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Encyclopedia Dubuque


"Encyclopedia Dubuque is the online authority for all things Dubuque, written by the people who know the city best.”
Marshall Cohen—researcher and producer, CNN

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


From Encyclopedia Dubuque
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Academy of the Visitation
Former residence hall in September 2016.
Academy of the Visitation advertisement. Photo courtesy: Telegraph Herald

ACADEMY OF THE VISITATION (THE). The founding of the Academy, popularly known as the "Viz," dates to a request of Bishop John HENNESSY that resulted in six SISTERS OF THE VISITATION OF THE IMMACULATE HEART OF MARY (SVM) and a postulant arriving in Dubuque on August 28, 1871. The Sisters conducted their first school in a borrowed room in St. Raphael's School. On October 26 they formally took possession of their own building. (1) The small structure that housed the Sisters and their students was located on West Third Street near the rectory of ST. RAPHAEL'S CATHEDRAL. It is believed the initial enrollment of the school was less than fifty. (2)

The ever-increasing number of students made the first school inadequate within two years. In an attempt to remedy the situation, the Sisters acquired a convent-home on the adjoining grounds. When this accommodation proved inadequate, the mansion of General George Wallace JONES and its grounds were offered to the Sisters. In 1878 Bishop Hennessy obtained the property from Henry McNulty, a Dubuque attorney. (3) McNulty had purchased the property when Jones, suffering financial losses, was forced to sell the estate.

Once described as the finest residence in the State of Iowa, the home stood on the corner of Alta Vista and Julien (University) Avenue. The sisters found the house which had been abandoned for months to be filthy with "rats as large as kittens." (4)

The Sisters moved to the Jones' estate on January 3, 1879. Within three years this too failed to provide sufficient space as the enrollment continued to soar. Additions to the original building were made in 1882, 1886, and 1899. In 1906 the original home was demolished to allow for construction of a new wing. The "South Wing"--the building that was completed in 1907--was seriously damaged by fire in 2016. Attendance in 1913 averaged 300. (5) Another addition was made in 1914. In 1931 a dining room, chapel, and student assembly hall were built.

"Was graduated from The Academy of the Visitation, Dubuque, Iowa, June 7, 1918. Photo courtesy: Bob Reding
Photo courtesy: Bob Reding

In June 1936, fire destroyed two four-story buildings and the top two floors of a third building. (6) Efforts were made to replace the academy's losses including 19 pianos and the personal property of many of the sisters. Remodeling of the remaining two floors into classrooms led to the loss of space and the discontinuation of the boarding school. St. Roch’s Infirmary building was remodeled into a private kindergarten in 1937.

Photo courtesy: Bob Reding

Schooling at the academy in the early 1940s was remembered as more like a finishing school or junior college. Student were required to wear uniforms and hose. Lipstick was forbidden as were visits to DIAMOND'S CAFETERIA AND GRILLE. Tuition was a fairly steep $60 annually, so many of the students came from well-to-do families. The sense of community among those in attendance led some local residents to refer to the students as "the snobs on the hill." (7)

Such a reaction had a long history. Catholics in Dubuque were not happy at the arrival of another sisterhood in 1871. The Sisters of Charity and Franciscans from La Crosse were conducting three school which were though sufficient. Stones were thrown at the Visitation pupils by other students as they walked between their school and the living quarters they shared with the sisters. (8)

Despite the addition of improvements in 1955, the grade school was discontinued in 1956 due to the large number of registrations for high school. In 1961 a fund drive, authorized by Archbishop Leo BINZ, led to the construction of an academic wing to include science and language laboratories, fine arts and business departments, cafeteria, gymnasium, and auditorium. The first part of the construction, erection of a three-story $450,000 brick wing, was completed in 1964. (9)

In February, 1970 the Sisters of the Visitation decided to close the school after a thorough financial review which showed that expenditures would exceed revenues. The school was also faced with declining numbers of teachers and competition for students from WAHLERT CATHOLIC HIGH SCHOOL. (10) The decision was in agreement with the conclusions of a group of attorneys, financiers, realtors, and the Visitation Advisory Board. The Visitation Sisters continued their teaching at Nativity School.

Since the academy had opened, more than 1,600 girls graduated from the high school program. The school had recently received excellent ratings from the North Central Association and the Iowa State Department of Public Instruction. In addition to the high school, the Academy of the Visitation operated a kindergarten class. (11)

In June 1970, the DUBUQUE COMMUNITY SCHOOL DISTRICT agreed to a two-year lease of property that became JONES JUNIOR HIGH SCHOOL. The district later purchased the building.

The sisters continued to live in the old Visitation Academy building until 1994 when the property was purchased by LORAS COLLEGE for use as student housing. (12)

On March 16, 2016 fire destroyed the academy building that had been used as a dormitory. The residence hall was evacuated, and no injuries had been reported as of 6:30 a.m. There was no known cause at this time, but a lightning strike was later suggested as the likely cause. Dubuque Community Schools announced that there would be no classes on the Alta Vista campus due to the blaze. The cancellation affected the Alternative Learning Center and Connect students. (13)

Citing the costs needed to rebuild the historic building, college officials on December 5, 2016 announced that the fire-damaged building would be torn down. (14)



1. "Education Centered in the City of Dubuque," Telegraph Herald, May 23, 1913, p. 45

2. Sisters of the Presentation-Dubuque, Iowa. Online: http://www.sistersofthevisitationdbq.org/History/History.html

3. Ibid.

4. Cohen, Fred, "The Viz--Gone, but Not Forgotten," Telegraph Herald, April 2, 1978, p. 8

5. "Education Centered...."

6. "Visitation Academy to Close Doors," Telegraph Herald, Feb. 9, 1970, p. 1

7. Cohen

8. Ibid.

9. Ibid.

10. Ibid.

11. "Visitation Academy..."

12. Hogstrom, Erik, "Dubuque All-Girls High School Announces Closure 50 Years Ago," Telegraph Herald, Feb. 7, 2020, p. 5A

13. "Fire at Loras Residence Hall Displaces 45 Students," THoline. http://www.thonline.com/news/breaking/article_4faaadd4-eb65-11e5-aaea-f3e79ea18387.html

14. Hinga, Allie. "Loras Will Demolish Visitation Building," Telegraph Herald, December 6, 2016, p. 1