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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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Photo courtesy: Bob Reding

SAINT MARY'S SCHOOL. A parochial school existing as early as 1851 before there was a resident priest. Classes led by laymen were held in the church basement. Father Edmonds, the first permanent pastor, dismissed the lay teachers and had classes led by two SISTERS OF CHARITY OF THE BLESSED VIRGIN MARY (BVM). Beginning in 1855 instruction by laymen was resumed during the pastorate of Father Lentner. In 1858 during a nationwide financial panic, the school was closed. While accurate enrollments during the early years are not known, there was an average of one hundred eighty-two baptisms annually between 1853 and 1867.

In 1869 at the end of the financial crisis, Father Meis secured the services of four Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration from La Crosse, Wisconsin, for the school. Classes were held in a nearby store and the church. The sisters, assisted by two lay teachers, taught over two hundred pupils. A convent, built in 1870 at 15th and Jackson STREETS, served as convent and school for two years. In 1872 a three-story brick grade school with twelve classrooms was constructed to the south of the convent school. The former school then became a convent.

Sisters of St. Francis of the Holy Family came to Dubuque in the fall of 1879 at the request of Bishop John HENNESSY and became the school's faculty. By 1900 the school enrollment reached five hundred fifty with thirteen Sisters and one layman as faculty.

In 1906 ST. MARY'S HIGH SCHOOL, operated by the Brothers of Mary from St. Louis, was organized to prepare boys for careers in business. Seventh and eighth graders were also later accepted as students. Girls in grades six, seven and eight began receiving education at Immaculate Conception Academy, a girl's school at 17th and Iowa streets. Girls continued receiving education there until 1923 when an addition was built on St. Mary's property to accommodate growing enrollments.

Due to rapidly increasing enrollments following WORLD WAR II, the first floor of ST. MARY'S CASINO was renovated to become classrooms. When classes also had to be held in the school basement and church, Monsignor (Monsignor)Anthony SIGWARTH began plans to make the Casino into a new school.

Beginning in 1959 the majority of St. Mary's eighth grade students continued their education at WAHLERT CATHOLIC HIGH SCHOOL.

In 1981 St. Mary and St. Patrick schools combined to form the first consolidated school in Dubuque. It was called Downtown Catholic and larger became St. Mary/St. Patrick School. In 2002 the school was combined with Sacred Heart/Holy Trinity to form St. Farncis School. This school closed in June 2004 with the consolidation of the schools in Dubuque into the Holy Family system.

Alumni include Paul Roling whose chemistry exhibit in 1963 won first prize at the National Science Fair held in Albuquerque, New Mexico; Joseph Clement Willging, first bishop of Pueblo, Colorado; and Sylvester P. Juergens, author of the Marian Missal.