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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.”
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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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    It has been said that one of the greatest elements of success in any
    human enterprise is unity of action. And so I propose that we, the
    members of this Catholic community of faith, unite in purpose and
    action to take part in shaping the success of the "Building in Faith
    Campaign" for Holy Family Catholic Schools. Since the time of the
    first missionaries used the MISSISSIPPI RIVER as the avenue for
    bringing the Word of God to the people of this scenic area, the
    citizens of Dubuque have been noted for their devotion and dedication
    to Catholic education.  This centuries-long tradition of providing
    excellence in education to Dubuqueland youth is something we can all take
    pride in.
    Now we are entrusted with the task of preserving and expanding the rich
    heritage of faith-based education in our city.  Over the next several
    months, Holy Family Catholic Schools will be engaged in a campaign which
    will allow us to continue our mission of providing quality Catholic
    education to future generations. It is the legacy of hope for the Church
    and our nation in which I put my faith.  The great strength of the 
    Catholic Church in our country has been extraordinary men and women who
    have understood the demanding challenge of Catholic faith. For over 160
    years, Dubuque has been blessed with having one of the strongest faith-
    based educational systems in the entire Midwest.  This legacy was crafted
    with love and devotion by countless religious women and priests, as well
    as lay teachers passionately devoted to the continuation of Catholic
    education in the City of Dubuque. Today Holy Family Catholic Schools
    employs over 350 people and serves all of the surrounding Catholic parishes.
                            Archbishop Jerome G. HANUS


The growth of Catholic education for residents of the City of Dubuque began in the 1830s. In 1836 SAINT RAPHAEL'S CATHEDRAL SCHOOL, an all boys' institution was established in the basement of the cathedral by Father Samuel MAZZUCHELLI. (1) Teachers were laymen and laywomen. John J. Norman in 1841 opened the "Dubuque English, Classical and Mathematical Academy" in the home of Bishop Mathias LORAS who was often gone and turned over several rooms for the classes. (2) Norman later became the first superintendent of schools in Dubuque County. (3) In 1852 boys paid fifty cents per month tuition. (4)

Education for girls followed in the 1840s. In 1843 SISTERS OF CHARITY OF THE BLESSED VIRGIN MARY (BVM) established St. Mary's Day and Boarding Academy, a Catholic girls' school. Located in two frame buildings on the corner of West Third and Bluff, the school enrolled 120 students, fifty of whom were boarders. (5) Later in the year, the Sisters opened a free school adjacent to the present school building on that property. (6)

Catholic education in general continued to thrive in the 1850s. The Brothers of the Sacred Heart from Le Puy, France established a boys' primary and high school in a building at the rear of the cathedral. (7) When they left in 1860, the BROTHERS OF CHRISTIAN INSTRUCTION accepted Bishop Loras' invitation to come to Iowa and taught at St. Raphael's. (8) In 1851 ST. MARY'S SCHOOL, first known as Holy Trinity, began before the parish had a resident priest. Classes were held in the church basement. (9) The lay teachers were replaced by two Sisters of Charity when Father Edmonds was appointed pastor. Lay teachers returned to the school in 1855 during Father Lentner's pastorate. (10) In 1856 Sacred Heart School, later ST. JOSEPH ACADEMY opened on 14th Street in a building that had formerly been a hospital. The PANIC OF 1857 caused financial failure for many businesses and in 1858 St. Mary School was forced to close. (11) Bishop Clement SMYTH believed the public schools were prejudiced against the Catholics and did all he could to further parochial education. (12)

In 1860 St. Mary's School was again opened. (13) Improved financial conditions allowed the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary in 1864 to construct a convent at St. Joseph Prairie ten miles southwest of Dubuque. They relocated their girls' boarding school there the same year. (14) In 1866 the first ST. ANTHONY'S SCHOOL, a one-room building, was staffed by one teacher until the arrival of the SISTERS OF THE PRESENTATION OF THE BLESSED VIRGIN MARY (PBVM). (15) In 1868 Archbishop Hennessy wrote "Catholic Pay and Free School Association of the City of Dubuque." The acting pastor of the cathedral was to be the spiritual director and presiding officer of the board. The organization, however, was never active. (16)

In the 1871 Archbishop Hennessy suggested the development of an industrial school for girls in the former Loras home. The plan was not practical, and the home was used as a residence of girls working in the community. (17) ST. VINCENT'S ACADEMY, later called ST. COLUMBKILLE HIGH SCHOOL, opened its doors to forty students. Each student paid a tuition of twenty-five cents per month. (18) In 1879 four BROTHERS OF CHRISTIAN INSTRUCTION come to Dubuque to teach at St. Raphael's School. (19) They only remained until 1884.

