"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
Image courtesy: Mike Day. Kendall C. Day family collection.

WAHLERT CATHOLIC HIGH SCHOOL. The largest high school in the Dubuque Archdiocese, Wahlert was designed by the Durrant Group and constructed at a cost of $2.75 million. The Christian symbol of the fish is displayed on two percent of the bricks used in the school display. It replaced parochial high school and some academies. The curriculum was designed to meet all requirements of the Iowa Committee of Secondary Schools and the North Central Association of Schools. The faculty included laymen, priests and representatives of all the orders of Sisters in Dubuque. (1)

Planning for the construction of Wahlert started at a meeting on June 17, 1955, with discussions between Archbishop Leo BINZ and pastors of the Dubuque parishes about the deteriorating state of the existing parochial high school buildings. A second meeting on July 1st concerned the site for the school. On July 13 it was announced that H. W. (HARRY) WAHLERT would donate one quarter of a million dollars toward the construction of a new high school for Catholic students in Dubuque.

The high school originally known as Central Catholic High School, covering 222,860 square feet, was constructed beginning in 1958 on fifty acres across from the intersection of Chaney Road and Kane Street. The final cost of the project was $3,250,000 toward which each of the parishes made contributions. The official name of the school was announced on February 25, 1959, when the archbishop, with the unanimous endorsement of the Council of Administration, named the school in honor of Harry Wahlert. The opening day for the school was August 31, 1959, although classes first met on September 3.

Wahlert's Reserved Officer' Training Corps (ROTC) detachment, dating from its beginning at Columbia College (now LORAS COLLEGE), made it the nation's oldest junior ROTC unit. Relations between the high school and the Department of the Army were ended on July 1, 1963.

In 1974 Wahlert was selected as one of twenty schools in the United States to participate in the National Humanities Faculty's two-year bicentennial study of "The American Covenant: The Moral Uses of Power." Wahlert was one of two Roman Catholic schools chosen from the one hundred that applied to participate.

In 1998 the first class to spend four years under Wahlert's outcomes-based education became seniors. The program required graduating seniors to demonstrate mastery of a subject to pass a test or class. To graduate, each student also had to produce a portfolio of their work and make a major presentation. (2)

In November 2016 an estimated sixty students from Wahlert were flown to Italy to perform at a Mass conducted by Pope Francis. An expected three hundred singers from the United States performed, but Wahlert was the only high school chosen to participate. (3)

Wahlert, accredited by the North Central Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools, the Iowa Department of Education and the ARCHDIOCESE OF DUBUQUE, is governed by a board elected by the fourteen Dubuque area parishes who support the school financially. During the 1989-90 academic year, the school enrolled 973 students from Dubuque and the tri-state region.


In January 2017 a two-year $15.2 million renovation project at Wahlert was half-finished. Work began in the east wing of the school with asbestos removal; remodeled classrooms, science labs and bathrooms; and the addition of a new conference room and central staircase. Renovated areas also received new heating, cooling and electrical systems. New lighting was added to the parking lot with additional security cameras around the perimeter of the school and in school hallways. Asbestos was also removed from the west wing of the building. Future work would begin at the south end of the school and move to the north. Of fourteen classroom spaces to be renovated, some will become multi-purpose areas. Cafeteria renovations were planned to include a new serving area, replacement of an interior wall with a movable glass wall, and larger windows in an exterior wall Locker rooms, band room and choir room would receive new lighting, mechanical systems and flooring. The gymnasium would have new air conditioning and the parking lot would be resurfaced. The lobby area renovation included a new ceiling and lighting. (4)

In November, 2017 after more than a year and a half of construction, renovations at Wahlert Catholic High School in Dubuque are finished. The $17.8 million project officially started in early 2016. The changes wer very evident. The halls were more brightly lit. The cafeteria was more like a college-style commons area. The possibility of programming altogether differently existed because the building was no longer dictating the many of the options. The $17.8 million project was funded by more than 1,000 donors. (5) The school hosted an open house on November 19, 2017.

In 2018 the State of Iowa offered a new recognition for students achieving proficiency in at least two languages. To earn the Seal of Biliteracy, students had to demonstrate proficiency in at least two languages, one of which is English. Proficiency could be demonstrated their standardized tests such as ACT and assessments through the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages. If the language they studied was not associated with an examination, students could prepare portfolios. Scores would need to reflect "intermediate" levels of skill in reading writing, speaking and listening. Iowa was one of an estimated forty states offering such recognition. At Wahlert, Sydney Rury and Laurel Curtiss who had been learning Spanish since kindergarten were among the first recipients of the award. (6)

The Wahlert Golden Eagles volleyball team in 2020 held more state championships than any other high school in Iowa. The program also was the only one in the state to win multiple volleyball championships in every decade since Iowa first sanctioned the sport. Kayla BANWARTH a former acclaimed member of the team led the U. S. Olympic volleyball team to a bronze medal at the 2016 Summer Olympics. (7)

Rather than an annual one-day service project, Wahlert students beginning in the fall of 2021 were placed in mentor groups of between 13 to 16 students led by a staff member who met with the students daily. After citizens submitted requests for service, mentor teachers met directly with their group to schedule a time for the students to complete the project. In October there were 28 mentor groups at Wahlert and eight of them had already completed service projects ranging from yard work to moving furniture and clearing out classrooms at Holy Ghost School for a renovation. Students could assist with projects for up to two hours at a time. (8)



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

2. Krapfl, Mike. "Seniors Present a Look Beyond Grades," Telegraph Herald, March 26, 1998, p. 1. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=aEyKTaVlRPYC&dat=19980326&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

3. "Dubuque High School Choir Picked to Sing for the Pope," KWWL.com November 14, 2016. Online

4. Hinga, Allie. "Wahlert Project Moving at Comfortable Pace," Telegraph Herald, January 12, 2017, p. 5A

5. Hanson, Brad. "$17.8 Million Renovation Complete at Wahlert Catholic High School" KWWL.com November, 17, 2017. Online: http://www.kwwl.com/story/36868317/2017/11/17/178-million-renovation-complete-at-wahlert-catholic-high-school

6. Hinga, Allie,"Words of Wisdom: Students Gain Seal of Biliteracy," Telegraph Herald, December 27, 2018, p. 1A

7. "'Title Town'" Dubuque by the Decades, Telegraph Herald, July, 2020, p. 55

8. Kelsey, Elizabeth, "Wahlert Restructures Service Learning Program," Telegraph Herald, October 17, 2021, p. 7A