"SHSI Certificate of Recognition"
"Best on the Web"

Encyclopedia Dubuque


"Encyclopedia Dubuque is the online authority for all things Dubuque, written by the people who know the city best.”
Marshall Cohen—researcher and producer, CNN

Affiliated with the Local History Network of the State Historical Society of Iowa, and the Iowa Museum Association.


From Encyclopedia Dubuque
Jump to: navigation, search
Academy of the Visitation
Former residence hall in September 2016.

ACADEMY OF THE VISITATION (THE). The founding of the Academy dates to a request of Bishop John HENNESSY that resulted in six SISTERS OF THE VISITATION OF THE IMMACULATE HEART OF MARY (SVM) and a postulant arriving in Dubuque on August 28, 1871. The Sisters conducted their first school in a borrowed room in St. Raphael's School. On October 26 they formally took possession of their own building. (1) The small structure that housed the Sisters and their students was located on West Third Street near the rectory of ST. RAPHAEL'S CATHEDRAL. It is believed the initial enrollment of the school was less than fifty. (2)

The ever-increasing number of students made the first school inadequate within two years. In an attempt to remedy the situation, the Sisters acquired a convent-home on the adjoining grounds. When this accommodation proved inadequate, the mansion of General George Wallace JONES and its grounds were offered to the Sisters. In 1878 Bishop Hennessy obtained the property from Henry McNulty, a Dubuque attorney. (3) McNulty had purchased the property when Jones, suffering financial losses, was forced to sell the estate. Described as the finest residence in the State of Iowa, the home stood on the corner of Alta Vista and Julien (University) Avenue.

The Sisters moved to the Jones' estate on January 3, 1879. Within three years this too failed to provide sufficient space as the enrollment continued to soar. Additions to the original building were made in 1882, 1886, and 1899. In 1906 the original home was demolished to allow for construction of a new wing. The "South Wing"--the building that was completed in 1907--was seriously damaged by fire in 2016. Attendance in 1913 averaged 300. (4) Another addition was made in 1914. In 1931 a dining room, chapel, and student assembly hall were built.

"Was graduated from The Academy of the Visitation, Dubuque, Iowa, June 7, 1918. Photo courtesy: Bob Reding
Photo courtesy: Bob Reding
In June 1936, fire destroyed two four-story buildings and the top two floors of a third building. (5) This led to the remodeling of the remaining two floors into classrooms and the discontinuation of the boarding school.
Photo courtesy: Bob Reding

St. Roch’s Infirmary building was remodeled into a private kindergarten in 1937. Despite the addition of improvements in 1955, the grade school was discontinued in 1956 due to the large number of registrations for high school. In 1961 a fund drive, authorized by Archbishop Leo BINZ, led to the construction of an academic wing to include science and language laboratories, fine arts and business departments, cafeteria, gymnasium, and auditorium. The first part of the construction, erection of a three-story $450,000 brick wing, was completed in 1964. (6)

In February, 1970 the Sisters of the Visitation decided to close the school after a thorough financial review which showed that expenditures would exceed revenues. The decision was in agreement with the conclusions of a group of attorneys, financiers, realtors, and the Visitation Advisory Board. Since the academy had opened, more than 1,600 girls had graduated from the high school program. The school had recently received excellent ratings from the North Central Association and the Iowa State Department of Public Instruction. In addition to the high school, the Academy of the Visitation operated a kindergarten class. (7)

In June 1970, the DUBUQUE COMMUNITY SCHOOL DISTRICT agreed to a two-year lease of property that became JONES JUNIOR HIGH SCHOOL. The district later purchased the building.

The sisters continued to live in the old Visitation Academy building until 1994 when the property was purchased by LORAS COLLEGE. (8)

On March 16, 2016 fire destroyed the academy building that had been used as a dormitory. The residence hall was evacuated, and no injuries had been reported as of 6:30 a.m. There was no known cause at this time, but a lightning strike was later suggested as the likely cause. Dubuque Community Schools announced that there would be no classes on the Alta Vista campus due to the blaze. The cancellation affected the Alternative Learning Center and Connect students. (9)

Citing the costs needed to rebuild the historic building, college officials on December 5, 2016 announced that the fire-damaged building would be torn down. (10)



1. "Education Centered in the City of Dubuque," Telegraph Herald, May 23, 1913, p. 45

2. Sisters of the Presentation-Dubuque, Iowa. Online: http://www.sistersofthevisitationdbq.org/History/History.html

3. Ibid.

4. "Education Centered...."

5. "Visitation Academy to Close Doors," Telegraph Herald, Feb. 9, 1970, p. 1

6. Ibid.

7. Ibid.

8. Barton, Thomas J. "Donations Pour Into Loras," Telegraph Herald, March 18, 2016, p. 1

9. "Fire at Loras Residence Hall Displaces 45 Students," THoline. http://www.thonline.com/news/breaking/article_4faaadd4-eb65-11e5-aaea-f3e79ea18387.html

10. Hinga, Allie. "Loras Will Demolish Visitation Building," Telegraph Herald, December 6, 2016, p. 1