Remembering Our Roots
We remember our years spent at our various ministries and the wonderful stories and people we have met along the way. Do you have a favorite memory of a sister? We enjoy hearing from former students, co-workers, parishioners and all who have blessed our lives.
Key West, IA
Presentation Presence from 1875-1997
In February 1875 Mother Vincent Hennessy opened the front parlor of the Presentation Key West Convent to school children to begin the long story of Catholic education at St. Joseph, Key West, the first Presentation motherhouse in Dubuque. Approximately 20 students were present for the first day of classes.
In July 2008 the parlor in the Key West Convent again welcomed young children who came to thank the Presentation Sisters for their help in acquiring age appropriate playground equipment for their program. Approximately 20 children from the Key West Early Childhood Center came and were welcomed by Sister Benjamin Duschner who had just moved into the convent on that day. The children, ages two to four, introduced themselves, sang songs, were treated to cookies and asked Sister Benjamin to come visit them some day – which she gladly did.
In the intervening 133+ years much has happened. The original parlor school was the beginning of over a century of education provided to children.
The front parlor of Key West was quickly filled and the sisters moved the school to the local public school building. In 1927 St. Joseph Parish built its first school. Over these years, hundreds of students were taught their faith and the basic skills necessary for civic success. The last day of elementary classes was held in the school in May 2007. However, Presentation presence continues today in many ways in the Key West community.
Once again three sisters, Sisters Benjamin Duschner, Beth Driscoll and Leanne Welch, are living in the new convent that was built in 1994 replacing the 120-year-old building into which Mother Hennessy first moved. The school buildings are now occupied by the growing Key West Early Childhood Center that serves children ages two to four during the school year and preschool and elementary age children throughout the summer. The Sisters of the Presentation Ministry Fund contributed to the installation of their new playground equipment.
In 1875 Kate O’Hea, a young girl in the parish, befriended the sisters after Mass on their first day in Key West. In 2008 it is the Denlinger girls, Abbie and Halie, who bring fresh produce to the sisters. More than a century apart the O’Heas and the Denlingers have taught their daughters to share and to be good neighbors.
Presentation presence can also be seen in the many lay people who have been trained by the sisters. Many of the present parish council members, music ministers, religious education teachers, lectors, eucharistic ministers and others involved in the parish have been touched by the lives of the sisters over the years. From a humble parlor to a present day parlor – Presentation presence continues in St. Joseph, Key West.
Presentation Presence from 1882-1969, 2001-2007
“A backward glance over close to 70 years reveals how sincere and warm was the welcome extended to Sisters Vincent Donnelly, Baptista Hussey, de Sales Weibel and Cecilia Malloy by the great-hearted people of Lawler, that beautifully located inland Iowa town, on September 15, 1882.” This description in the annals by Sister Benedict Murphy in 1949 begins the story of the Presentation sisters in Lawler.
Just over two years after the death of Mother Vincent Hennessy in 1880, Bishop Hennessy, “peerless advocate of Catholic education,” again requested sisters for a new school in his diocese. Four daughters of Nano Nagle were sent to bring the Gospel message to a new group of students.
With Sister Vincent in charge, the new school opened its doors in 1882 with an enrollment of 70 pupils. The two-story frame building consisted of one long room on each floor, accommodating both grade and high school by 1892. It sent out its first graduating class in 1897. To relieve crowded conditions, a new brick building was erected in 1899 which served the students until 1919 when a fire destroyed the upper floor. Not to be daunted, the parishioners rebuilt the second floor and added a third floor as well. The high school was discontinued at this time.
Another fire on December 21, 1963, threatened the existence of Catholic education in the area. At 8:30 a.m. on a Saturday morning, the sisters smelled smoke and looked in dismay at the black cloud rising from the school building. According to one source, two book cases and a record file were the only things saved from the inferno.
The sisters considered themselves fortunate in that they had taken the choir music for Christmas Mass to the church earlier, and enough copies were available for all who wished to participate. An account in the parish centennial brochure states, “The new Mass rendered by the choir of the Catholic Church on Christmas was beautiful. Much credit is due to the Presentation sisters for the choir’s excellent training.”
A massive cleanup began even though the future looked bleak for the re-opening of school in the new year. The fortunate purchase by the parish of a nearby vacant public school building gave new vigor to the efforts of the local people, and the sisters from neighboring towns, who rallied to clean, furnish and ready the building so that classes could resume as quickly as possible. Many hours were spent copying charred records and replacing supplies, while textbook companies cooperated to supply lost textbooks quickly. Amazingly, class sessions resumed in the new setting January 8, 1964, only two days later than the original school calendar dictated. The school was to continue serving the parishioners of Lawler until 1969, with 96 Presentation sisters having been part of the faculty over the years.
Difficult times in the early days of the parish gave rise to the tradition of generosity toward the sisters. Every fall parish members went door to door collecting potatoes, meat, vegetables, lard, wood, money, anything to supplement the meager supplies at the convent. This tradition of giving extended into the better years when Presentation Day became the occasion for bringing gifts to the convent.
Sister Agatha Murphy, the first postulant from Lawler, entered the Presentation community in July 1883. Her answer to God’s call was only the first in a long line of vocations to come from Lawler, which saw 55 women enter religious life and 12 men ordained to the priesthood.
Sister Eugene Goss recalls her years attending Our Lady of Mount Carmel School, “The school was the seat, center and heart of Lawler for kids growing up, any age, Catholic or not.” She has vivid memories of Sister Marie Celine, who was always on the playground with the students, acting as umpire for their ball games.
She also recalls fond memories of winter fun. “We haunted the convent in the evening, waiting for the lights in chapel to go off signaling the end of prayers, so the sisters could come out and sleigh ride with us. The prominence of the black fringed shawls and flying veils said much about the sleigh riding on Eickhoff Hill, not to mention the habits getting caught under the runners of the sleds. We loved to have the sisters join us.”
Other pupils followed other pursuits for which they were well equipped by the education they received at Mount Carmel school. One example is that of Art Winter, founding editor of Praying magazine. He says in a letter dated October 17, 1996, to his fourth-grade teacher Sister Gertrude Schmelzer that, “Over the years, a highlight of our life has been returning to Lawler. About 15 years ago, we realized what great places small towns are and we began to wonder why we ever left Lawler in the first place.”
In 2001, Sister Louann Doering began her work as pastoral associate in the Servants of the Lord Cluster consisting of the parishes of Our Lady of Mount Carmel (Lawler), St. Mary (Waucoma) and St. Luke (St. Lucas). She conducted RCIA programs, helped with funeral plans, led wake services, visited homebound and care center residents and helped with community-building events. Her duties expanded over the years as several other parishes were clustered with the original three in order to provide services on a larger scale. Sister Louann remarked that the clustering was difficult for parishioners, who tended to retain loyalty to their own parishes. When Sister Louann left the area in 2007, plans were underway to design a six-parish grouping known today as Christ Our Hope cluster.
