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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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Saint Raphael's Cathedral
231 Bluff. Photo courtesy: Old House Enthusiasts' Club House Tour, 2005
Cathedral bell. Photo courtesy: Bob Reding

ST. RAPHAEL'S CATHEDRAL. The cathedral parish was organized by Father Charles Felix Van Quickenborne in July of 1833, soon after LEAD miners founded the village of "Dubuque's Mines." Father Quickenborne immediately began planning for the construction of a church but left before the materials were assembled.

In 1834 Father Charles Francis Fitzmaurice, an Irishman educated in Paris, arrived in Dubuque and gathered the materials and money. He died of CHOLERA in the spring of 1835 without starting the actual construction of the church.

In 1835 with the arrival of Father Samuel MAZZUCHELLI, a Dominican missionary who designed at least ten churches in the Upper Mississippi Valley, the tiny parish was reorganized. (1) A church was finally erected, not of logs as Father Quickenborne had planned but of stone. To save the cost of an architect, Father Mazzuchelli drew the plans for the church and named the building St. Raphael's Church after one of the three archangels. (2) The cornerstone was laid on August 15, 1835 and a collection of $3,000 for further construction was made in the community. (3)

Telegraph Herald, Dec. 22, 1940. Image courtesy: Diane Harris

In 1839 Father Mazzuchelli directed the construction of a large building at the back of the cathedral. This structure served the bishop and was used to house Saint Raphael's Seminary, lowa’s first diocesan college.

In 1845 Bishop Loras, faced with the crowded condition of the cathedral, planned the construction of a new church in the center of the downtown area. A cornerstone was laid in 1849, but work never proceeded past the laying of the foundation. Formation of Holy Trinity parish (now St. Mary's) in 1849 and St. Patrick's parish in 1853 relieved overcrowding. Realizing that this was only a temporary solution, Bishop Loras again planned a new cathedral.

Work began in 1857 on land adjacent to the stone church built by Father Mazzuchelli. The cathedral, modeled from Magdalen College in Oxford, England, was designed by John Mullany, a local architect. A huge audience witnessed the laying of the cornerstone on Sunday, July 5, 1857. Completed in 1861 the cathedral, over three times larger than its predecessor, witnessed its first Mass, offered by Bishop Loras two months before his death, on Christmas 1857. The cathedral received its formal dedication and blessing on July 7, 1861.

A Mr. Bovington, a Chicago architect, visited the cathedral in May 1876 to make estimates on completing the steeple and remodeling the front of the building. (4) On May 15, 1876 the suggestions made by Bovington were approved with an estimated cost of $10,000. (5) The steeple was completed on November 11, 1876. (6) The same year St. Raphael's Lyceum, a debating society, was first held. (7)

The ladies of the congregation were an active group. In October 1880 they made arrangements for a fair to raise money to repair the roof over the chapel at the rear of the building. Often used in religious celebrations, the chapel suffered from water damage. (8)

Stained glass windows were imported from London. The Treasury Department informed Senator William Boyd ALLISON that because the windows were considered works of art they were exempt from the duty of forty-five percent prior to being installed in 1889. (9) The marble altar arrived in the city in July 1890 and Thomas Byrne set about building a foundation for it. (10)

Mortuary chapel. Photo courtesy: Telegraph Herald

In 1903 at the request of Archbishop John HENNESSY a mortuary chapel was built beneath the church. Archbishop Hennessy, who died before the project was completed, is buried there along with Bishop Mathias LORAS Bishop Clement SMYTH, Archbishop Francis J.L. BECKMAN, Archbishop Henry P. ROHLMAN, and Archbishop Raymond Etteldorf. Archbishops can choose whether to be buried in the chapel. The last burial was that of Archbishop James J. BYRNE. Renovations made to the chapel in 1958 included lighting behind stained-glass windows to create the image of a place above ground. (11)

Major renovations in the cathedral were made during 1886, 1914, and 1936.

In June 1986 renovation plans for St. Raphael's Cathedral were approved by Roman Catholic officials. Work was scheduled to begin on July 7. Parish rector Rev. John Dalton announced that it had been nearly fifty years since the interior of the church had been refurbished. The priorities for the project included enhancing the devotional and sacramental areas of the church while maintaining the GOTHIC REVIVAL ARCHITECTURE. Dividers between the pews were scheduled to be removed to eliminate a fire hazard. The walls were to be painted a lighter color, lighting was to be installed to focus attention on the vaulted ceiling, and the wooden trim was to be bleached to return it to its original color. The floor was to be carpeted and the murals cleaned.

Work started on the project despite the protests of the Save Our Cathedral Committee whose members claimed the work would destroy the historical significance of the building. One of the most controversial decisions led to the construction of entrances into the cathedral where side altars had once stood. The pews were refinished to remove years of varnish and allow the light oak beneath to show. The remains of SAINT CESSIANUS were installed in the altar during the first mass in the new surroundings held on November 23, 1986.

Stretching eastward in front of the cathedral is a pedestrian plaza developed through the work of Msgr. Norbert C. Barrett, pastor of St. Raphael's in 1975 and Wayne Andrew NORMAN, Sr. Gracing the plaza is the sculpture FIVE FIGURES FOR FIVE FLAGS. The work, featuring a steamboat captain, LEAD miner, frontier farmer and his wife, originally included a lumberjack. At the request of Norman and Msgr. Barrett, this figure was replaced with the figure of a missionary priest. The sculpture was one of the four finalists in the 1973 Five Flags Sculpture Contest eventually won by CONTINUUM.



1. Sommer, Lawrence J. The Heritage of Dubuque-An Architectural View," East Dubuque: Tel Graphics, 1975, p. 35

2. Historic Reports. "Cathedral Historic District," Online: http://www.cityofdubuque.org/DocumentCenter/Home/View/2932, p. 9

3. "St. Raphael's," Dubuque Herald, November 17, 1876, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=uh8FjILnQOkC&dat=18761119&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

4. "The Cathedral," Dubuque Herald, May 16, 1876, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=uh8FjILnQOkC&dat=18760516&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

5. "The Cathedral Improvement," Dubuque Herald, May 10, 1876. p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=uh8FjILnQOkC&dat=18760510&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

6. "Caught on the Fly," Dubuque Herald, November 12, 1876, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=uh8FjILnQOkC&dat=18761112&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

7. "St. Raphael Lyceum," Dubuque Herald, May 10, 1876. p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=uh8FjILnQOkC&dat=18760510&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

8. "Caught on the Fly," Dubuque Herald, October 19, 1880, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=uh8FjILnQOkC&dat=18801019&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

9. "Local News in Brief," Dubuque Herald, December 23, 1888, p. 12

10. "Local News in Brief," Dubuque Daily Herald, July 9, 1890, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=_OG5zn83XeQC&dat=18900709&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

11. Lyons, Erica, " 'Founding Fathers Lie in Mortuary Chapel," Telegraph Herald, February 11, 2019, p. 3

175 Years, Volume 2, "A Tour of Dubuque's Landmarks," Telegraph Herald, June 23, 2008