francis of Assisi School. 190 students in grades Kindergarten, First, and Second and a full and part-time faculty of 13 began the first year. The school had been envisioned to have three sections of each grade level. An additional grade level would be added each year until the school grew to have Kindergarten through Eighth Grade.
Growth of the parish continued at an even more rapid rate. Membership in the parish reached 1,700 households during the year 2000, and, with the opening of the new church, quickly grew to 2,100 families by the end of 2001.
The parish continued to have a very young membership. 40% of the parish was under the age of 18.
As the school continued to grow each year with the addition of a new grade level, the Religious Education program also grew rapidly to fill the new classroom space. Classes were able to be consolidated into Wednesday evenings with the additional space.
Planning for the third and final phase of the Parish Master Facilities Plan commenced just a few months after the opening of Phase II. School and religious education classrooms would have to be added by the Fall of 2004 to keep pace with the additional students. This was also fulfilling the Master Plan that had been set out for the parish. This phase would include the completion of the Education Center by adding a two-story addition at the east end of the complex which would include classrooms, school office, cafeteria, gymnasium, art, science, and music rooms. It was also determined to enlarge the Gathering Area of the Church, add another larger adult meeting room and a new vesting sacristy.
Groundbreaking for Phase III of the facilities plan took place in May of 2003. Bahr, Vermeer, and Haecker were again the architects for this phase, and Breiholz Construction was again selected as the general contractor.
Father Christopher Pisut, newly ordained, became the new associate pastor for the parish in July, 2003. The parish continued to grow in membership as housing in the area continued to boom at a rapid pace.
Dedication for Phase III took place on Saturday, August 21, 2004. Bishop Charron was again with us to bless our new additions, which included new stain glass windows in the church depicting the natural elements of water, fire, earth, and wind. These are elements of St. Francis "Canticle of the Sun." A new bell was placed in the Peace Tower to ring and call the parish to Mass. The bell is a refurbished bell, originally cast in Cincinnati in 1892. It is not known for what church the bell was originally cast, but it was re-inscribed for St. Francis. This Dedication completed the final phase of the Master Plan.
Beyond Phase III
Following the completion of the construction of the facilities, the parish continued its growth. The School completed its plan of having grades Kindergarten through Eight by the Fall of 2006. Religious Education classes continued to be full, and the Day Preschool also was at capacity. Parish Staff, Committees, and projects have expanded at an equal pace.
Father Joseph Pins became Associate Pastor in July of 2006, followed by Father Jim Kirby in July of 2008. In July 2009, newly ordained Father Kenneth Halbur, Jr. became Associate Pastor.
In July 2010 we welcomed our new Pastor, Father Robert A. Hoefler. We also welcomed a part-time associate Father Zachary Kautzky.
In July 2011 Father Kenneth Halbur, Jr. was named Associate Pastor at Corpus Chrisit Parish in Council Bluffs. Father Zachary Kautzky was assigned as full-time chaplain at Dowling Catholic High School and plus provide weekend assistance to St. Augustin Parish in Des Moines. We then welcomed Father George Komo to our parish staff as Associate Pastor.
In July 2013, we welcomed Father Guthrie Dolan to our parish staff as our new Associate Pastor and in October 2013 we welcomed Father Ray McHenry as our new Pastor.