Lawler, Iowa, and Our Lady of Mt. Carmel School and Parish are true examples of a happy union between Presentation sisters and the people of God.
Left photo: Sisters who taught in Lawler in 1915.
Right photo: Our Lady of Mt. Carmel School in Lawler before the fire in 1963.
Presentation Presence from 1885-1975
The Presentation sisters began their ministry in Elkader, Iowa, on August 25, 1885. The Sisters of Charity, BVM, who had spent 17 years in the school, had withdrawn due to increased commitments elsewhere. According to Mother Benedict Murphy’s Annals, “Bishop Hennessy immediately requested Mother Patricia to send sisters to replace them.” Mother Patricia sent Sister Mary de Chantal Heiser and two companions, Sisters Mary Gertrude Hanlon and Alphonsus Green. They were described as “women of good sense and judgment.”
“Rev. Fr. Quigley, a man of advanced years…was pastor at Elkader. A small frame building served as convent and school when our sisters first occupied the place to continue the work of education.” The convent occupied the basement, while first floor housed two school rooms: the “little” room where the beginners started, and the “big” room to which they later advanced.
There were early concerns that, having replaced the well-liked and respected BVM sisters, the Presentation sisters might encounter some resistance and hard feelings. They were received with warmth, however, and experienced the “gracious consideration and friendliness typical of the people of Elkader.”
A sense of humor helped ease the loneliness of the three members of the original community, who especially liked to tell the story of an incident involving Father McCulloch.
Upon visiting the Church one day to pray, the sisters discovered an elderly retired priest, shoes and stockings removed, feet on the pew ahead of him, absorbed in prayer. Suppressing their giggles, they remained to pray, and later recalled the years spent by Father McCulloch as a pioneer priest tramping the prairies on the frontier. They concluded that God wouldn’t mind his bare feet, which must have been worn out from his travels.
Upon the death of Father Quigley in 1886, the new pastor, Father John F. Reilley, undertook a much-needed renovation of both convent and school. With more space and added enrollment, Sister Mary Josephine Howley joined the original group of three, followed by Sisters Mary Veronica Mulgrew and de Pazzi Curtin in 1888 and 1889 respectively. In 1889 and 1898 further additions to the building provided space for more students, and even allowed the sisters to open a limited boarding school for girls.
By 1911, Father Reilley, pastor at the time, had erected a two-story brick building to serve as the school, leaving the sisters in the privacy of the convent. Grade and high school curriculum matched and even exceeded that offered in all small parochial schools at that time, with Father Reilley providing college preparatory classes in addition to the regular course of study.
The new 1911 building provided room for increased enrollment, and a full course of high school studies by 1925. A year later the St. Joseph High School was recognized by the Iowa Committee on Secondary Schools and placed on the list of accredited schools in Iowa. Further program expansion into the area of athletics was made possible by the work of Father James Taken, who remodeled the old stone church to serve as a parish hall and gymnasium. The church and parish hall were later listed in the National Register of Historical Places.
In later years, one of the young boys who had graced the halls of St. Joseph’s grew up to be Bishop Francis J. Dunn, who became Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Dubuque in August of 1969.
According to the parish history, published in 1981, 23 young women from Elkader entered the convent: 18 became Sisters of the Presentation, and five joined various other communities.
St. Joseph School closed in 1969. According to the Clayton County Register (February 13, 1969), reasons for closing were listed as “financial pressures, a decrease in teaching religious and the need for a more efficient school system.”
After the closing of the school, Presentation sisters continued to minister to the people of the parish by maintaining a religious education program there until 1975.
A letter from the Burlingame Family, dated February 1969, says of the sisters who taught at St. Joseph School in Elkader: “For many years the Presentation sisters have taught our children in the grades and supported them in athletics. They have lived among us ‘as poor yet enriching many’…none of us care to have faithful friends leave.”
Two years ago Presentation presence returned to Elkader when Sister Carla Popes began ministering at St. Joseph Parish. She helps with life-long faith formation classes and guides parents and students together as they prepare for the sacraments of initiation. “It has been a wonderful gift walking with those who remember the sisters. We, too, have received the blessings of these wonderfully generous people,” comments Sister Carla.
Sister also ministers as the director of religious education in the Sacred Heart Parish in Volga, Iowa; and pastoral associate at St. Mary Parish in Strawberry Point, Iowa.
Left photo: The early Elkader community: Left to right: Front row: Sisters Dolorosa Lynch, Antonio Murphy, Zita Lynch; Back row: Dominic Dougherty, Mother de Chantal Heiser and Veronica Mulgrew.
Right photo: St. Joseph School in Elkader, Iowa, built in 1911.
As one who has walked the halls of St. Columbkille School from kindergarten to 12th grade, it is my privilege to muse upon its beginnings and early history.
In October 1874, Mother Vincent Hennessy, Alice Howley (great aunt of Sister Anna Howley), Ellen Ahearn and Kate Reide left Ireland arriving in Dubuque to find that no place had been prepared for them to live. Thus these four women stayed with the Visitation Sisters at their convent located on West Third Street near the Cathedral Parish of St. Raphael.
In January 1875, the sisters traveled by sleigh to Key West to move into the house the pastor had planned as a rectory. By February of 1875, classes were held in the convent parlor. In 1876, some of the sisters began teaching in a new educational foundation at Western Dubuque, now St. Anthony School and Parish. In 1878, Archbishop John Hennessy announced that a convent would be built for the sisters in a quiet suburban section of Dubuque known as “West Hill” and that a school for the children of the mill workers and miners who resided there would be operated by the sisters.
In September of the following year the convent/school on West Hill, presently known as Rush Street, was not completed, so classes were temporarily held in a vacant house on 244 South Dodge, what is now Bryant Street. A double house, still standing today, is the original site of the Presentation sisters’ school. On December 9, 1879, the sisters moved from Dodge Street to the West Hill location. The next day Mother Hennessy and the sisters from Key West arrived with a farm wagon load of furniture and moved into the new building which served as novitiate, motherhouse, school and convent. The school was divided, the lower floor for boys and the upper floor for girls. Classes officially began in the new facility on December 15, 1879. Archbishop Hennessy came for the dedication on July 19, 1880, and announced the school be called St. Vincent in honor of Mother Vincent Hennessy who had died earlier that year. The enrollment in 1880 was 120 students who paid 25 cents per month which formed the basis of the sisters’ monthly income. Since there was no parish support, all expenses of the school and upkeep of the building was taken care of by the sisters.