Catholic education in the 1880s began with a high school department for girls opening in 1880 at St. Columbkille. In 1881 Sacred Heart School enrolled 154 students to be taught by the Franciscan Sisters. In 1884 the Sisters of the Blessed Virgin Mary built the new ST. MARY'S HIGH SCHOOL in Cathedral Square. The same year the old school building, Bishop Loras' home, was used by the Holy Ghost Sisters as a school. (20)

Beginning in the 1880s church leaders decided American Catholics needed a larger and more uniform school system. This began with a decree from a meeting of American bishops called the Third Plenary Council of Baltimore, held in 1884. The decree read:

                   Near every church, when it does not already exist, a
                   parochial school is to be erected within two years 
                   from the promulgation of this council, and to be kept
                   up in the future, unless in the judgement of the
                   Bishop the erection and maintenance of the school is
                   an impossible. (21)

This may have sounded like an impossible requirement of churches serving poor immigrants, but the choice of what was possible was left to the individual bishops. By 1894, the percentage of parishes with schools rose slightly from 40% to 44%. in 1930 there were 10,000 schools with 2.5 million students. The number peaked in 1965 with 13,000 schools educating 5.5 million students. Approximately one of every eight American students was being educated in parochial schools. (22)

The growth in Catholic education had many causes. Immigrant parents were afraid the new environment would distract their children from their faith. Many were alarmed by the anti-Catholic bigotry. Many of the Irish felt that the government control over public schools would lead to controls forcing the Catholics back into poverty. (23) Archbishop John HENNESSY was quite clear where from the pulpit he condemned public schools as "breeders of infidelity and hot beds of hell. (24) The ingredient making the school possible were the sisters. By 1900 there was 78 schools with a third offering some high school. (25)

The 1890s witnessed Marquette Hall being added in 1891 to Sacred Heart School to eliminate overcrowding. St. Mary's Academy was closed in 1895. HOLY GHOST SCHOOL held its first classes in 1897 with 102 students enrolled in grades 1-9. In 1897 a new boy's school was constructed at ST. PATRICK'S CATHOLIC CHURCH costing $18,000 and enrolling 28 boys. The following year an addition was constructed on St. Columbkille School. (26)

The enrollment at St. Mary's School reached 550 in 1900. Increasing enrollment led to the construction of a larger building for St. Joseph Academy the same year. A three-story building with eight classrooms, a laboratory, and a large auditorium replaced the original building. The ORDER OF SISTERS OF THE HOLY GHOST constructed a combination motherhouse and school at the northeast corner of St. Ambrose and Rosedale in 1901 and called it St. Aidan. An early form of co-education was observed in 1904 as St. Raphael's School was built at Emmett and Bluff STREETS. Boys occupied the south half of the building while girls were taught in the north half. There were separate entrances. In 1907 girls from St. Mary's in grades 6-8 received their education at IMMACULATE CONCEPTION ACADEMY at 17th and Iowa. The first year enrollment was twelve resident students and twelve day students who were taught by three Franciscan Sisters. 1907 also saw the organization of ST. MARY'S HIGH SCHOOL to prepare young men for the business world. For twenty-two years this was operated by the Brothers of Mary. In 1910 eighty-three students from Sacred Heart School walked up the street to their own school--Holy Trinity. (27)

