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Encyclopedia Dubuque



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Archdiocese of Dubuque Centennial commemorative medal. Photo courtesy: Bob Reding
ARCHDIOCESE OF DUBUQUE. The Third Provincial Council of the American Catholic Church in its April 1837 meeting responded to the growth of German and Irish immigration in the United States by recommending that the Pope establish three new dioceses in the western United States. One of these was Dubuque. An administrative unit of the Catholic Church, the archdiocese includes all the Iowa counties north of Polk, Jasper, Poweshiek, Iowa, Johnson, Cedar, and Clinton. It also includes the counties east of Kossuth, Humboldt, Webster and Boone. The Archdiocese has an area of about 17,400 square miles.

The founding of the Dubuque diocese may have been the result of efforts made by Bishop Rosati of St. Louis who sent Jesuit priest Charles Van Quickenborne to the settlement of Dubuque in 1833. Van Quickenborne organized the Irish into a congregation. He was replaced in 1834 by Father Charles Fitzmaurice who had the responsibility for Dubuque and Galena, Illinois. In 1835 Samuel MAZZUCHELLI, a Dominican, was persuaded by the residents of Dubuque to settle in the pioneer community. Mazzuchelli, the only priest in this area when the diocese was founded in 1837, served Dubuque Catholics for many years and was to become a valued aide to Bishop Mathias LORAS.

On April 18, 1839, a steamboat arrived in Dubuque with Loras on board. With financial assistance from the Society for the Propagation of the Faith, Loras was to be helped by Mazzuchelli, Joseph Cretin, Anthony Pelamourges, and four young seminarians who were then in Baltimore studying English and theology in preparation for their ordination. In 1839 there were only three churches in Iowa, one of which was St. Raphael's in Dubuque. Loras responded to the challenge of the frontier post by purchasing vast stretches of prairie west of Dubuque for $1.25 an acre. To increase the number of clergy, he ordained his four seminarians in 1840. This band of eight was responsible for parishes in Wisconsin, Illinois, and Iowa. Hoping to convert Native Americans, Loras also sent two priests to Minnesota.

Until nearly 1849, the number of priests remained static with some arriving in Dubuque and others leaving the clergy because of the personal sacrifice and heavy burdens of the work. Tending gardens and reading were used by pioneer priests as ways of fighting the incredible loneliness. Only one of the three seminarians who returned with Loras from France in 1838 remained in the Dubuque diocese several years later. He was given the dangerous task of ministering to the SIOUX in Minnesota.

Dealing with ethnic differences proved a great challenge to Loras in Dubuque. Following a pattern that would continue into modern times, immigrants settled among those of their own nationality. To encourage more Irish and German settlement in Dubuque, Loras wrote frequently to eastern German Catholic and Irish periodicals. One of his most notable achievements was realized when the SISTERS OF CHARITY OF THE BLESSED VIRGIN MARY (BVM) came to Dubuque in 1843.

The opportunities for religious orders in the United States was very different than in Europe. Orphanages, schools and hospitals in European countries had often been established for generations. In the United States, few charitable organizations existed. Opportunities to replicate charitable and educational institutions were abundant. In addition, in the United States entering a religious order was often the way a young ambitious woman with skills could receive a good education and a place to develop her potential. (1)

In Dubuque the Irish and German settlers had little in common except their religion. Recognizing this situation, Loras tried to find pastors of the same nationality to serve the needs of the faithful.

Ethnic feelings in Dubuque were shown in 1849 when Loras constructed HOLY TRINITY CATHOLIC CHURCH to serve the growing German community. The Irish, left with ST. RAPHAEL'S CATHEDRAL, felt slighted. This feeling grew even more when, in 1852, Loras constructed ST. PATRICK'S CATHOLIC CHURCH. Loras made the new church a mission of the Cathedral and therefore not independent. The Irish responded by threatening to reduce their contributions to the Church. In response Loras threatened to withdraw his priests from the city. Tempers cooled, however, and neither side carried through on their threats. The point, however, was made that immigrant groups felt strongly about their church and would not quietly accept second-class status.

Image courtesy: Kendall C. Day Family Collection
Loras considered education of high importance and dreamed of a diocesan seminary. In 1850 MOUNT ST. BERNARD SEMINARY was established in Key West. The purchase of land west of Dubuque allowed the settlement of the Cistercian monks at the New Melleray monastery. At his death, Loras could observe that the number of churches in Iowa had grown to fifty, with forty-seven missions served by thirty-eight priests, three religious orders, and a Trappist monastery.