On Candlemas day in 1880, Father Garret Nagle, a distant relative of Nano Nagle, foundress of the Sisters of the Presentation, walked up Dodge Street from the Cathedral with “monstrance, cope, veil, thurible, incense and incense boat” on a very cold day so the residents of West Hill could, for the very first time, have Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament and blessing of candles. The West Hill residents could now forego the tiresome trip down the hill to the Cathedral. West Hill eventually became St. Columbkille Parish in 1887.
From 1879 to 1909, St. Vincent School served as a day school for local Catholics. With the construction and dedication of the new motherhouse for the sisters located at 1229 Mt. Loretta Avenue in 1909, St. Vincent became St. Vincent Academy for girls, as well as a boarding school serving students from much farther away, even some from out of state.
In 1914, the number of resident students had outgrown all available space. An addition to the building was planned that consisted of private rooms, a chapel, an infirmary, a music room, and a dining room. The enjoyment of the new building was short lived, however, as it was destroyed by fire on February 14, 1919. Fortunately, though, it was soon rebuilt and remodeled with the finances of the sisters.
In 1930, Mother Mary Aquin sold the school building to St. Columbkille Parish. The pastor, Right Reverend James J. O’Brien, changed the name of St. Vincent to St. Columbkille School and Archbishop Francis J.L. Beckman granted permission for boys to attend the school. The sisters’ salaries were then paid by the parish.
Sixty-seven women have entered the Presentation community from St. Columbkille Parish. Sister Mary Bernard Roddy was the first vocation to the Presentation sisters on West Hill. Sister Mary Genevieve Burke would be considered the first vocation from St. Vincent Academy. I feel honored to have walked the halls of St. Columbkille and am grateful to be one of the 67 women.
Left photo: Doorway of St. Vincent’s Academy (now St. Comlumbkille School).
Right photo: House still standing at 244 Bryant Street.
Presentation Presence from 1883-2000
To recount the history of Saint Patrick’s School is to also recount the history of the Presentation sisters in Waukon, Iowa, and indeed of Catholic education in Allamakee County. The five sisters who came in 1883 to serve the Irish immigrants in northeast Iowa were members of an Irish community which had, only nine years earlier, made its first establishment in Iowa.
When the Reverend John Hawe directed the building of a combination convent and school, some practical-minded parishioners had doubts about the viability of a Catholic school. However, the newly-arrived sisters found nearly every Catholic child in Waukon enrolled for the first day of class.
Sisters Mary Presentation Griffin, Alocoque Murray and Ignatius Sheehan conducted the academic program in grades one through eight, while Sister Mary Stanislaus Dillon handled the music and Sister Mary Teresa Downey assumed domestic duties. Over the next 10 years the program and the enrollment grew: all 12 grades were attempted but because the building became too crowded, the program shrank to 10 grades and remained at that size until 1939.
By 1893 more space was needed for the growing population of boarders and day students. A new wing doubled the size of the building and was soon filled to capacity. In 1936 the wing was removed and the original structure was completely remodeled to serve as a convent only. A new building was constructed which would house the grade and high school, parish hall, kitchen and gymnasium for the next 20 years. The first four-year high school graduating class celebrated its commencement in 1941.
More remodeling in 1956 transformed the parish hall and kitchen into classrooms and a kitchenette. The church basement was redone to accommodate parish gatherings, the school lunch program and, in 1959, one classroom. A second classroom building, opened in 1961, housed kindergarten through grade six. The year 1965 saw the construction of a new convent and the razing of the original building.
Diminishing enrollment caused the closing of the high school in 1970. Today, preschool through grade six share the two classroom buildings with other parish and community groups.
Over the years a warm relationship between the Sisters of the Presentation and the people of Allamakee County has been mutually beneficial. The sisters have given generously and lovingly of their resources, both academically and spiritually, through the operation of the school, the conducting of CCD classes, in parish and liturgical ministry, and most recently, in donating over $2900 from their garage sale proceeds towards Student Tuition Assistance at St. Patrick’s School. They have, in turn, received abundantly.
Thirty-four women from the Waukon area have lived and died as members of the Presentation community: Sisters Mary Genette Bakewell, Clement Bird, Canice Byrnes, Helen Cassidy, Redempta Collins, Thomas Collins, dePazzi Curtin, Monica Curtin, Mercedes Deeney, Oliver Dixon, Coletta Donahue, Loretto Donahue, Winifred Donahue, Dominic Dougherty, Imelda Dougherty, Berchmans Flanagan, Eulalia Gavin, Agnes Griffin, Adorine Hitchins, Alicia Howley, Cyrilla Kernan, Michael Laughlin, Laurayne Mahoney, Elizabeth Maroney, Juliana McCormick, Martin McCormick, John McGeough, Elise O’Malley, Constance Quillin, Cornelia Regan, Justine Smith, Honora Sullivan, Henrietta Teff and Aquin Walsh.
Living members of the community who claim Allamakee County as home number 15. Sisters Kay Cota, Lou Cota, Suzanne Gallagher, Marilou Irons, Carolyn “Carrie” Link, Maura McCarthy, Anne McCormick, Francine Quillin, Raeleen Sweeney and Leanne Welch still serve the Church in the active apostolate. Roberta Burke, Therese Marie Hawes, Dorothy McCormick, Louis McCormick and Bernard Mauss serve as praying members of the retirement group.
The last Presentation Sister to serve at St. Patrick’s was Sister Margaret Anne Kramer who served as teacher, principal, director of religious education and pastoral associate during her 15 years at St. Patrick’s. She left Waukon in the spring of 2000.
Left photo: Original building, 1883.
Right photo: Third and fourth grade class of 1916.
Storm Lake, IA
Presentation Presence from 1950-2009
“We are grateful for the long and faithful service of the Sisters of the Presentation to St. Mary Parish and School. They touched many lives both by their direct involvement with our children in the classroom, and by their witness as women committed to religious life.” (Reverend Bruce Lawler Black and White newsletter, summer 2009) This comment expressed the sentiments of many as the last two Presentation Sisters prepared to leave Storm Lake, thus ending 59 years of service in the school and parish.
St. Mary School in Storm Lake was established and ably staffed by the Franciscan Sisters from Clinton in 1912, while the Presentation Sisters had been in charge of the school in Danbury, Iowa, since 1887. Correspondence between Mother Mary Camilla Keefe and the Most Reverend Bishop Joseph Mueller in 1950 indicated that a trade was to be effected, moving the Presentation Sisters to Storm Lake and the Franciscan Sisters to Danbury.
