"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 THIRD ORDER OF ST. FRANCIS OF THE HOLY FAMILY (OSF). The order was founded to care for the wounded of the Austro-Prussian War and a CHOLERA plague. (1) In 1860 four members of the Holy Cross Sisters of Strasbourg, France came to Herford, Germany to operate an orphanage. One was Josephine Termehr who made her final vows as Sister Mary Xavier Termehr in 1862. When the sisters were recalled from the orphanage in 1864, Sister Xavier refused and established a new order of sisters with encouragement from the local pastor and bishop.

As the superior of the new order, Sister Xavier became Mother Xavier and the order took its name from St. Francis of Assisi. In 1875 the sisters were expelled, along with all religious orders, from Prussia by Bismarck. They moved from New York City to Iowa City at the invitation of Rev. William Emonds, pastor of St. Mary's Parish. In 1876 they opened Mount St. Mary's Orphanage. Deeply in debt and increasingly at odds with Emonds, a group of eighteen sisters, seven novices and four postulants came to Dubuque in 1878, at the invitation of Bishop John HENNESSY, to start the diocesan orphanage. (2)

The vacant HOLY TRINITY CATHOLIC CHURCH at 8th and White became their first Dubuque home. One year later the sisters and twelve orphans moved to the Duncan House on Davis Avenue. This became ST. MARY'S ORPHAN HOME. The sisters also accepted responsibility for SAINT MARY'S SCHOOL and five of their number began supervision of the domestic department at St. Joseph's College.

The Sisters built their motherhouse, later IMMACULATE CONCEPTION ACADEMY near the orphanage on Davis Street in 1881. (3) A larger motherhouse was constructed in 1925 at its present location on Windsor Extension. The sisters established a mission in Chowtsun, China in 1931, but were forced to leave by the Communists in 1947. In 1965 a mission was established in Chile. (4) The Holy Family Hall, an infirmary, was added in 1961 with a novitiate wing built later. The Franciscans have carried out a wide range of service in Dubuque.

In 1949 the Dubuque Franciscans built XAVIER HOSPITAL. (5) They have taught in HOLY TRINITY CATHOLIC CHURCH, ST. MARY'S CATHOLIC CHURCH, SACRED HEART CHURCH, and WAHLERT CATHOLIC HIGH SCHOOL. In addition, the Sisters operated MARY OF THE ANGELS HOME for workingwomen, the Saint Francis Home for the Aging, the domestic departments of the Archbishop's residence, and STONEHILL CARE CENTER.

The decision was made in 1981 to consolidate services at Dubuque's two Catholic hospitals to contain healthcare costs and eliminate duplication. Xavier Hospital took on the task of housing for the elderly. Sister Helen HUEWE, who had been the president of Xavier, transitioned to the same role at MERCY MEDICAL CENTER from 1986 to 1997.

In 1989 the Sisters opened the SHALOM RETREAT CENTER.

Mirroring the activities of other religious orders, the Franciscans during the 1990s and beyond focused on closing the School of the Americas which it said trained human rights violators, opposition to the death penalty racial injustice, immigration concerns and issues relating to women. Members of the order protested police brutality in Chicago. (6)

Historical Highlights of the OSFs in the Dubuque Area (7)

1864--Order begins in Herford, Germany

1875-OSFs emigrate to Iowa City

1878-OSFs move to Dubuque at the invitation of Bishop Hennessy; make residence in old Holy Trinity Church at 8th and White

1881--OSFs open Sacred Heart School; live in motherhouse on Davis St.

1884--Mary of the Angels (former home of Bishop Loras) opens as home for working girls

1897--OSFs open Holyt Ghost School

1905--St. Francis Home for the Aged opens

1907--Academy of the Immaculate Conception opens

1910--OSFs open Holy Trinity School

1925--Sisters move into Mount St. Francis on Windsor Ave.; Immaculate Conception Academy transferred from 17th and Iowa to former convent on Davis Avenue and our Lady of Lourdes Home, a home for working girls, opens in its location

1935--OSFs open Our Lady of Lourdes, a music conservatory

1957--Sisters begin teaching at Wahlert Catholic High School

1979--Alverno Apartments groundbreaking; residence for low income and elderly

1998--OSFs join others to form OPening Doors, Inc., resulting in Maria house and Teresa Shelter for women and children



1. "Women of Courage and Conviction," Celebrating 125 Years, Mercy Medical Center, 2004, p. 5

2. Ibid.

3. Fyten, David. "100 Years in U. S. for Dubuque Franciscans," Telegraph-Herald, August 31, 1975, p. 24

4. Ibid.

5. "Women of Courage and Conviction..."

6. Nevans-Pederson, Mary. "Demonstrating Their Belief," Telegraph Herald, December 5, 19988, p. 17

7. "Historical Highlights of the OSFs in the Dubuque Area," Telegraph Herald, November 30, 2014, p. 95