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Encyclopedia Dubuque


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SISTERS OF CHARITY OF THE BLESSED VIRGIN MARY (BVM). The order was founded in 1833 by Sister Mary Frances CLARKE and Father Terrence Donaghoe and was noted for promoting women in leadership roles and education. The first sisters to come to the ARCHDIOCESE OF DUBUQUE, the Sisters of Charity arrived in June 1843. One month later they opened St. Mary's Female Academy. The sisters later moved to St. Joseph's Prairie near Key West and founded their motherhouse. The order continued to grow and provided teachers for communities throughout the Midwest.

Disaster struck the order on May 1849, when fire destroyed all the buildings around their motherhouse. All personal belongings were lost, and for a time the sisters had to accept clothing from friendly neighbors. The Mount Carmel motherhouse was started when 110 acres of pasture land was purchased by attorney William J. KNIGHT at the southern end of Grandview Avenue from Frank D. STOUT who had used the area as pasture for his race horses. First occupied in 1893, the motherhouse has been expanded to include an infirmary (1906), Marian Hall infirmary (1955), and Generalate (1963).

Announcement was made in 1866 that the Sisters of Charity would opened a school for girls on September 3. Piano, guitar and harp were being taught and "all branches of education qualifying young ladies for any position in public or in private life."

With the death of Terence Donaghoe in 1860, Mary Frances Clarke had the congregation incorporated and started the process of receiving papal approval. Pope Pius IX issued the Decree of Approbation in 1877 approving the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary (BVM) for six years. The Vatican gave final approval of the congregation's constitutions on March 15, 1885. The BVM sisters at that time asked that Clarke be allowed to remain the Superior General for life. That decision the Vatican left to the bishop of Dubuque who approved.

The BVM congregation continued its strong commitment to education by staffing CLARKE COLLEGE in Dubuque and Mundelein in Chicago, Illinois. The Sisters have also been affiliated with many schools in Dubuque including St. Anthony's, St. Patrick's, and WAHLERT CATHOLIC HIGH SCHOOL.



1. "The Sisters' School," The Herald, August 29, 1866, p. 4