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Encyclopedia Dubuque


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


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Immaculate Conception Academy
Chapel, Immaculate Conception Academy

IMMACULATE CONCEPTION ACADEMY. School. Established in 1907 by the Franciscan Sisters of the Holy Family, Immaculate Conception Academy occupied an historical building. Since its construction in 1854, the structure had served as the home of the DUBUQUE FEMALE COLLEGE, the first public high school, an Episcopalian seminary, and a Lutheran seminary. (1) It was purchased by the Sisters of St. Francis, dedicated to the Virgin Mary, and opened as a high school for girls. (2) The first class consisted of twenty-four students, twelve of them residents at the school. (3)

The students were offered four tracks of study. The Preparatory offered "a thorough training in the grammar grades." The Academic offered a complete four year high school course. The Commercial involved a "thorough course in book-keeping and stenography." The Normal was for those preparing to take teacher examinations. The last was the department of Music and Elocution. (4) Shortly after the establishment of this program, courses in art, sewing, and "domestic science" were added. By 1920 the Academy, a "boarding day school was well established with eighty resident and sixty-six day students. (5)

Increasing numbers of high school students by 1921 led to the two-year normal and two-year commercial departments being discontinued although electives still allowed a student to qualify for a teaching or commercial employment. High school courses became basic with art, music, sewing, and domestic science being taught independently. Religion was a required subject for Catholic students. (6)

In 1924 because of enrollment increases, it was decided to move Immaculate Conception to a site on Davis Avenue in the former motherhouse of the order. Students and sisters in the school may have opposed the move because they offered a Novena to "Our Lady" requesting that the transfer would fail. Sisters at the Motherhouse, however, offered their own Novena asking that the transfer would be successful. (7) With renovations, the building was ready for 171 students. Construction of Catholic schools in smaller town and effects of the GREAT DEPRESSION led to decreased enrollments until the 1940s.

In 1939 Immaculate Conception was accredited by the North Central Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools. (8)

In 1950 the campus was expanded to include ST. MARY'S HOME which was renamed St. Colette Hall. This provided additional dormitories and classrooms for music, art and clothing departments. (9) In 1957 the institution was the largest girls' school in the Archdiocese with 371 students and a faculty of 23. (10)

At the time of its closing, it was stated that the school would remain open as a convent preparatory school. Regular high school and pre-college subjects would be taught with an emphasis on academic and fine arts courses. Girls attending the school would be those who planned to become Franciscan Sisters of the Holy Family. Immaculate Conception Academy remained open with this purpose until 1965. (11)

In 1959, four Dubuque high schools ended their year on a solemn note. This would be the last class to graduate from Immaculate Conception Academy, ST. JOSEPH'S ACADEMY, the high school association with ST. COLUMBKILLE CATHOLIC CHURCH and LORAS ACADEMY. Aging Catholic high schools became too expensive to repair and maintain. Officials of the ARCHDIOCESE OF DUBUQUE decided to close them and build WAHLERT CATHOLIC HIGH SCHOOL, a new, state-of-the-art high school for all of the city's parochial students to attend. (12)

Immaculate Conception remained open as a convent preparatory school. With an emphasis on academic and fine arts courses, regular high school and pre-college subjects were taught. Girls attending the school would be those who would like to be Franciscan Sisters of the Holy Family. All who entered the school lived at the Academy with parents allowed to visit according to a schedule. (13)

In 2009 the building became the Shalom Retreat Center.



1. Driscoll, Rt. Rev. Msgr. Justin A. With Faith and Vision: Schools of the Archdiocese of Dubuque, 1836-1966, Dubuque: Bureau of Education, Archdiocese of Dubuque, 1967, p. 320

2. Ibid.

3. "Old Academy to Have New Use This Fall," Telegraph Herald, June 14, 1959, p. 22

4. "Immaculate Conception Academy: An Ideal School for Young Ladies, Boarders and Day Students," Telegraph Herald, Aug. 30, 1907, p. 11

5. Driscoll

6. Ibid.

7. "Old Academy..."

8. Ibid.

9. "Immaculate Conception Academy..."

10. Driscoll, p. 321

11. Ibid.

12. Ibid.

13. "Old Academy..."