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




NEW MELLERAY MONASTERY

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NEW MELLERAY MONASTERY. Faced with rapidly depleted soil and political turmoil in Ireland, Dom Bruno Fitzpatrick, the Abbot of Mount Melleray Abbey, County Waterford, Ireland, looked to America in 1848 as a site for a new monastery. Brother Macarius Keegan had traveled to America previously and had, since 1845, been making appeals for funds. During Keegan's visit to Dubuque, Bishop Mathias LORAS offered land and financial aid to the monks. Responding to the offer, Brother Ambrose Byrne left for Dubuque on May 14, 1849. After visiting eastern Iowa, he wrote to his superior describing in glowing terms the shady valley, "verdant rolling prairies," and "lovely creek."

Dom Bruno, after deciding to investigate the Iowa region personally with several companions, arrived in Dubuque in June. Agreeing quickly with Brother Ambrose, Dom Bruno rapidly began the efforts to complete the deal with Bishop Loras fearing that land speculators would purchase the land in hopes of making a quick profit.

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Bishop Loras fulfilled his promise by giving the Trappist brothers 440 acres. Another 480 acres were secured through three land warrants of $145 each paid by the order. Eighty acres were purchased from Jeremiah Healy, a farmer, for one hundred dollars. Several months later, Bishop Loras donated an additional 160 acre tract of trees.

The first frame building used by the monks, a structure 15 feet square, was found on the land when it was purchased. Brother Ambrose and Dom Bruno drew plans for a building 60 x 12 feet and the cornerstone was laid on July 16, 1849. Father Clement SMYTH served as the prior of the new monastery from July 16, 1849 until August 18, 1849, when he left New Melleray to become the second bishop of the diocese of Dubuque.

Before Dom Bruno left New Melleray, he wrote to Prior Francis Walsh in Ireland asking that three choir brothers and eleven lay brothers be sent to the new monastery. Dom Bruno also named the new monastery "Our Lady of New Melleray."

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After the close of the CIVIL WAR, the present stone structure was constructed from plans drawn by John Mullany, a prominent Dubuque architect. The monastery was built in a 13th Century GOTHIC REVIVAL ARCHITECTURE style.

Since the founding of the monastery in 1849, the monks have served the religious needs of the surrounding region. When the pioneers living in the area felt the need to build their own parish church, the monks provided pastors to the parish. In 1889, the present parish church was dedicated, and named Holy Family.

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The Abbey has been remodeled several times. One of the most notable projects was the completion of the Abbey's chapel. Because of financial concerns, the Abbey's chapel was not completed as originally designed by the architect. It had originally been on the second floor of the east wing, then was moved in 1920 to the second floor of the north wing. In the 1970s, the abbey was able to convert the entire north wing of the Abbey into a permanent chapel. Red oak is used in the choir stalls, doors, Eucharistic chapel, and other furnishings. The altar was made of granite that had been quarried in Minnesota.
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On April 1, 1933, the New Melleray Monastery witnessed its first ordination to the priesthood with the ordination of Frater Pius Hanley, a native of Ireland. The end of WORLD WAR II saw an increase in the number of monks from twenty to over one hundred.

The Abbey has begun rebuilding the infirmary for the elderly and sick monks. The Abbey did build an infirmary in the 1950s, but it has since become outdated.

One of the products that has been sold by the monastery. Photo courtesy: Bob Reding
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Back of incense container.

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Source:

Pratt, LeRoy G. Discovering Historic Iowa, Iowa Department of Public Instruction, 1975