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Collection Spotlight

St. Mary's School History & Drum

For around 130 years, St. Mary’s School was an icon of downtown Dubuque. The lives of thousands of young Dubuquers were influenced by the Catholic Sisters, priests, and lay teachers who served the school over many decades.

The school had humble beginnings in the basement of St. Mary’s Church in 1851. By the late 1860s, some classes were even held in a nearby store. In 1872, a three-story brick school building was constructed at 15th and Jackson Streets, adjacent to St. Mary’s Church. The new building paved the way for significant growth in the 20th century.

By 1900, enrollment was up to 550 students. As Dubuque’s population continued to grow during and after the World War II era, so did the desire for children to receive a Catholic education. The school expanded again in the early 1950s—as a building on White Street formerly known as St. Mary’s Casino was renovated to become a “modern” school. It was covered with an aluminum and enamel exterior in blue and white – St. Mary’s colors. By 1960, enrollment was over 800 students. In 1981, St. Mary’s consolidated with St. Patrick’s school and became known as Downtown Catholic. In June 2004, the school closed permanently after the consolidation of Dubuque’s Catholic schools into the Holy Family system.

The drum used by the St. Mary’s School orchestra was gifted to the Dubuque County Historical Society by the St. Mary’s parish when it closed in 2010. Today, the non-profit Steeple Square organization occupies the site of the church and the parish and the White Street “modern” school building is now home to Radius Church and the Dubuque Dream Center.

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