Clement SMYTH was named coadjutor of the Dubuque diocese in May 1857, due to the failing health of Bishop Loras. Following the rapid growth under Loras, the diocese entered a phase of social activism under Smyth. The Society of SAINT VINCENT de PAUL was established at St. Raphael's in 1858. The Sodality of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a young men's society, was created and claimed over one hundred members in Dubuque.

Smyth, like Loras, was a strong advocate of Catholic education. Schools were operated by the Visitation Sisters, Sisters of Notre Dame, and the SISTERS OF CHARITY OF THE BLESSED VIRGIN MARY (BVM). Smyth also provided funds to the B.V.M. Sisters to educate daughters of parents who could not afford to send their children to Catholic schools. His concern for the children of the poor, and his fear of their loss of faith in public institutions, led to his attempt to establish an orphanage. Smyth's plans to use a house and three acres of land were stopped by his death.

Perhaps the most controversial aspect of Bishop Smyth was his support of the Union cause during the CIVIL WAR. Smyth also condemned the general attitude among American Catholic bishops that slavery had to be tolerated as a necessary part of southern society.

Catholic response to the Civil War has often been judged by the actions of Patrick J. QUIGLEY, George Wallace JONES, and Dennis MAHONY. Traditionally Democratic, Dubuque Catholics were generally dissatisfied with the administration of Abraham Lincoln. While he easily carried Iowa in the election of 1860, Lincoln did not receive a majority of the votes in Democratic Dubuque County. Many of the Democratic Party members were recent immigrants who feared the loss of jobs if freed AFRICAN AMERICANS rushed north from slavery. Dubuque Democrats were also aware that the newly formed Republican Party had merged with such anti-Catholic elements as the Know-Nothings that had been active in Iowa elections of 1854 and 1856.

Bishop Smyth died on September 22, 1865. Reverend J.A.M. Pelamourges, an early missionary to Iowa and a pastor in Davenport, was appointed the diocesan administrator. He was replaced by Father John HENNESSY who was consecrated in St. Raphael's Cathedral on September 16, 1866. This was to mark the start of thirty-four years of exceptional service to the Catholics living in the Midwest.

Hennessy, faced with a lack of priests, sought candidates in France and Ireland, an area of special potential given the large numbers of emigrants who became residents of Dubuque. He was far more successful in convincing religious orders to establish in the city. Within a few years, Hennessy had motherhouses established in Dubuque for the SISTERS OF CHARITY OF THE BLESSED VIRGIN MANY (BVM), SISTERS OF THE VISITATION OF MARY, Dubuque Franciscans, SISTERS OF THE PRESENTATION OF THE BLESSED VIRGIN MARY (PBVM), SISTERS OF MERCY, and a sisterhood of his own founding, the Sisters of the Holy Ghost. When Hennessy came to the Dubuque diocese he found twenty-seven priests, thirty churches, two schools, and seven sisters. By 1891 there were 203 priests, 319 churches, 615 sisters, and over 135 parochial schools attended by 16,257 students.

A plan Hennessy developed for a system of schools in Dubuque, designed upon his return to Iowa, failed. He was quick, however, in picking up the hopes of Bishop Loras in founding a college for the training of future priests. The remaining students who had known Mount Saint Bernard Seminary were brought together in the former home of Judge Pollock for classes. Finally they were moved to a building on West 14th Street that Loras had built as the Marine Hospital. The seminary opened in this building in 1873 with six students. A new building was constructed in 1878 as the college enrollment swelled in numbers. Today this institution is the celebrated LORAS COLLEGE.

Another important occasion occurred in 1879. On January 13, at the request of Bishop Hennessy, Mother Mary Baptist Agatha Murphy and Sister Mary Euphrasia Butler, RSM, arrived in Dubuque to open a hospital. ST. JOSEPH'S MERCY HOSPITAL was opened for its first patients during the summer of 1880.

The vastness of the Dubuque diocese led Hennessy as early as 1876 to suggest the wisdom of dividing the area and creating a new diocese. While he envisioned Des Moines as the see of this new diocese, Davenport proved to be the site chosen. Hennessy chose to ignore opportunities to extend his influence outside of the Dubuque diocese. In 1879 he failed to acknowledge an invitation to attend a meeting of the Irish Catholic Colonization Society of the United States. The group had held hopes of encouraging the poor of eastern urban centers to move westward to the Midwest.

