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Encyclopedia Dubuque



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Archdiocese of Dubuque Centennial commemorative medal. Photo courtesy: Bob Reding
ARCHDIOCESE OF DUBUQUE. Dubuque is the smallest city in the United States to be the headquarters of a Roman Catholic archdiocese. (1) The Third Provincial Council of the American Catholic Church at 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. (2)

The Third Provincial Council followed a logical pattern in organizing the Church in the territory of the Louisiana purchase. The upper Mississippi region had previously been separated from the New Orleans, Louisiana, diocese, by the erection of the Diocese of St. Louis, Missouri (1826); in 1837 the still vast northern area was subdivided by organizing its northern part into the Diocese of Dubuque. The original diocesan boundaries included the area lying north of the state of Missouri and between the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers the area now comprised by the states of Iowa and Minnesota, and the eastern half of the states of North and South Dakota. Until the erection of the Dioceses of Chicago, Illinois, and Milwaukee, Wisconsin (1843), however, the eastern banks of the Mississippi both upstream and downstream from Dubuque were delegated to the care of the bishop of Dubuque by the far away bishops of St. Louis, Missouri, and Detroit, Michigan.

In 1850, with the creation of the Diocese of St. Paul, Minnesota, the boundaries of the Diocese of Dubuque were reduced to coincide with those of the state of Iowa, which had been admitted to the Union in 1846. In 1881 the southern half of Iowa, embracing the four southern tiers of counties, became the Diocese of Davenport, the Diocese of Dubuque keeping the five northern tiers of counties. With the separation of its 24 western counties in 1902 to form the new Diocese of Sioux City, the area of the see of Dubuque had shrunk to about one-twelfth of its original size. The final reduction came in 1911 when the Diocese of Des Moines was created out of the western half of the Diocese of Davenport, and Clinton County was transferred to the Davenport diocese. (3)

An administrative unit of the Catholic Church, the archdiocese in 2015 included 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. (4)

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. (5) 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. (6) Mazzuchelli was the only priest in this area when the diocese was founded. Mazzuchelli ministered to a scattered population of less than 3,000. (7) He was to become a valued aide to Bishop Mathias LORAS.

On April 18, 1839, a steamboat arrived in Dubuque with Loras on board. (8) 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. (9) To obtain funding, donations of the people were supplemented by contributions from France. In a letter of 1839 to the Society of the Propagation of the Faith of Lyons, he acknowledged a gift of $10,500 for his diocese. (10) 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. (11) 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 bringing the SISTERS OF CHARITY OF THE BLESSED VIRGIN MARY (BVM) 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 copy 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. (12)

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 unrest in Dubuque occurred 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. (13)

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. (14)

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 with history beginning in 1580, was created and claimed over one hundred members in Dubuque. (15)

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. 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 condemned the general attitude among American Catholic bishops that slavery had to be tolerated as a necessary part of southern society. (16)

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.

When Bishop Smyth died on September 22, 1865, there were 90,000 Catholics in Iowa. (17) 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 Mary, SISTERS OF THE VISITATION OF THE IMMACULATE HEART OF MARY (SVM), 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.

In 1866 when he became bishop, there were only 29 Catholic schools in the entire state; by the time of his death in 1900, there were 187 Catholic primary schools in the 55 counties that made up his archdiocese. Hennessy also established and supported several orders of sister-teachers who staffed many of these parish schools. In 1873 he reestablished Catholic higher education in Dubuque with the opening of COLUMBIA COLLEGE. (18) The number of children attending parochial school had increased by 17,000 and the number of girls' school had grown from eight to fifteen. (19)

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. Bishop Hennessy received many priests from Germany and Ireland, and in 1873 founded ST. JOSEPH COLLEGE and Theological Seminary in Dubuque. (20) A new building was constructed in 1878 as the college enrollment swelled in numbers. This institution became 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. (21)

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 complete opposition to drinking, however, led the KNIGHTS OF COLUMBUS to give up liquor and cigars at a reception for the new church leader in 1901. (22) He supported the Young People's Christian Temperance Union and arranged for a national organizer of the Catholic Total Abstinence Union to organize branches in every parish. (23) In January 1902 with other Dubuque church leaders, he took the prohibition cause into politics by petitioning the city council for a complete closing of bars on Sundays, election days, and legal holidays. The petition also requested reasonable hours of bar operation on weekdays and prohibited women from working at or visiting bars. (24)