Many developments occurred in Catholic education in Dubuque during the 1920s. In 1923 the dedication of Nativity School took place on December 23rd. Classes opened in 1924 with 425 students. In 1923 Dr. Wolfe, the diocesan superintendent of schools, requested co-education so that each teacher could devote their entire time to one grade. St. Anthony School was constructed in 1927 under the direction of Msg. O'Malley. Construction of a four-room brick school at St. Joseph, Key West was accomplished the same year through a private donation and matching funds by parishioners. St. Mary High School closed in 1929 while one of the first parish kindergartens in the city was opened at St. Columbkille School. (28)

In the 1930 a class of ninth-grade boys was started at Sacred Heart School. Two years later a tenth grade was added. Seventh and eighth grade girls from Nativity School began attending classes at ACADEMY OF THE VISITATION (THE) in 1930. This was continued until 1936 when a first at Visitation Academy forced the girls to return to Nativity for school. Holy Ghost Junior High School was organized in 1934 with 150 students in grades seven through eight. The first graduating class of St. Columbkille High School to include boys occurred in 1935. (29)

In 1940 the Farber residence at 14th and Locust was purchased by St. Patrick's Church and converted into a school for primary grades. Girls of the parish who had attended St. Joseph Academy were transferred to the St. Patrick's parish school. The construction of St. Joseph parish was announced in 1949, the same year financial difficulties forced the closing of Sacred Heart High School. (30)

The school year at ST. JOSEPH THE WORKER CATHOLIC CHURCH began on September 13, 1950. The first graduating class of the school in 1951 consisted of 13 boys and 6 girls. The present St. Mary School building was constructed in 1951 with nine classrooms, an activity room, office, music studio, gymnasium and kitchen facilities. In 1952 lack of space caused the closing of Holy Ghost Junior High School. The following year with an enrollment over 900 students, Sacred Heart School became one of the largest in the Midwest. Construction in 1953 of a new building at St. Anthony School resulted in a school with ten classrooms, cafeteria, library, gymnasium, and health and administrative offices. As enrollment continued to increase at St. Joseph the Worker, the kindergarten was discontinued so the room could accommodate older students. Enrollment in parochial schools also increased as a result in 1953 of ST. MARY'S HOME sending some children to upper grades. On June 17, 1955 Archbishop Leo BINZ and pastors of Dubuque parishes met to discuss the future of high school education in Dubuque. Subsequent meetings and the awareness that existing buildings were old and inadequate for increasing enrollment led to the announcement of a quarter-million contribution toward the construction of a new high school. On July 16, 1956 a site was announced on Kane Street. The same year, a new grade school was dedicated at St. Columbkille and the grade school was discontinued at the Academy of the Visitation because of the many registrations for high school. (31) Central Catholic High School almost immediately renamed WAHLERT CATHOLIC HIGH SCHOOL was opened for classes in 1959.

The soaring enrollment in parochial schools continued into the 1960s. In 1964 an additional eight rooms were added to Resurrection School to double the original number of classrooms. In 1965 attendance figures showed: St. Raphael's, 278; St. Joseph the Worker, 641; 1,024 Wahlert High School; St. Patrick, 532; and NATIVITY SCHOOL, 904. The separation of girls and boys ended in 1966 while the enrollment of Wahlert reached 2,226. The Archdiocesan Board of Education was established in 1967. The same year the Steinmetz Building was completed and ready for St. Anthony School which had an enrollment of 1,082. RESURRECTION SCHOOL enrollment peaked in 1968 at 560 students. The change of St. Mary's Home to AREA RESIDENTIAL CARE, INC. occurred in 1969. (32)

In 1969 recommendations and projections of the Archdiocesan Educational Planning Commission and the Bureau of Education were unveiled. Rev. Vincent Jestice, superintendent, cited need for systematic organization and the need for a "unified voice." Extensive research done by the Bureau of Education regarding the number of teaching personnel available indicated the Archdiocese could expect to lose about 10% of its teaching staff annually. Reports were given suggesting that educational costs could be expected to rise 30% over the next three years and that salaries of teaching sisters, currently at $1,600, would need to be raised to $1,900 in 1970. Positive aspects included the use of shared time. Rev. Jestice indicated that to conduct an effective campaign for state for state financial assistance or to administer it is legalized, a coordinated unified system was needed. Richard H. Metzcus, a professor at Notre Dame University and expert in school administration, explained that reasonable economic efficiency could not be obtain with less than 5,000 students in a school system. To operate a system with fewer students cost an average of $27 more per pupil annually. "The small, autonomous parish school is an anarchism," he stated. (33)

