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LORAS, Mathias

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Mathias Loras
LORAS, Mathias. (Lyons, France, Aug. 30, 1792--Dubuque, IA, Feb. 19, 1858). John Mathias Pierre Loras was born the tenth of eleven children of a wealthy French family. The country when he was born was entering the most violent period of the French Revolution and his father, one of the governing council of monarchists in Lyons, was beheaded along with sixteen members of the family. As a student, he began a life-long friendship with Jean-Baptiste Vianney, later the sainted Cure' d'Ars. As a seminarian, Loras was a student of Ambrose Mare'chal and a fellow student of Englishman James Whitfield, future archbishops of Baltimore. In 1815 Loras was ordained a priest by Cardinal Joseph Fesch, archbishop of Lyons and uncle of the exiled Napoleon I.

In 1828 Loras was invited by Bishop Michael Portier to return with him to Mobile, Alabama. It was there that Loras was involved with the founding of Spring Hill College and served as vicar-general.

In the mid 1830s, a Provincial Council of Baltimore recommended to the pope that new dioceses be created due to the expansion of the United States. Pope Gregory XVI established the Diocese of Dubuque on July 28, 1837, and Loras was named its first bishop. He was consecrated on December 10, 1837 by Bishop Portier in Mobile. Loras immediately left the United States for Europe in search of priests, seminarians and money. When he returned in 1839, Loras was accompanied by Joseph Cretin who became a vicar-general and in 1851 the first bishop of St. Paul and Anthony Pelamourges, first pastor of St. Anthony's Church in Davenport.

Loras reached Dubuque on April 21, 1839. There were three parishes, an Indian mission, and one priest Samuel MAZZUCHELLI. Since his diocese covered the entire states of Iowa and Minnesota and the Dakotas east of the Missouri River, he started traveling by steamboat up to St. Anthony's Falls and back by canoe, down the MISSISSIPPI RIVER and back up the Missouri to Council Bluffs and then back to Dubuque overland. His first ten years in Dubuque were spent organizing the faithful. All parts of the diocese saw the establishment of missions and churches. It has been estimated that upon his arrival there were no more than two thousand Catholics in the diocese.

In 1839 he organized St. Raphael's Seminary. In 1843, through the efforts of Bishop Loras, five SISTERS OF CHARITY OF THE BLESSED VIRGIN MARY (BVM) came to Dubuque. They opened St. Mary's Academy and were soon joined by others of their order.

Loras maintained good relations with those in Europe who might be counted upon for help. In 1846 when he discovered German Catholic immigrants thirty miles west of Dubuque he convinced them to name their community New Vienna in honor of the Austrian capital and home of one of his benefactors. In 1849-1850, Bishop Loras visited Europe again in search of clergy and money. His connections and influence enabled him to secure financial assistance from the Society for the Propagation of the Faith of Lyons, France, the Leopoldine Society of Vienna, Austria, and the Foreign Mission Society of Munich, Bavaria. He visited Mount Melleray, Ireland, in 1849 and expressed his desire to establish a group of Trappist Monks in his diocese. In response to his offer of a tract of land southwest of Dubuque, twenty-two monks came to Dubuque County and established the priory (later abbey) of New Melleray.

Loras had a long history of encouraging Irish immigrants to move to Dubuque. In 1841 a committee of laymen appointed by him corresponded with the Irish Emigrant Society of New York that described Iowa in the most generous terms. Iowa representatives were sent to the 1856 convention of Irish Emigration held in Buffalo, New York. The CATHOLIC SETTLEMENT SOCIETY OF IOWA was another of his activities.

Given his interest in encouraging Irish settlement in Dubuque, it is ironic that many of the most troubling problems Loras faced concerned his dealings with Irish settlers. Generally poor people, the Irish were often more interested in sending money back to Ireland than contributing to the church. They were also angered when more new churches tended to be constructed for German settlers.

In 1844 feelings of frustration with his Irish parishioners surged when they refused to pay pew rent because the clergy of their church were not Irish. Loras left Dubuque and moved to Burlington only to return when the pastor in Dubuque became the leader of the Irish protestors. Loras fled Dubuque again in 1854 and threatened to remove all clergy from the city when Irish parishioners again threatened not to contribute to the church. He returned after the issues involved had been settled through the help of several influential Irish leaders in the community.

Not satisfied with Saint Raphael's Seminary in Dubuque, Loras moved the school south of Dubuque to a region known today as Key West. The new school, named Saint Bernard's College and Seminary, faced financial problems but managed to survive until Loras' death.

On July 19, 1850 Pope Pius IX established the Diocese of Saint Paul. The Diocese of Dubuque had been reduced to the boundaries of the state of Iowa.

By the late 1850s, Bishop Loras found that his health was failing. He asked the Holy See to name a coadjutor bishop to assist him. On January 9, 1857, Rev. Clement Smyth, OCSO, prior at New Melleray was appointed as coadjutor bishop. As the Dubuque Diocese grew in size Loras wrote to Pope Pius IX in May 1857 stating that he was considering asking for the Dubuque Diocese to be divided, with Keokuk as the See city for the new diocese. However this was not done in his lifetime.

In the 1850s, under the direction of Bishop Loras, the present cathedral church was begun. This was the third building for St. Raphael's parish, and it was over three times the size of the old cathedral. Bishop Loras would not live long enough to see this cathedral completed, but he was able to offer the first mass in ST. RAPHAEL'S CATHEDRAL on Christmas, 1857. He died two months later.

One of the distinctive landmarks of Dubuque is this statue of Loras on the grounds of Loras College.
Loras found a diocese with three parishes, several hundred Catholics and one priest when he came to Iowa. Stretching his limited funds to the maximum, Loras directed the development of the diocese with thirty-seven priests, fifty-two churches, forty-seven missions, and forty-nine thousand Catholics. His vast contribution to Dubuque and America was remembered in the naming of LORAS COLLEGE.

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Source:

Hudson, David; Bergman, Marvin; Horton, Loren. The Biographical Dictionary of Iowa. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2008