In the field of education, he encouraged postgraduate courses for priests; doubled the faculty and buildings of St. Joseph's College and led the first general fund-raising appeal; established a missionary band of diocesan priests; and welcomed the Sisters of the Good Shepherd, Sisters of the Order of St. Dominic, and the Brothers of Mary. (25)

In 1902 the western portion of the archdiocese was erected into the new Diocese of Sioux City. (26)

Official reports for 1908 give these figures: 222 diocesan and 9 regular priests, 165 parish churches, 63 mission churches, 50 chapels (in religious institutions); 1 college for men with 380 students; 25 academies for higher education of young women, attended by 4,000; 96 parochial schools, with 25,000 pupils; 1 orphanage with 225 inmates; 7 hospitals each accommodating 30-150 patients; one industrial home with 50 inmates; one home of the Good Shepherd. The Catholic population was 111,112 in a total of 693,400. About 650 sisters of religious communities were engaged in teaching and about 130 worked in hospitals and other charitable work. (27)

In 1911 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. (28) 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 resentments. Many Germans, for example, held strong feelings that Hennessy had been overly inclined to appoint Irish clerics to key church positions. Archbishop James J. Keane met these challenges with a belief that self-examination, repentance, self-denial and prayer were the only cures for "unrestrained worldliness." (29)

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 pursuit of wealth to fund his cultural activities made him one of the most tragic figures in Dubuque church history. (30)

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. The enrollment in the elementary schools in the archdiocese increased from 18,160 to 32,143 with the high school enrollment growing from 4,814 to 7,938. (31) 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. (32)

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. (33)

From May through September, 1991 the parishes were asked to help map the future of the archdiocese. A shortage of priests prompted church officials to establish the Parish Self-Study and Planning Committee. In 1981 the archdiocese had 307 active priests and 234 parishes. In 1991 there were 222 priests and 226 parishes. In the six page questionnaire, parishes would be asked, among other things, how they would suggest sharing resources with neighboring churches. Completed forms would be sent to the archdiocese's deanery councils which would make formal recommendations to an archdiocesan task force. This group would further recommendations to Archbishop Daniel Kucera. (34)

In 1992 six of the small parishes were placed on oratory status. They would stop offering regular Masses in July and would reopen only for occasional special liturgies such as funerals or weddings. (35)

Midwest flooding in 1993 made the national news. The Archdiocese of Dubuque opened a flood relief office to help anyone with cleanup and emergency needs that weren't covered by other agencies. The money came from the National Conference of Catholic Bishops who received it from parishes across the country. As of early September, the total collected was $195,000. (36)

In late December 1993 the Archdiocese of Dubuque announced a policy on sexual abuse to meet the needs of victims and alleged perpetrators of sexual misconduct. The policy was intended to ensure victims that they would be heard and taken seriously and to protect the reputations of the accused while cases were being investigated. A new provision of the policy called for the direct notification of the archbishop whenever a priest was accused of sexual misconduct. All employees and volunteers were expected to know the policy and sign an agreement to abide by it. (37)

Faced with retirements, a shortage of priests, and a need to spend time and money more efficiently, the archdiocese announced a major shuffle of staff in April of 1994. Archbishop Daniel KUCERA said that the changes would offer full-time archdiocesan leadership in the western parts of the archdiocese, eliminate the need for a new archdiocesan staff member, and address the priest shortage by authorizing non-ordained people to administer parishes. Msgr. James BARTA was perhaps the most obvious person moved. From serving as the president of LORAS COLLEGE, Barta was reassigned as epsicopal vicar, an official representative of the archbishop able to perform any function authorized without being named a bishop. (38)

A loss to American farmers occurred in 1994 with the retirement of Norman WHITE. In 1983 White was appointed the director of the Rural Life Conference. The following year, he was chosen by Archbishop Daniel KUCERA to be the director of the Rural Life Center for the archdiocese. In the last year of his work, White was using the pages of the archdiocesan newspaper, WITNESS (THE), to warn farmers of a scam then being practiced. (39)

As an advocate for farmers, White challenged Agriculture Secretary Earl Butz's statement that farmers must "get big or get out." He stayed with families about to suffer foreclosure, delivered food to the needy, and collected donations to help farm families pay utility bills.

