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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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MOUNT ST. BERNARD SEMINARY. Bishop Mathias LORAS was interested in educating young men for the seminary and established St. Raphael's Seminary adjacent to the cathedral. (1) Not satisfied with the academy in Dubuque because of crowded conditions and eager to remove his students from the distractions of the city, Loras planned another school outside the city. Mount St. Bernard Seminary was established south of Dubuque in 1850 with a group of stone buildings to house the faculty and students. (2)

In 1856 the St. Louis Provincial Council declared that only one seminary was needed in the St. Louis Province of which Dubuque was a part. (3) This was followed closely by the financial PANIC OF 1857. Without financial help or enough priests, Loras closed the seminary in 1860. While the original Mt. Bernard closed in 1860, the educational program advanced by the Catholic Church never ended. It was re-established in 1873 with ST. JOSEPH COLLEGE.

In 1937 a 75-foot high CENTENNIAL CROSS was erected at the original site of the seminary. Constructed of galvanized steel, it was embedded in an 8' by 8' block of concrete. Beginning during Holy Week 1963 and thereafter, the cross was illuminated by the Dubuque Council 510 of the Knights of Columbus. (4)

The desire to have a diocesan seminary were a recurrent theme for decades. Men interested in the priesthood had to be sent to seminaries as far away as the North American College in Rome; St. Paul Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota; or St. Mary's in Baltimore. (5) On May 31, 1951 plans were announced by the Catholic church of Iowa to construct a theological seminary in Dubuque. The Sisters of Mercy announced on August 16, 1951 that they had sold their novitiate on Carter Road for this new school. (6)

The aerial view showing Carter Road running from the lower right to the northwest. The lighter colored road running from the left to the upper right of the photo is Chaney Road. Photo courtesy: Ray Grant

The land on which the novitiate was built had belonged to Fannie STOUT who died on December 28, 1914, with an unsigned will. The property became part of the estate and was purchased by Joseph J. NAGLE who sold the land to the Sisters of Mercy.

Around 1920 the firm of ANTON ZWACK INC. was signed to a contract by the Sisters to construct a novitiate and motherhouse on the property. The old buildings on the property were torn down to be replaced by Mount St. Agnes. This new building contained the training school for novices, a home for aged sisters and a hospital. (7)

When the Archbishop and bishops of the Province of Iowa announced the new seminary they also stated it would be called Mount St. Bernard, named for the original seminary. The school was opened on September 6, 1951 with domestic duties of the seminary accepted by the Sisters of Saint Francis. The initial class of seminarians moved in on September 17th, and the Seminary was formally dedicated on December 12, 1951. (8)


At the time of the dedication, Catholic school children were asked to make contributions during Lent toward the purchase of a statue of St. Bernard. Dr. Christian Petersen, a famed Iowa sculptor on the staff of Iowa State College (now Iowa State University) was given the commission. (9) The resulting statue stood nearly eleven feet high and weighed fourteen tons. The figure was transported upright for ten hours to reach Dubuque with the progress of the unique cargo through small Iowa communities was carried by several TELEVISION and RADIO stations as well as the Associated Press news bureau.

Upon its arrival in Dubuque, the statue was slid from its trailer onto two beams positioned over the statue's base. Between the beams were two one hundred-pound blocks of ice that allowed the beams to be removed. Fifteen hours later, as the ice gradually melted, the statue settled into place.

Construction began in 1952 on St. Charles Borromeo Hall. This building contained a library, recreation room, classrooms, and 150 students rooms for two hundred seminarians. The portico faced the large pond to the south which was referred to as Carter Lake. (10)

In 1966 Mount St. Bernard became a residential seminary with its academic program ended and its students taking classes at AQUINAS INSTITUTE. (11) The seminary was closed in 1969. On October 11, 1969 the SISTERS OF THE PRESENTATION OF THE BLESSED VIRGIN MARY (PBVM) took possession of the property. (12) The site was renamed Mount Loretto.



1. Hellert, Susan. "Hunting Down the Old Statue of St. Bernard," Telegraph Herald, January 23, 2007, p.D1

2. Ibid

3. Gallagher, Mary Kevin, Seed/Harvest, Dubuque, Iowa: Archdiocese of Dubuque Press, 1987, p. 16

4. Ibid., p. 96

5. Ibid., p. 111

6. Meyer, Jeff. "On Sacred Pond," Telegraph Herald, December 24, 2013, p. 1C

7. Ibid.

8. Ibid.

9. Hudson, David; Bergman, Marvin; and Horton, Loren. The Biographical Dictionary of Iowa. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2009, "Christian Petersen," Online: http://uipress.lib.uiowa.edu/bdi/DetailsPage.aspx?id=303

10. Meyer, Jeff.

11. Gallagher, p. 113

12. Meyer, Jeff