Arriving in Storm Lake in August of 1950, the following sisters began their work in a new setting: Sisters Mary John McGeough, Joseph Kennedy, Modesta Elbert, Daniel O’Brien, Agnita Healy, Ethel Paulus, Victoria Gereau, Ignatius Cunningham, William Allen and Sheila Kane. In October the furnace in the convent exploded, necessitating a move to what had been the former sisters’ quarters in the school. A joyful group returned to their refurbished home in December.
St. Mary was the only Catholic school in Buena Vista County. Parents were very education-minded, perhaps because of the presence of Buena Vista College in town, and expectations for good quality education were evident. Two out of three graduates went on for higher education. Enrollment increased from 200 students in 1950 to 371 in 1957.
A new brick school building housing grades 1-12 had been built in 1927, and the high school was accredited by the state of Iowa in 1938. As enrollment increased, at times the first grade occupied a house nearby. The need for more space resulted in the construction of a new high school and gym, dedicated in 1957.
Construction continued with the building of St. Ann Convent which was occupied in 1967 and which provided 16 bedrooms. A feature of the new convent was a separate chapel connected to the main building by a breezeway and accessible from the outside. This brought all the sisters under one roof, after they had lived in various places for some years.
Eventually as the number of sisters decreased and enrollment continued to rise, the convent was remodeled to accommodate several classrooms, with the sisters’ quarters reduced to one end of the first floor and several bedrooms on second floor. In 2009 when the last two sisters retired to Dubuque, two of the lay teachers rented rooms in the building.
Sister Angela Feeney, who ministered in the high school from 1973-1980, said of her time there, “Although I enjoyed all the classes I was assigned to teach, my greatest satisfaction came from the enthusiasm that so many of the students had for learning how to do public speaking.” Students would come before and after school, as well as in the evenings, to perfect their speaking skills.
Sister Josita Zieser, one of the last of 102 Presentation Sisters to minister in Storm Lake, retired in 2009. She taught full time for 10 years, then part time in art and third grade, and transferred to the position of parish administrative assistant for her last few years. She commented, “I loved teaching high school art; it was a class they wanted to be in … I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my 19 years here. It was one of the best places I’ve been.”
Sister Donna Determan, who also retired in 2009, remarked, “I know a lot of the alumni that I taught the Sacraments to are now the parents of children I’ve taught. It’s just a thrill and exciting to see them grow up and have families … Storm Lake is like my second home.” She had spent 25 years at St. Mary’s.
Published in 2010
Almost a year after the departure of Presentation sisters from the school and parish of St. Mary in Storm Lake, Iowa, Presentation sisters were welcomed back for a special dedication. On May 10, 2010, the new playground equipment at St. Mary was dedicated in honor of the Dubuque Presentation sisters who served as teachers at the school from 1950-2009. United for Kids, Buena Vista County Foundation and individual donors provided funds for the playground renovation. Also dedicated was a nun carving created and donated by Storm Lake’s wood carver Jeff Klatt. The carving stands in the Presentation Playground, watching the children as they play.
In June 2009, both Sisters Donna Determan and Josita Zieser retired from St. Mary making it the first time in 97 years that no religious sister was teaching at St. Mary School and no sisters living in the St. Anne Convent. Sister Donna retired from teaching and Sister Josita from the parish administrative office. They are the last of a long line of Presentation sisters to serve St. Mary Parish and School since 1950. Religious sisters have been a strong presence in St. Mary School since the doors opened in 1912 when it was staffed by the Sisters of St. Francis of Clinton, Iowa. The Franciscans traded residences with the Presentation sisters in 1950, who were in Danbury, Iowa, at the time. Since then, the Presentation sisters have diligently taught and formed thousands of students since they arrived.
“We are grateful for the long and faithful service of the Sisters of the Presentation to St. Mary Parish and School. They touched many lives both by their direct involvement with our children in the classroom, and by their witness as women committed to the religious life. St. Mary’s will be less without them,” said St. Mary Pastor Father Bruce Lawler of the departure of the sisters.
St. Mary School Principal Bev Mach also expressed sadness at the prospect of no longer having the Presentation sisters at St. Mary’s. “It is with a heavy heart that we say good bye to our beloved Sisters of the Presentation. Their loving presence and giving spirit is a true testament to their deep faith and love of the Lord. Our roots run deep at St. Mary’s and the Presentation sisters have nurtured those roots for many years.”
A total of 102 Presentation sisters ministered at St. Mary School and Parish over 59 years.
Right photo: Left to right: Sisters Catherine Wingert, Donna Determan and Dolores Zieser, who represented her sister, Sister Josita Zieser, came back to St. Mary’s this spring for the dedication of Presentation Playground.
Presentation Presence from 1887-1950, 1997-2010
When in 1887 Bishop Hennessy requested Mother Patricia to assume control of two schools built that year, Danbury and Farley, Iowa, she had only four sisters available for both places. No happy anticipation was hers, facing that difficult situation. “Send two sisters to each place for the present,” was the Bishop’s apparently easy solution of the problem. With ideas of her own regarding regular community life, Mother Patricia, contrary to her good judgment, complied reluctantly with the Bishop’s request.
Although named Superior of the little outgoing band, childlike Sister Mary Angela Crowley was anything but a support to her lone companion. “Sister Mary Cecilia,” she sobbed at parting, “if I’m alive when we reach Danbury, I’ll give you something nice.” Not only did she survive the trip, but she spent many happy years in Danbury, loving its splendid people and calling the place home. When Sister Mary Cecilia chided her neglect of reward for safe transportation, Sister Mary Angela would come back with, “You’re in Danbury now. What greater recompense could you wish?” (From Annals of Mother Benedict, pp. 44-45)
St. Patrick School began in a two-story, wooden, eight-grade school with an enrollment of 85 students, some of whom were boarders. By 1890 the school extended to 11 grades.
Sister Mary Angela, the first postulant received after the founding of the community in Dubuque, served Danbury from 1887 until 1898. Shortly after leaving Danbury she was elected Mother Superior of the community. While in this role she was visiting Danbury in 1906 when she contracted pneumonia and died in the Sioux City hospital.
In the early 1900s, plans were made to build a new four-story brick school (with full basement) since the academy had become too small. The new school was ready for classes by fall of 1908.
In 1951, the two schools of the city (St. Patrick and St. Mary) were merged. The grade school became “St. Mary’s” and the high school became “Danbury Catholic.” The Sisters of the Presentation left (having been asked to staff Storm Lake instead of Danbury) and the Sisters of St. Francis of Mt. St. Clare of Clinton, Iowa, staffed the schools.
