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Encyclopedia Dubuque


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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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SISTERS OF THE VISITATION OF THE IMMACULATE HEART OF MARY (SVM) The Visitation Order was founded in 1610 in Annecy, France by St. Francis de Sales, Bishop of Geneva, and St. Jane de Chantal. The Order came to this country at Georgetown, Washington, D. C. in 1799. The St. Louis Visitation was founded from Georgetown and the Dubuque Visitation was established from the St. Louis Monastery.

In 1871 six sisters came to Dubuque in 1871 at the invitation of Bishop John HENNESSY, then Bishop of Dubuque. When the Sisters arrived on August 26th, 1871, the home promised them was not ready so they were provided temporary housing by the pastor of St. Patrick’s parish. They moved to a duplex on Third St., not far from the present rectory of ST. RAPHAEL'S CATHEDRAL. October 26, 1871, was the official opening of the first Academy of the Visitation. Part of the duplex was used as a convent and the rest for school for about fifty students. In June, 1883 the first commencement was held for two graduates. (1)

The Third Street Academy continued to attract students. In addition to the regular academic courses, studies in the fine arts: art, poetry, drama, music lessons and speech were offered. Within two years, the entire building was needed for school purposes and a small eight room house on Bluff Street was given to the Sisters as convent.

General George Wallace Jones Home (in the front). Photo courtesy: Sisters of the Visitation

Aware of the extremely crowded conditions, Archbishop Hennessy purchased the mansion of General George Wallace JONES at the corner of what became University and Alta Vista for a new academy and convent. The sisters arrived by sleigh on January 3, 1879 and the “Academy on the Hill” was opened. The Dubuque Visitation was chartered on November 15, 1880. In 1884, 1886 and 1889 other “wings” were added to the structure. In 1906 the historic Jones mansion had to be razed to make room for another large addition to the academy called the “South Wing”.

In October 1895 the Sisters held their first "grand fair." In preparing for the event, they were helped by committees "of ladies and gentlemen" from all the parishes in the city. Securing a site posed a problem, but a petition was submitted in September by all the parishes for use of the Armory. When this location was not possible, the site later chosen was the DUBUQUE CITY HALL. Refreshments were to be provided by a committee from St. Ambrose while each of the other churches prepared tables. It was expected the event would raise $10,000 from donations and the sale of donated items. (2) After the fair it was announced that the event raised $9,546.44. (3)

When Nativity Grade school opened in 1924, the Sisters of the Visitation were asked to teach the children from kindergarten through eighth grade. (4)

In 1931 a new convent for the Sisters was built with funds donated by a non-Catholic gentleman of Chicago, with the stipulation that he would remain anonymous. A plaque honoring this gift which was given through Mr. James E. Gorman, was placed in the reception hall of the new convent. This plaque along with the bell from the academy tower were moved to the front of the convent the Sisters later occupied on Kaufmann Ave.

On the night of June 30, 1936, a disastrous fire broke out in one of the older sections of the Academy. The fire, probably caused by defective wiring, raged through the buildings, burning a four-story wing completely to the ground and destroying the two upper stories of an adjacent wing which held the chapel and the school library. The fire was extinguished as it reached the chapel’s water-soaked ceiling.

Despite the damage, the school opened on September 8, right on schedule with very little drop in registration. The former chapel was divided into four home rooms, and all other departments,occupying smaller areas, were continued. Thousands of books, two baby grand pianos, and musical instruments were given to the school. Friends and businessmen in the city collected funds for the renovation of the building.

In response to the plea of the Holy Father, Pope Pius XII, for greater participation in the active apostolate, the Visitation Sisters of Dubuque elected to change the status of their community from that of an Order with solemn vows to a diocesan Congregation with simple vows. After the necessary requirements had been fulfilled, the Sisters of the Visitation of Dubuque were established as a congregation by the Most Reverend Leo BINZ, Archbishop of Dubuque, on June 8, 1952. Their new title was the Sisters of the Visitation of the Congregation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, or simply as Sisters of the Visitation. They lived for two months in St. Patrick's rectory until their convent was ready near Third and Bluff STREETS.

After 1960, the Sisters chose to expand and modernization of their physical plant and educational facilities. A new academic building was built adjoining the existing academy on the north.

In the late 1960s, due to the decline in the number of sisters, the increased costs, and establishment of a central Catholic high school, private high schools began to close. The last class to graduate from ACADEMY OF THE VISITATION (THE) was in 1970. The academy was closed after its commencement in 1970 and sold to the DUBUQUE COMMUNITY SCHOOL DISTRICT that renamed it JONES JUNIOR HIGH SCHOOL.

The sisters continued to teacher in other Catholic schools or became involved in other church ministries. The Sisters lived on Alta Vista Street and shared their convent with sisters of other communities until 1994 when the property was sold to LORAS COLLEGE. (5) The north wing was to be converted to student residences. The south wing with two basements was to be used for the Loras art gallery, art and music classrooms, practice rooms, a computer laboratory, performance areas and studios for various types of art. (5) Land was purchased on Kaufmann Avenue from the SISTERS OF THE PRESENTATION OF THE BLESSED VIRGIN MARY (PBVM) and a convent was built in which the Visitation Sisters then resided.



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

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

2. "Visitation Fair," Dubuque Daily Herald, September 29, 1895, p. 8

3. "$9,546.44 Realized," Dubuque Daily Herald, November 19, 1895, p. 8

4. "Visitation Fair,"

5. Ibid.

6. Jerde, Lyn. "Visitation Sisters Leave Old Quarters," Telegraph Herald, June 10, 1994, p. 3A