The Academy of the Visitation closed in 1970 and St. Raphael School closed in 1976 due to declining enrollment. Countering this trend, Sacred Heart School kindergarten which had been discontinued in 1957 was reestablished. Holy Ghost School had a gymnasium constructed and before and after-school care programs were begun to meet the needs of working parents. From 1975 to 1983 the tuition at Holy Trinity was one hundred dollars annually. (34)

In 1982 St. Mary and St. Patrick schools were consolidated due to declining enrollments. St. Mary served as the kindergarten through third grade while St. Patrick served grades four through eight and housed the parish preschool. This consolidation was known as Downtown Catholic. Dominican Sisters staffed St. Joseph the Worker for the last time in 1986. In 1988 Holy Trinity-Sacred Heart School was formed as a pre-K through eighth grade consolidation. Both parishes operated the school. The same year, Downtown Catholic renamed itself St. Mary-St. Pat Elementary School to renew parish identification. (35)

Although they were the nation's largest alternative school system, few scholars looked at the Catholic schools and assessed the quality of their education. This ended in 1982 when three sociologists led by James S. Coleman of the University of Chicago displayed a series of national test scores. The tests showed that students from widely different economic backgrounds and from parents with different levels of education performed better, as a group, in Catholic schools. The researchers found that the achievement gap between white students and minorities was narrower in Catholic schools. They also determined that the higher level of discipline was "intimately intertwined" with achievement. More homework was done in Catholic schools with fewer absences and dropouts. (36) With these findings, officials of the Metropolitan System of Catholic Education in Dubuque released details of a survey of parental attitudes and needs. The same officials remarked that parents must be made more aware of the benefits of a Catholic education of methods of receiving financial aid. (37)

St. Joseph's Catholic Elementary School became the first school in Dubuque to bring computers into the cafeteria. Beginning in November 1989 when the program was started, students gave a laminated card with a bar code to the adult in charge. The card's code was read recording the student or adult and the transaction. Information included full-priced student lunches, free student lunches, reduced-price student lunches, free adult lunches or paid adult lunches. (38)

In 1993 Anthony S. Bryk, a professor of education at the University of Chicago, and two associates concluded that the level of teaching skill in parochial schools was "quite ordinary" and that the school regularly faced limited fiscal resources. Despite this, Catholic students were higher achievers especially in poor areas despite not being the brightest students. Part of the reason they seemed to do better was that the schools remained committed to an academic core where math and science were required. The Bryk group also found that the teachers spent more time with each other and shared a set of values with the community allowing them to establish a base of moral authority. Diane Ravitch a senior research scholar at New York University, found parochial schools resistant to the fads that sweep regularly through education. (39)

Consolidation in 1993 saw the parishes of ST. JOSEPH'S CHURCH, KEY WEST and St. Catherine combined their elementary education programs to form St. Joseph Catholic Consolidated School.

In February 1994 Rev. Thomas TOALE (Rev.) announced that the first mission statement and strategic plan for the Dubuque Metropolitan System of Catholic education was just about completed. The plan was to keep elementary programs close to a student's home, meet the needs of the talented and gifted and those considered at-risk for having difficulties in school, and consideration for creating middle schools rather than high schools. The result could be schools cooperating more, but there was no master plan for consolidating or becoming partners. (40)

The last Franciscan teacher left the staff of Holy Ghost School in 1996. Clarke College Professional Development School established a partnership in 1999 with St. Anthony and St. Mary-St. Pat School. Another partnership was formed with St. Anthony in 2005 to develop a music curriculum. (41)

Holy Family Catholic Schools was created in 2001. (42)

The year 2002 witnessed the first kindergarten class of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the only school to that date with a Spanish immersion program. St. Francis School was formed with the merger of Holy Trinity-Sacred Heart School with St. Mary-St. Pat. In two years, the students of St. Francis relocated to Holy Ghost to form a consolidated elementary. (43)

