"SHSI Certificate of Recognition"
"Best on the Web"

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
Jump to navigationJump to search

SISTERS OF THE PRESENTATION OF THE BLESSED VIRGIN MARY (PBVM) Founded by Nano Nagle in Ireland in 1775, the order followed its leader in ministering to the poor. One of the order's symbols--a lantern--recognized Nagle's long hours and occasional underground activities in helping the less fortunate. (1)

Sister Vincent Hennessy and three postulants arrived in Dubuque in November 1874, at the request of then Bishop of Dubuque, John HENNESSY to teach the children of Irish immigrants. (2) With no convent to house them, the sisters lived for two months with the SISTERS OF THE VISITATION OF THE IMMACULATE HEART OF MARY (SVM).

Key West motherhouse and school. Photo courtesy: Sister Saint James

In January 1875, they moved to Key West using the rectory of St. Joseph's Parish as a motherhouse and school.

St. Vincent Academy. Photo courtesy: Sister Saint James

In February 1875, the sisters began holding classes in the convent parlor. On the first day of class, twenty students were enrolled. By September that number had soared to eighty. By 1876 the congregation had grown from four to seven sisters. On September 12, 1876, three sisters were assigned to their first mission at St. Malachi parish in Dubuque. This was later known as St. Anthony parish and school.

Archbishop Hennessy announced in 1878 that a convent for the sisters was to be built in an area of Dubuque known as "West Hill" and that a school for children of mill workers and miners who lived nearby would be constructed.

This house at 244 Bryant Street served as a temporary school by the Presentation sisters until the completion of the St. Vincent Academy. Photo courtesy: Sister Saint James.

In September 1879 the convent/school was not completed so classes were held in a vacant house on South Dodge (Bryant Street). On December 9, 1879 the sisters moved into a new building served as novitiate, motherhouse, school and convent. The upper floor was used by the girls. The lower floor was reserved for the boys. Classes began on December 15, 1879.

Archbishop Hennessy dedicated the building as St. Vincent Academy on July 19, 1880 in honor of Mother Vincent Hennessy who had died the previous year. In 1880 the enrollment reached 120 students. The basis of the sisters' monthly income was the twenty-five cents each pupil paid twenty-five cents per month. All expenses of the school and upkeep of the building was the responsibility of the sisters since there was no parish until 1887 when West Hill became St. Columkille Parish.

St. Vincent School served as a day school for local Catholics from 1870 to 1909. In 1909 a new motherhouse for the sisters was constructed at 1229 Mt. Loretta Avenue. This led St. Vincent to become St. Vincent Academy for girls. It was also a boarding school serving students from outside Dubuque and even out of state. The new mother house eventually became Villa Raphael, a home for retired priests and the Archdiocesan Pastoral Center.

The original Mother House at 1229 Mt. Loretta Avenue. Photo courtesy: Sister Saint James.

The sisters have been closely affiliated with ST. COLUMBKILLE HIGH SCHOOL and have also served at WAHLERT CATHOLIC HIGH SCHOOL. In Dubuque, the sisters are frequently associated with the teaching of CCD classes.

Mount St. Bernard Seminary. Photo courtesy: Sister Saint James.

The size of the order has grown so large that in 1969 the vacant MOUNT ST. BERNARD SEMINARY on Carter Road was purchased for their motherhouse which they came to share with Sisters of the Visitation. The name of the site was changed to Mt. Loretto.

Mt. Loretto along Carter Road. Photo courtesy: Sister Saint James.

Beginning in 2002 the Sisters of the Presentation sponsored the PRESENTATION LANTERN CENTER in Dubuque. This center offered hospitality, educational opportunities and advocacy to women and their children. The doors of the center opened on November 13th the anniversary of the founding of the Dubuque Presentation community. Sister Corine Murray was named the center's first executive director. (3)

The same year the order joined others in the Dubuque area in its opposition to the death penalty. With other congregations from Dubuque, the order joined a national initiative called For Whom the Bell Tolls that worked to raise public awareness of the number of executions in the United States by ringing bells on the day of or after an execution providing time to also recognize the names of the victims and their families. (4)

In 2003 the total community took their first corporate stance to embrace the Earth Charter. By taking this action, the sisters committed themselves to creating a sustainable global society founded on the principles of respect for nature, universal human rights, economic justice and a culture of peace.

While once the order was a congregation of 350, by 2016 the membership had fallen to 104. To help them, 128 "associates" both men and women work with the sisters as partners. (5) Planning for the retirement of sisters has been a concern of every order since 1987 when a committee of Iowa religious women studied wages sisters received and care for retired sisters. At the time SISTERS OF CHARITY OF THE BLESSED VIRGIN MARY (BVM) had 1,270 sisters in the congregation with a median age of 66. The Presentation sisters had 221 sisters with a median age of 54 giving them more time to plan. Stipends were spread thin with at least part going into a retirement fund. Among the options was providing higher stipends but losing the benefit of housing. Another option was less in the stipend but more benefits. (6)


The 1985 Dubuque City Directory listed 2360 Carter as their convent.



1. Jacobson, Ben. "Strong Sisterhood," Telegraph Herald, August 21, 2016, p. 6A

2. Ibid.

3. Miska, Rhonda. "Passion & Purpose," Telegraph Herald, September 10, 2016, p. 10A

4. Nevans-Pederson, Mary. "For Whom the Bell Tolls," Telegraph Herald, July 13, 2002, p. 23

5. Jacobson

6. Nepper, Mark. "Religious Orders Plan for Retirement Years," Telegraph Herald, November 6, 1987, p. 18