Caring for retired priests was the focus of the $8 million St. Raphael Priest Fund which had served its purpose in 1998 for fifty years. Priests who were retired received $1,150 per month supplemented by Social Security (on average in 1998 this amounted to $420 per month, personal savings, or inheritances). In January 1998 Archdiocese officials announced that with anticipated retirements this would be an insufficient source of revenue. On January 20, 1998 a $20 million "Time to Remember" campaign was launched to care for those soon to retire. Archbishop Hanus asked active and retired priests to contribute $2,000 annually for five years. Priests and other church leaders contributed the first $6 million to the new retirement fund. (40)

A related problem to the retirement of priests was the recruitment of new church leaders. Archbishop Hanus stated in 1998 that the archdiocese needed to ordain ten men annually to replace those retiring. In 1997 only four had been received. Only three priests were scheduled for ordination in 1998. (41)

In 2014 the Archdiocese of Dubuque hoped to raise nearly $5.7 million to help families afford a Catholic education. (42) In 2013 legislation had been passed in the Iowa Legislature that increased the number of tax credits available to people in Iowa who donated to School Tuition Organizations. The archdiocese's "Our Faith, Our Children, Our Future" STO was allowed to raise $5.697 million, an increase of $1.5 million from the previous year. Money donated to the STO was then used to fund scholarships for families at or below 300 percent of the federal poverty rate with students enrolled in nonpublic schools. In 2014 thirty-two percent of the students in the archdiocese received STO scholarships. At HOLY FAMILY CATHOLIC SCHOOLS, STO scholarships went to 29 percent of the students. (43)

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. Jerde, Lyn Hanson. "Archdiocese of Dubuque," Telegraph Herald, July 10, 1993, p. 10A

2. Gallagher, Mary Kevin. Seed/Harvest: A History of the Archdiocese of Dubuque. Dubuque: Archdiocese of Dubuque Press, 1987, p. 3.

3. Luby, S. D. and Otting, L. C. The New Catholic Encyclopedia, "Dubuque, Archdiocese of," Online: http://www.encyclopedia.com/article-1G2-3407703428/dubuque-archdiocese.html

4. "History," Archdiocese of Dubuque, Online: https://www.dbqarch.org/about/history/

5. Gallagher, p. 3

6. Ibid. 4

7. The Catholic Encyclopedia. "Archdiocese of Dubuque," Online: http://www.ecatholic2000.com/cathopedia/vol5/volfive157.shtml

8. Gallagher, p.4

9. Gallagher. p. 6

10. Ibid., p. 9

11. The Catholic Encyclopedia.

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

13. Gallagher, p. 14

14. Ibid., p. 16

15. Ibid.

16. Ibid., p. 20

17. The Catholic Encyclopedia.

18. Hudson, David; Bergman, Marvin; and Horton, Loren. The Biographical Dictionary of Iowa State Historical Society of Iowa: University of Iowa Press, 2009. Online: http://uipress.lib.uiowa.edu/bdi/Default.aspx

19. Gallagher, p. 46

20. The Catholic Encyclopedia.

21. Ibid.

22. Gallagher, p. 55

23. Ibid., p. 56

24. Ibid.

25. The Catholic Encyclopedia

26. Ibid.

27. Gallagher, p. 61

28. Ibid., p. 59

29. Ibid., p. 94

30. Ibid., p. 117

31. Ibid., p. 133

32. Ibid. p. 150

33. Hanson, Lyn. "Parishes Asked to Help Map Future," Telegraph Herald, May 4, 1991, p. 3A.

34. Hanson, Lyn. "Priest Shortage Hurts," Telegraph Herald, April 10, 1992, p. 1. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=aEyKTaVlRPYC&dat=19920410&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

35. Jerde, Lyn Hanson. "Archdiocese Opens Flood Relief Office," Telegraph Herald, September 14, 1993, p. 3A

36. Jerde, Lyn Hanson. "Archdiocese Develops Policy on Sexual Abuse," Telegraph Herald, December 28, 1993, p. 3

37. Jerde, Lyn. "Barta Reassignment Part of a Big Shuffle," Telegraph Herald, April 22, 1994, p. 1

38. Jerde, Lyn. "White on News Show," Telegraph Herald, May 15, 1994, p. 3

39. Jerde, Lyn. "Archdiocese Unveils Fund Drive for Retired Priests," Telegraph Herald, January 20, 1998, p. 3A. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=aEyKTaVlRPYC&dat=19980121&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

40. Ibid.

41. Becker, Stacey. "Archdiocese of Dubuque Seeks $5.7M for Education," Telegraph Herald, December 7, 2014. Online: https://www.questia.com/article/1P2-37462818/archdiocese-of-dubuque-seeks-5-7m-for-education

42. Ibid.

43. Ibid.