In 1997, the Presentation sisters again started serving Danbury Catholic when Sister Jane Conrad joined the staff. She was joined by Sister Ellen Mary Garrett in 1998, who served there through the spring of 2010.
Vocations to the Sisters of the Presentation from Danbury include the following, all of them deceased: Sisters Mary Canice O’Connor, Paul Drea, Angela Kelly, Ambrose Reilly, Regina Reilly, Bertille Morgan, Irene Collins, Consuela Fitzpatrick, Aloysius Rush, Gerard Murphy, Isabel Julian, Pauline O’Connor, Anne Uhl, and Alice Marie Crilly. Because of the close association of the Keefe family with the founding pastor of St. Patrick’s, Danbury also laid claim to Ida Grove residents Mother Camilla Keefe and Sister Mary Raphael Keefe.
Left photo: Left to right: Back row: Sister Calasantius, Father Tim Meagher and Sister Paul Drea. Front row: Irene Collins (second from left) sits with her high school class in 1910. She later becomes Sister Mary Irene.
Right photo: Sister Ellen Mary Garrett and her students perform a science experiment.
Presentation Presence from 1887-1996
From the east windows of my home in Farley, Iowa, I look out onto a green space that once housed St. Joseph School. The doorway of the 1912 school is preserved in what is now known as Presentation Park. A lantern, symbolic Nano Nagle, stands tall atop a circular structure of brick. This structure houses four marble tablets that speak to the story of Nano and Presentation beginnings in Ireland and Iowa. Nano Nagle’s words are engraved: “Go out into the winding lanes and there you will find Christ.” Inside the doorway are the names of the project contributors both the living and deceased.
In building Presentation Park, St. Joseph parishioners have preserved a beloved tradition of their school and paid tribute to the spirit of the Presentation Sisters who served there. This tribute is a doorway that opens to visioning their future.
Not until recently did I ponder the fact that throughout my 44 years of religious life, I have been led three times by the Spirit to the St. Joseph, Farley community. Each time has given me a different learning with new insights. I did not realize all the elements of change that I would encounter in one small parish.
I entered the Sisters of the Presentation in 1964. My first year of ministry in 1969 was an assignment to Farley-Bankston, teaching elementary and secondary music. At the time there were two buildings in Farley: the grade school built in 1912 which housed grades 5-8 and the high school which opened for classes in 1958. St. Clement’s Bankston had merged with Farley and grades 1-4 were in Bankston. During this first year of ministry I learned that teaching 12 grade levels was quite challenging.
In 1983 I returned to Farley as the elementary principal. The 1912 building had been closed and the students of grades 5-8 were now in the former high school building of 1958. Bankston continued to house grades 1-4. Rainbow Circle Preschool began in the 1912 building. The convent closed in 1996 and the sisters commuted from Dubuque. Students had become parents and the circle of relationships broadened. I had reached the plateau of 40.
Years flew by. 2004 found me in Farley for a third time. Ministry would involve me as the St. Joseph Minister of Care. The school system has a new name, Seton Catholic and has expanded to include the parishes of Bankston, Peosta, Epworth and Placid. The empty 1912 school building was torn down in 2006. Seton Catholic now has three centers located in Epworth, Farley and Peosta.
Changes did not stop. By 2007, a new cluster of parishes known as St. Elizabeth Pastorate had formed. The four parishes are Bankston, Farley, Placid and Epworth. St. Joseph, Farley no longer stands alone as a parish.
As I moved into the former rectory this fall, parishioners gave the 1912 home a face lift. In this first year that Presentation Sisters are not in the Seton Catholic system, we are visible in parish ministry and in residence. Sister Jessi Beck, who teaches at St. Mary’s in Manchester, lives with me.
What has been resting on the doorstep of Farley? What has always brought me back? It has little to do with the structures and doorways that keep us for awhile. It is that place in the heart that says “home” and where there is room for loving relationships. Beyond the doorway we celebrate the life today offers.
Pastors, sisters, teachers and students have been here and gone on to new hopes and dreams. Those who have remained reminisce about what was – wise persons and newly-made friends.
Mary White Palmer, graduate of 1934: “The first school opened in 1887. In 1937 Monsignor Peter E. Donnelly was assigned to St. Joseph. One of his first projects was to build a new convent. The sisters enjoyed this home until 1996, when it was announced that there would no longer be any Presentation Sisters living in Farley. After 108 years we said good-bye. Sisters remained teaching in the school until 2007, but had to commute from Dubuque. It was a sad time, but not without much gratitude and love for the many wonderful years they gave to our school.”
Catherine Hoefer Pins, graduate of 1933: “Together our class of 18 marched down the church aisle for Mass and wore our graduation clothes. No caps or gowns, not many class rings
since it was the great depression and the sisters didn’t want us to spend more than we had to. It all worked out okay even though we had to walk to Farley public school for our last semester for a few classes and then walk back to good old St. Joe’s because we were low on funds.”
Associate Mary Griffin Welter, graduate of 1934: “For many years my Dad would begin on what is now known as Highway 20 and pick up the Heitz, Reed, White, Bell and Jasper families on our bob sled as the snow drifts were very high. I took piano and violin lessons. Today, my niece, Carol Arling, is using the same violin and taking lessons from Sister Matthew.”
Larry Healy, graduate of 1937: “I recall the first associate pastor to come to Farley in 1933. His name was Father Mann and he taught full time in the high school. We had a football team but in 1935 Father Coffey ended football as we had two broken bones that season.”
West Dubuque, IA
Remembering West Dubuque
Expanding to West Dubuque
Dubuque foundress, Mother Vincent Hennessy, and the three women who accompanied her from Ireland to Iowa wasted no time in expanding their services beyond their initial school in Key West. Two years after arriving in Dubuque, Mother Vincent’s group of sisters had grown to seven. A few days after the initial profession ceremony of the three young women who came from Ireland, Archbishop Hennessy requested that Mother Vincent send three of her sisters to staff a school in West Dubuque (today it is called St. Anthony’s). The pastor had a small house built, and in September 1876 the first foundation outside of Key West was established.
In the ensuing years, West Dubuque grew in population and became a well-organized parish. The school remained in the hands of Presentation sisters until 1899, when, again at the request of Archbishop Hennessy, the sisters withdrew to make room for the newly-established diocesan community of Holy Ghost sisters.
Nearly a century later, Sister Barbara Rastatter began working at St. Anthony’s as pastoral associate in 1993, until Sister Margaret Anne Kramer replaced her in 2000, the year the parish celebrated its centennial.
