Parish History


St. Patrick Church helped the little Irish pioneer community of Forest City come together and worship God with their Catholic beliefs…


St. Patrick provides more than 1,400 families a home for their faith fulfillment and fellowship as the Gretna community continues to grow…

In his mind a man plans his course, but the Lord directs his steps.

Proverbs 16:9


Irish Catholic families began settling in the area as early as 1856. They had fled their homeland due to religious persecution as well as challenges such as the Potato Famine and widespread illness. They sought freedom and health in the United States.


In 1858, the Catholics of Forest City organized as a church group under the direction of their first priest, Father Francis Cannon. Father Cannon was followed by several missionaries.


By 1859, there were sixteen Catholic families living around Forest City. These pioneers gradually became too numerous to meet comfortably in dugouts or log cabins for Mass. They decided to build a log church. Initially, William Fogarty donated two acres of land for the church about a quarter of a mile north of Forest City.


By 1860, all the building materials had been gathered; however, William Fogarty sold his farm to John Waggoner, who did not want the church on his land. This was quite a blow to the community.


The work resumed in 1863 when Wesley Knight, the founder of Forest City, donated an acre of his land. There was a good crop of wheat that year and $70 was collected for carpentry to build the 20 x 30 ft. log structure, while the logs and labor were donated. The Bishop blessed the church in honor of St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, as most parishioners hailed from the Emerald Isle. Missionaries continued to serve St. Patrick Church.


On July 5, 1869, John Thomas Jr. and his wife donated five acres of their farmland for a cemetery. This cemetery is known as Thomas Calvary. At this time the community had approximately 160 Catholics. This growth necessitated the need for a larger church structure. A 30 x 60 ft. frame church was erected next to the log church at the cost of $600 for carpentry work and $1,000 for lumber.


Father Patrick Keenan was the first resident pastor in 1875.


Father John Vincent Wallace began his role leading St Patrick in 1880, and went on to be the longest serving pastor (1880-1917).


In 1884, Father Wallace opened the second cemetery, which is called Holy Sepulchre Cemetery.


In 1886, the Burlington Railway built a branch line from Omaha to Ashland bypassing Forest City. A new railroad station was established called Gretna, named for a well-known community in Scotland


On September 30, 1887, Father Wallace purchased a block of 12 lots, 300 x 300 ft. for $150.


On September 1, 1890, Father Wallace began building a rectory on the newly acquired parcel of land.


The parish was incorporated, according to the laws of Nebraska, as St. Patrick Church of Gretna on April 16, 1894. The church they would build beginning on May 1, 1894 is the same south wing of St. Patrick Church still in use today.


The church was completed in March of 1895, after which three bells were purchased for the belfry.

The church was a solid frame structure built with white wood, Gothic in style, measuring 40 x 80 ft., costing $9,000.

Its pews had a seating capacity of 240 persons. There were 62 families and 310 parishioners at that time.

Father Wallace continued to say Mass in the old church at Forest City until Easter of 1895.


In the spring of 1915, electric lights were installed to replace the candles and kerosene lamps previously used.


In 1922, the street in front of the church was paved with brick and an electric pipe organ was donated.
The church was also enlarged, a new roof added, and brick veneer covered the structure.
The parish consisted of 78 families and 325 people.


By the early 21st century a larger worship space and a religious education facility were very much needed. Under the leadership of Pastor Father Daniel Soltys, the plans for the new church were designed and completed. The original church entrance on Angus Street, the body of the original church, the bell tower, choir loft, and stained glass windows would remain. During construction, the windows were removed, refurbished, and reinstalled in the north and south transepts of the church. The brick on the new church was chosen to match the old brick as closely as possible. The tabernacle and sanctuary lamp, that were donated in 1947 by Mrs. John Langdon, had been refinished and placed in the adoration chapel. The stations of the cross and the statues were repainted, repaired, and placed throughout the church uniting the past and present. The high altar from the original church was donated to the Assumption mission parish in David City, Nebraska.

The seating capacity went from 240 to approximately 900.


In 2005, Fr. Michael Grewe took over as Pastor and continued to enhance the church to help support the growth of the Gretna community. The altar was refurbished from concrete to tile. The Adoration Chapel was built and made larger. The old CCD building as well as the old Parish Hall located west of the church were demolished. The most recent project was the feasibility study that led to a capital campaign for the Religious Education addition which was also comprised of a new Preschool and the Parish Center. Later, the Narthex and southwest entrance were remodeled.


Ground was broken in August of 2021 for the addition of an adoration chapel on the east side of the church.  The chapel added 690 square feet with space for 16-18 adorers at a time.


Today, St. Patrick has nearly 1,400 families and continues to see growth in line with the ever expanding community of Gretna.

The history of our parish is led by our priests…

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Special thanks to Elaine Sedlacek and Kay Schram for the content on this page!