As part of a restructuring in 2005-2006, school officials announced that regional middle schools would be located at WAHLERT CATHOLIC HIGH SCHOOL and St. Anthony. Elementary sites would be located at Holy Ghost; Resurrection; St. Joseph, the Worker; and St. Columbkille. Three of the sites would later be designated two section schools and which would be a three section school. A one section school remained at St. Joseph, Key West. Nativity School would close in 2005-2006 and St. Francis School would close in 2006-2007 with students going to Holy Ghost. The school board asked the Holy Family staff where to relocate Our Lady of Guadalupe Immersion program then operating at St. Francis. (44)

Holy Family Catholic Schools and the DUBUQUE COMMUNITY SCHOOL DISTRICT explored separate calendars. Holy Family's proposed 2014-15 school calendar eliminated weekly Friday late arrivals for professional development and established an earlier last day of school. For at least a decade, Dubuque's public and parochial schools followed an identical calendar because the community school district provided busing to Holy Family students. However, a shift to weekly Friday late arrivals in the district's adopted 2014-15 school calendar caused Holy Family officials to reconsider identical calendars. Holy Family officials stated elementary schools' child care programming required one adult for every 15 children, and an increase in the number of students every Friday with a late arrival would require more staff. Additional cost to parents for child care was also a concern. Instead of late arrivals or early dismissals, Holy Family's proposed calendar had professional development delivered in full days. (45)

In 2006 an anonymous donation of $100,000 to Holy Family made possible the updating of technology at ST. JOSEPH THE WORKER Catholic School. The donation allowed the purchase of laptop computers for every teacher and two classrooms full of Apple laptop computers. It also allowed wireless technology to be expanded, classroom projectors and technology training for the staff. (46)

In 2017 the Archdiocese of Dubuque announced that it had experienced an estimated 1% decline in enrollment among its K-12 student population in each of the past three years. (47) Early childhood enrollment had increased over 444 students over the same period. Affordability remained a problem. A school tuition organization provided aid to people living within 300% of the poverty rate. Lobbying efforts were being made for the creation of education savings accounts. (48)

In the summer and fall of 2019, five meetings were scheduled to outline proposals of a five-year strategic plan to the community. Among the ideas were broader mentoring opportunities, a new orchestra program, and personalized learning initiatives allowing students to learn at their own pace. Included would be opportunities for high school students to prepare for post-secondary education through programs such as internships and work experience. (49)

Recruitment and retention of staff was the focus of the last of five meetings held in 2019 as the board of education discussed proposals for the system's five-year strategic plan. Among the considerations were improvement in pay and benefit plans starting with creating a 401(k) match and making health insurance coverage less expensive for employees. Other thoughts included addition incentives to reduce tuition for full-time employees, offering reduced child care rates and offering student loan forgiveness and signing bonuses. Partnerships with colleges could led to ways to find excellent candidates and begin recruitment efforts. (50)

On October 16, 2019 members of the Board o Education of Holy Family announced that elementary programming at Holy Ghost Elementary School and St. Anthony Elementary School's English-based programs would end for the 2020-2021 school year. The Our Lady of Guadalupe Spanish Immersion Program would not be affected. Enrollment at both schools had fallen in recent years with each have fewer than eighty students in kindergarten through fifth grade in 2019-2020. Students would be able to attend other Catholic schools and system officials would begin working with families to ensure transportation in the future. The money saved would be used to additional tuition assistance, relief to assessments paid by supporting parishes, and increased salaries and benefits. The Holy Ghost campus would be used as an early childhood center while the St. Anthony building would serve early childhood and Our Lady of Guadalupe students. (51)

In December, 2019 leaders of Holy Family announced several initiatives among the system's short-term goals--part of the five year strategic plan approved by Holy Family's board of education. Among the initiatives were renovations to elementary buildings, focus on student retention and assessing athletic facilities in the coming years. Also approved was Holy Family's Platform for Excellence establishing long-term goals including increasing student diversity, supporting arts programs, and increasing student scholarships. (52)