Transition to Ackley, Iowa
In January 1877, Mother Vincent received a sudden visit from Archbishop Hennessy and Reverend Peter O’Dowd, pastor of Ackley, requesting that she send sisters to start a school in Ackley, Iowa. The annals read:
“…her dismay was unconcealed at the serious inroad which a second colony of missionaries would make on her small community. Not yet six months since her first little band was sent to West Dubuque! Observing Mother’s distress, the bishop proposed only two be sent, adding, ‘Have them go with Father O’Dowd tomorrow morning.’”
Finding it as hard to leave Key West as they did to leave Ireland, Sisters Mary Josephine Howley and Mary Rose Pius Murphy packed their things and left in the morning.
Sacred Heart Academy opened in 1877, staffed by two Presentation sisters and two lay women. “On the first day, 163 boarders and day students were enrolled. The following fall three more sisters were added to the faculty.
Presentation sisters ministered in Ackley for only one and one-half years before they withdrew to better staff the schools in Key West and West Dubuque, and to open West Hill which would eventually become St. Columbkille School.
Left photo: Sacred Heart Academy, later named St. Mary School in 1951, in Ackley, Iowa.
Right photo: West Dubuque School, later named St. Anthony School.
Presentation Presence from 1892-1989
St. Matthew Parish in Clare, Iowa, was created to serve the Irish immigrants who lived along the banks of Lizard Creek. The population was mostly rural in the beginning with later parishioners working in Fort Dodge, Iowa, at various establishments. The parish was named after its first pastor, Father Matthew Norton.
Sister Mary Benedict Murphy’s annals describe the establishment of the school in 1892:
“Having served the Presentation sisters as chaplain while assistant priest at St. Raphael Cathedral, (pastor) Father (Matthew) Darcy learned to esteem them for their efficient and successful school management. Therefore, when in need of teachers for his prospective school, his favorite community, the Presentation sisters, were invited to assume control.”
Sisters Mary Alacoque and Scholastica Murray were the first sisters to arrive in Clare. They lived and taught in the former rectory until a building was constructed which contained the school, convent and chapel. This served the needs of all grades until 1961 when the high school closed. A new L-shaped building, erected in 1966, divided school and convent into two adjoining wings, providing a separate space for each. By 1989 an enrollment of 54 students in grades K-8 caused the closing of the school.
The closing of the high school in 1961 necessitated the transfer of the upper grades to St. Edmond Catholic High School in nearby Fort Dodge. Long-time pastor, Father John W. Cullen, worked to keep the older students connected with the parish by establishing a high school chorus which performed at community events and enhanced the parish liturgies. He also met the Fort Dodge bus every morning and regularly inspected students’ report cards to “encourage” them in their schoolwork.
Former teachers Sisters Rosanne and Anthony Rottinghaus recalled that liturgical celebrations were at the heart of the parish. Young people were expected to be in attendance with their parents for such things as Holy Week services and Rogation Days.
All was not serious business, however. Two of the sisters were known to go trick-or-treating in costume. One year they were scolded by a mother who said, “You’re too old for this. Go home and behave.” Imagine her chagrin when her children told her who the trick-or-treaters were!
On another occasion, one young man caused quite a stir while practicing his solo for an upcoming program by suddenly announcing, “Sister, the curtain’s on fire!” The heat of the lights had ignited the curtain, which ended the practice for the evening.
In addition to teaching, the sisters were involved in religious education classes, student retreats, prayer services at nearby rest homes and participation in local area prayer groups.
Four Presentation sisters can currently boast of their Clare origins: Sisters Mary Matthew Cunningham, Pamela Quade, William Allen and Dennis Lentsch.
Sister Matthew Cunningham, who grew up in Clare, has fond memories of her piano teachers, especially Sisters Mary Leonarda Leonard, Anita Boland and Cecelia Loes. “I started piano lessons when I was six years old. Thanks to these women I had a thorough background in music, as a piano student and as a participant in choral work, by the time I graduated from high school.”
Growing up in a small town meant everyone knew everyone and they all took care of each other. Sister Matthew remembers that people used to say “Clare was so small you could only see it if a car wasn’t parked in front of it. It was also a very Catholic community and you saw everyone at church on Sunday mornings.” Another favorite gathering place in Sister’s memory was Chalus, a combination drug store, soda fountain and sandwich shop, which was much missed when it closed.
The last Presentation sisters to serve at St. Matthew’s were Sister Mary Jane Conrad and Sister Alice Marie Crilly, who taught primary grades and music respectively. They left Clare in the spring of 1989.
Left photo: St. Matthew Church in the 1970s.
Right photo: Sisters celebrate the Clare Centennial in 1982. Left to right: Father John Cullen, Sisters Michael Rottinghause, Madonna Meyer, Denise Kollasch, William Allen, Rosanne Rottinghaus and Anthony Rottinghaus.
Calmar & Audubon, IA & Madison, NE
Presentation Presence from 1902-1912
St. Aloysius School
St. Aloysius School saw several orders of sisters over the years including Milwaukee Franciscans (1901-1902), Dubuque Presentations (1902-1912) and LaCrosse Franciscans (1913-1986). The first Presentation sisters to teach in Calmar were Sisters Mary Ursula Farrell, Albia O’Brien, Petronella Clarke and Xavier Evans.
German and Bohemian were the dominant languages of the people in the area, who expected that German would be part of the curriculum. For a time one of the sisters who spoke German was able to give elementary language instruction.
When this was no longer possible, the sisters thought it would be best to withdraw, allowing the school to be taken over by a community of sisters who could better fulfill the language requirement. The LaCrosse Franciscans operated the school from 1913-1986.
Presentation Presence from January-July 1903 – St. Patrick School
Sisters Mary Margaret Duggan, Baptista Hussey, Augustine Rooney and Anicetus Quinn made the trek to Audubon in January of 1903 to find that the house was less than adequate. In fact, with no indoor water, the sisters had to cross a deep ditch on a plank in order to meet their needs.
The Presentation sisters ministered at St. Patrick School in Audubon only seven months, the shortest-lived stay in any of their missions. It is not mentioned in the early community annals, and little is recorded about the adventures of the sisters there. However, Sister Mary Anastasia Burns recalled stories told by Sister Mary Anicetus Quinn who was one of the four pioneers. According to Sister Anastasia’s recollections:
“Foreign languages, of which more than one was requested as school subjects, was one deciding factor in the withdrawal of our sisters. Mother Angela Crowley, realizing the Sisters were not educated in the required languages, thought it only fair to leave the field open to a community with more foreign-born Sisters.”
Other missions quickly absorbed the sisters who left Audubon in July of 1903.
Presentation Presence from 1903-1926
St. Leonard School
When the parishioners of St. Leonard Parish in Madison, Nebraska, wanted a Catholic school, they decided to build a new church and remodel the old church to serve as a school and convent. This was accomplished by the fall of 1903. At that time, four Sisters of the Presentation took over the administration of the school.