Hennessy was elevated to the position of archbishop on September 17, 1893. Less than seven years later on March 4, 1900, this great builder of the Catholic faith in the Midwest died.

The following two archbishops shared the same last name, but were as different in temperament as their nicknames suggested. John J. KEANE, who served the Dubuque archdiocese from 1900 through 1911, was known popularly as "Sugar" Keane for his generous nature and charitableness. His successor, James J. KEANE, a stern man, earned the name "Hickory." Both man were organizers at a time when the archdiocese needed organization. Resentment against Dubuque as the see of the archdiocese was expressed by priests in distant corners of the state who believed church officials ignored their problems. They also disliked the long travel to Dubuque and argued for a new diocese in Sioux City. Both men also had to deal with continued Irish-German antipathy. Many Germans, for example, harbored strong feeling that Hennessy had been overly inclined to appoint Irish clerics to key church positions.

The centennial celebration booklet in 1938 with monthly activities announced. Photo courtesy: Bob Reding
Medal commemorating the jubilee celebration.
The fourth archbishop of Dubuque, Francis J. L. BECKMAN, was installed on May 7,1930. His pursuit of culture led to the establishment of the COLUMBIA MUSEUM OF HISTORY, ART, AND SCIENCE in Dubuque. Beckman's anti-war sentiments made him one of America's most prominent speakers prior to WORLD WAR II, but his naive pursuit of wealth to fund his cultural activities made him one of the most tragic figures in Dubuque church history.

The centennial of the archdiocese in 1937 led to the construction of the CENTENNIAL CROSS.

The deepening financial troubles swirling around Beckman led to Henry P. ROHLMAN returning from Davenport to Dubuque as coadjutor archbishop in July 1944. His installation at St. Raphael's on September 12 marked the end of one of the archdiocese's most troubled periods.

Leo BINZ, chosen coadjutor of Dubuque with the right of succession in 1949, was named archbishop on December 2, 1954. During his tenure, the archdiocese experienced the development of eleven inter-parochial high schools. Mount Mercy College in Cedar Rapids began a program of expansion in 1955 that led to its conversion to a four-year college for women. Three new buildings were constructed on the campus of LORAS COLLEGE and work was begun on a fourth. Growth in the enrollment of CLARKE COLLEGE was witnessed by the construction of Mary Josita Hall in 1956, a new library in 1957, and an electronics language library and sculpture center in 1960. For his dedication to education, Binz was elected president of the National Catholic Education Association in April 1954.

Realizing that the clergy must be educated as well, Binz revised the Junior Clergy Study Program and encouraged sophistication in the semi-annual Clergy Conferences. The system of inservice study required by the clergy in the first five years of priesthood was revised in 1957. Aware of the importance of the media, Binz established the Bureau of Information for the archdiocese in October 1957. The Bureau, one of the first in the Midwest, provided a means of communications between the media and the office of the archbishop.

On December 16, 1961, Binz was appointed the archbishop of St. Paul, Minnesota. In March 1962 Bishop James J. BYRNE was named as his successor. The Byrne era, marked by many significant events in the archdiocese, was also one of international awareness. The new archbishop pledged that one of every ten priests ordained of the archdiocese would work in Latin America.

To increase participation in decision-making, called for in Vatican II, the Personnel Advisory Board was established in the archdiocese in September 1968. The function of the Board was to advise the archbishop on clergy appointments. The Interim Pastoral Council, established in February 1970, was composed of clergy and laity to offer advisory and consultative assistance. In 1972 pastoral planning was introduced in the archdiocese. The Archdiocesan Pastoral Council was directed to recommend three-year goals and objectives.

In 1962 Byrne inherited a Catholic population of 190,000 served by 519 priests. At his retirement in August 1983, the Catholic population had soared to 246,000 while the number of priests had declined to 411, reflecting a trend seen nationwide. The 36 Catholic high schools and 119 elementary schools found in 1962 had been reduced to 11 high schools and sixty elementary schools. The number of Sisters teaching in the parochial system over the same period had declined from 994 to 338 while the number of lay teachers had increased from 437 to 1,022.

Daniel W. KUCERA, OSB was appointed the tenth bishop of Dubuque and the eighth archbishop on December 20, 1983. He was succeeded by Jerome G. HANUS who was followed by Michael JACKELS.



1. Fialka, John J. Sisters: Catholic Nuns and the Making of America. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2003, p. 2