Holy Family witnessed a five year enrollment decline from 2015-2020. The number of prekindergarten through 12th grade students declined 8.1% with the system having 1,775 students in 2020. Officials blamed the PANDEMIC and the district's decision to close Holy Ghost Elementary School and the English-based program at St. Anthony's school for the most recent declines. Holy Family was a able to retain 76% of the students which led to an increased enrollment at the remaining three elementary schools. (53)

Before winter break, there was a time, during the PANDEMIC, when daily active case totals were in the mid-20s at WAHLERT CATHOLIC HIGH SCHOOL. Elementary and middle schools saw much few cases. it was determined at 95% of the cases were traced to sources outside of school with the remainder having no known cause. The use of masks, as in the public schools, was linked to controlling the spread of the disease. (54)



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. 2

2. "Growth of the Parochial System," Telegraph Herald, August 31, 1958, p. 11

3. Ibid.

4. "Building on Faith: Our Campaign to Benefit Holy Family Catholic Schools," Archdiocese of Dubuque, 2006

5. Driscoll, p. 2

6. Ibid.

7. "Growth of the Parochial System..."

8. Gallagher, Mary Kevin BVM. Seed/Harvest: A History of the Archdiocese of Dubuque, Dubuque: Archdiocese of Dubuque Press, 1987, p. 15

9. Driscoll, p. 14

10. Ibid.

11. "Building on Faith: Our Campaign to Benefit Holy Family Catholic Schools,"

12. Gallagher, p. 18

13. Driscoll, p. 3

14. Ibid.

15. Driscoll, p. 45

16. Gallagher, p. 31

17. Gallagher, p. 30

18. "Building on Faith: Our Campaign to Benefit Holy Family Catholic Schools,"

19. Gallagher, p. 40

20. Ibid.

21. Fialka, John J. Sisters: Catholic Nuns and the Making of America. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2003, p. 172

22. Ibid.

23. Ibid.

24. Ibid., p. 173

25. Ibid.

26. Gallagher, p. 40

27. Ibid.

28. Ibid.

29. Ibid.

30. Ibid.

31. Ibid.

32. Fialka, p. 184

33. Babcock, Sue. "Unify and Coordinate, Parochial Schools Told," Telegraph Herald, November 25, 1969, p. 5

34. Fialka. p. 185

35. Ibid.

36. Ibid.

37. "1987," Telegraph Herald, December 27, 1987, p. 26

38. Stanley, Mary. "High Tech Hits Dubuque Elementary School Cafeteria," Telegraph Herald, January 17, 1990, p. 2. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=aEyKTaVlRPYC&dat=19900117&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

39. Fialka, p. 185

40. Krapfl, Mike. "Catholic Schools Face Changes," Telegraph Herald, February 13, 1994, p. 2A

41. Fialka p. 185

42. Ibid.

43. Ibid.

44. Heldt Diane. "Catholic School Sites Set," Telegraph Herald, March 3, 2004, p. 1

45. Becker, Stacey. "Separate Calendar for Holy Family," Telegraph Herald, February 27, 2014. Online: https://www.questia.com/read/1P2-35747353/separate-calendar-for-holy-family

46. Fuerste, Madelyn, "Holy Family Gets $100,000," Telegraph Herald, April 6, 2006, p. 1A

47. Hinga, Allie. " 'Catholic "Labor of Love': Schools Fight Trends," Telegraph Herald, January 3, 2017, p. 1A

48. Ibid., p. 2A

49. Hinga, Allie, "Holy Family Pushes Personalized Learning, Telegraph Herald, July 24, 2019, p. 1A

50. Hinga, Allie,"Holy Family Eyes Strategies for Retention," Telegraph Herald, September 25, 2019, p. 3A

51. Hinga, Allie, "Holy Family Board to Close 2 Schools," Telegraph Herald, October 16, 2019, p. 1A

52. Hinga, Allie, "Holy Family to Examine Diversity, Retention," Telegraph Herald, December 21, 2019, p. 1A

53. Hinga, Allie, "Enrollment Declines in Dubuque," Telegraph Herald, October 22, 2020, p. 1A

54. Hinga, Allie, "Return to School? Not Just Yet," Telegraph Herald, January 12, 2021, p. 1A