Sisters Mary Columba O’Callaghan, de Pazzi Curtin, Clare Meagher and Boniface Reiman moved into what was described as a “rickety old building” and began their ministry with 66 students. No money and no plan for building improvements on the part of the parish, coupled with the shortage of teaching sisters, caused the Presentation sisters to withdraw in 1926. The school closed.
According to parish records, the facility was re-opened as a boarding school in 1931 by the Missionary Benedictine Sisters. A new school was built in 1955 and continued in use until 1978 when the sisters left.
Presentation Presence from 1902-1999
“Mother Mary Josephine Howley, sister in charge, accompanied by Sisters Mary Aloysius Waring, Mary Xavier Evens, Mary Dolorosa Lynch and Mary Petronella Clark, arrived in Whittemore on September 25, 1903, and were welcomed to this homey, Midwestern Iowa prairie town with that friendliness which still characterizes the generous people of Whittemore.” (Mother Benedict Murphy, Annals)
Pastor Edmond Dullard welcomed the sisters to their new home, having worked hard to have everything ready when they arrived. “His every wish was for the sisters’ happiness and comfort.” (Mother Benedict)
A strong supporter of Catholic education, Father Dullard insisted that spirituality and efficiency were the hallmarks of a good teacher. His generosity to the sisters included donating money to decorate the Mount Loretto chapel in 1922.
Thus began nearly 100 years of Presentation presence in St. Michael Parish in Whittemore, Iowa. The school, which began with grades 1-8, later included high school (1917-1959), and could count 535 high school graduates over the years of its existence. The first graduating class boasted two students: Veronica Farrell (later Sister Marie Celine, PBVM) and John Foley (later Reverend John Foley). Over 100 Presentation sisters served in Whittemore, ending with Sister Bonita Determan, parish minister from 1993-1999.
Upon their arrival, the sisters’ first order of the day was getting settled and preparing for the first day of school. Day students and boarders in grades 1-8 would share the building with the sisters, who lived on the upper floors of the building, until it burned in 1920. After the fire, thanks to good public relations with the local school district, some classes were moved to the nearby public school building, and the rest to the church until a new brick structure was completed.
The new building was named Presentation Academy in honor of the sisters who served there. The name was changed again to St. Michael Grade School when the high school closed in 1959.
While academics were a high priority, other valuable lessons were learned early on according to Sister Dolores Zieser, former pastoral minister at a senior apartment complex in Hopkins, Minnesota. A new resident told a story from her childhood days at Presentation Academy. Sister Mary Augustine Rooney had taught the children that if they were present when anyone died they should whisper the Act of Contrition in the person’s ear. One day, after presenting the girl with an award for winning the spelling bee, Sister Augustine fell dead at her feet. Another student quickly ran to sister and whispered the prayer in her ear.
All was not work in those early days. Sister Constance Quillin, who taught in Whittemore from 1924-1927, tells of after-school activities. “After a full day, the sisters relaxed at a croquet game, or in the evening at six-handed 500 card game, with parties on special occasions. Good selections were played on the Edison and Sister Antoinette Walsh entertained us with her accordion.” (Oral History Tape #43)
Several sisters who served at Whittemore speak fondly of the annual Presentation Day celebration at St. Michael’s. The day began with an all-school Mass, followed by refreshments. Entertainment prepared by the teachers and students was often hilarious, but always ended with a tribute to the sisters. The students then walked solemnly through a receiving line, shaking the hand of each sister and wishing her a “Happy Presentation Day.”
Sister René Laubenthal, principal at the time the school closed in 1993, attributed the closing to diminished enrollment due to larger farms and smaller families. Students transferred to Seton Grade School in Algona or to Sts. Peter and Paul in West Bend, both in Iowa.
Student Cory Mescher shared his memories at the closing ceremony: “All the bazaars and meals and work involved have combined to keep the school going for these 90 years. But most importantly, I have realized in the year’s time that I have been here that there is a tremendous job of parenting being done here. The kids are wholesome and well-balanced – a rarity in our society.”
At the same ceremony, Pastor Father Ed Murray remarked, “St. Michael School has ceased to function in this building, but it will continue to have a presence in its alumni as long as they live. We have truly become the Body of Christ given to the world.”
The school building had served as a center for parish activities such as receptions, celebrations, reunions and funeral dinners. After its demolition, and the sale of the convent, a new parish center was erected – a place where the vigorous parish life at St. Michael’s could continue to flourish into the future.
Photos: Early photos of St. Michael School in Whittemore, Iowa.
Presentation Presence 1907-1973
Dougherty, “The Garden Spot of Iowa,” first welcomed the Presentation sisters in 1907. At that time the Holy Ghost sisters, who had run the school since 1897, decided to concentrate their efforts in the Dubuque area.
According to an early annalist, “To the credit of their former teachers, be it said that the sisters found a well-trained, carefully instructed group of children in St. Patrick, Dougherty.” This small town boasted a mile-long main street, with the business area and the Church at opposite ends, and “just an inviting bit of country road without even a sidewalk” in between.
Sisters Mary Fidelis Martin, Loyola Murphy and Dorothy Delaney ventured to this small town to spread the spirit of Nano Nagle in Cerro Gordo County in north central Iowa. They found a convent/school building ready for them and students ready to learn.
Father Patrick O’Reilly, pastor in 1907 when the sisters arrived, saw to the needs of the newcomers and assisted in the religious instruction of the students. The fact that many of the students traveled a good distance to attend St. Patrick School was evidence of the value their parents placed on Catholic education.
The zeal of the early pioneers had kept alive the faith they had brought with them from Ireland, and they worked to ensure that instruction in that faith was available to their children. Further evidence of this zeal was shown in the prompt replacement of the school and church, both of which were destroyed by fire in 1895.
Illness visited the little community, causing Sister Fidelis to resign early in the second semester. Her death in May of 1908 left two grieving sisters to carry on the work for the remainder of that first school year.
By 1917 more space was needed and two more schoolrooms plus extra living space for the sisters were added to the existing structure. This building saw more additions over the years, and served the needs of the school until 1965 when it was replaced by a brick structure. A separate convent had been built in 1956, and so the new building was used strictly for school.
St. Patrick High School was accredited by the state of Iowa in 1923, and was maintained until 1964. From 1968-1973 the grade school was consolidated with Rockwell, and in 1973, the Dougherty center closed due to lack of students. A total of 74 Presentation sisters ministered in the school during its 66 years of operation.
Sister Mary Ita Sullivan was assigned to Dougherty from 1917-1919. In an interview for an oral history tape, she gave a job description for Sister Mary Loyola Murphy who was middle grade teacher, local superior, principal, bursar and general administrator. “You see,” she commented, “in those days it was not a matter of multiple choice, but multiple jobs!”
Sister Fleurette Einikey, on the same tape, tells of Sister Clementina Mackey who was compassionate, and “listened to a person’s heart.” Sister Clementina kept her Irish heritage alive with sayings such as this one referring to her five-foot status, “I’m every inch of it.”
Sister Pauline O’Connor was, according to descriptions from her contemporaries, able to corral the most boisterous of second graders. “One week under her guidance and one would note the primary students marching in to attend daily Mass with eyes lowered and hands folded.”
Sister Sacred Heart Rooney was the first Presentation vocation from Dougherty, and the first to enter the newly-erected motherhouse at 1229 Mount Loretta Avenue in Dubuque. Eleven other young women followed her example over the years swelling the ranks of those who follow Nano Nagle.
Jim Boyle, a graduate of St. Patrick, describes the sisters in the following manner: “Dedicated teachers they surely were; and living saints, maybe, for they didn’t go raving mad working under excessive class loads and crowded room conditions.” Of Sister Mary Scholastica he noted: “Sister Scholastica…did a remarkable job of introducing students to instruments and getting them to harmonize as a unit of 26 pieces….Methinks a special crown in heaven awaits all teachers of ‘beginners’ band.”
St. Patrick’s in the Roarin’ Twenties
After the closing of the school, the sisters maintained their presence by conducting weekend renewal programs for several years. These included visiting the sick and elderly, religious education classes grades 1-12, liturgies, adult discussion groups, inservice for religion teachers, music and pot luck dinners.
On July 28, 2012, a final liturgy was celebrated in the parish, bringing to a close a span of 155 years of church ministry in the area. Parishioners looked back on the history of the parish with gratitude for the blessings received during those years.
Left photo: St. Patrick School in Doughtrey, Iowa.
Right photo: Left to right: Sisters Sacred Heart Rooney, Walter Marie Murphy, Margaret Donnelly, Marie Louise Murphy, Juanita Boom, Ellen Murphy, Michael Rottinghaus, Jean Murphy, Anthony Rottinghaus, Paschal Cunningham, Louise Scieszinski and Xavier Corrigan- all women who entered the Sisters of the Presentation from Dougherty.
Presentation Presence from 1907-1969
“No town is an island, but the town of Fairbank wouldn’t be without one.” Thus began an article in the Des Moines Register on September 3, 1978. This picturesque island lies in the Little Wapsipinicon River that bisects Fairbank at the west edge of the business district. It is accessible via a pedestrian bridge. Fairbank residents showed their pride in this unique feature when they organized fundraisers to save it from silting in and becoming part of the “mainland” in 1978.
It was to this small town that the Sisters of the Presentation came in August of 1907, replacing the three Holy Ghost Sisters who had been in charge of the school since its opening in 1895. The first faculty consisted of four classroom teachers and one full-time music teacher. Mother Presentation Griffin headed up the group, having as her companions Sisters Isabel Julian, Agnes Griffin, Genevieve Burke and Lucy Rogers.
These five sisters then began the task of providing education for students in eight grades and conducting a normal training course for prospective teachers. They soon recognized the students’ need for further education to qualify for a teacher’s certificate, and Mother Presentation, under the direction of Father W. T. Donahue, added the 10th grade to the school. By 1915, more space was required, and so the sisters moved from the school building into the renovated former rectory.
A fire in 1916 destroyed the original school, taking with it everything except some clothing, a few books and desks. Classes continued in a donated space on the second floor of a building downtown until a new building could be finished in 1917. At that time the rest of the high school classes were added under the direction of Pastor John Q. Halpin and Sister Mary Calasanctius Kelly. The first class graduated in 1917. Immaculate Conception High School was placed on the list of certified Iowa non-public schools in 1923.
In 1932 the school was re-organized according to the 6-3-3 plan. Kindergarten was added in 1933, but was discontinued in 1958 because of lack of space. Enrollment continued to increase, requiring a staff of six sisters by 1933. A badly-needed new building was completed in 1955, providing a parish hall, classrooms, kitchen, meeting room and stage.
By 1965, lower enrollment and greater academic demands prompted the high school to close, sending students to Sacred Heart High School in Oelwein. “Competition and pressure, plus finance, caused the Immaculate Conception Academy (School) to be discontinued in the fall of 1969.” (Parish History)
The community of Fairbank gave many of its sons and daughters to the service of the Church, among them 11 Presentations: Sisters Mary Celestine Tobin, Rita Duffy, Annette Bierschmitt, Eunice Kane, Valeria Durnan, Julie Siggelkov, Georgia Schmeltzer, Ethel Paulus, Clarice Kane, Carol Duffy and Therese Corkery.
At a reunion in 1977, approximately 700 former students and teachers gathered in the parish hall for a reception, where they viewed class pictures and received a specially-prepared history of the town, parish and school. After-dinner speakers were former teachers Sisters Mary Ellen Murphy and Patrick Waldorf. They represented the more than 70 Presentation sisters who had been part of the school history.
Sister Mary Agatha Broderick, who taught in Fairbank from 1941-1947, told of the Irish-born sisters who were there in her time: Sisters Mary Grace O’Donnell, Alicia Howley, Antoinette Walsh and Anicetus Quinn. She talked about the small enrollment at the time, which left her with four girls and one boy in grade seven, and remarked about how hard she studied to keep up with some of the “wise ones” as she called the troublemakers in her class.
Sister Mary Margaret Donnelly, working with Paul Peters, then a student, on Christmas decorations in the church, fell through the grate onto the furnace below. Luckily, she was unhurt and able to walk away from the unfortunate incident.
One can expect pranks from children, and Fairbank students were no exception. Sister Mary Virginia Gereau told of the day she opened her desk to find a snake curled up inside. She calmly picked up the snake, said to the class, “Isn’t he cute? But I think we should give him his freedom.” She then released the snake out the window and had no more pranks that year.
The junior class of 1951 published a vocations pamphlet which included descriptions of works done by various religious orders, along with the distinctive clothing worn by many of them. It closed with the following challenge: “When you come out (on Easter) with your navy suit and accessories or your soft light tan mocs, remember that religious wear outfits that are becoming to almost anyone – maybe even you.”
Left photo: Fairbank School.
Right photo: Left to right: Sisters Vincent Donnolly, Rosalia Plamondon, Antonio Murphy, Boniface Reiman and Isidore Leonard.
Mason City, IA
Presentation Presence from 1910-2012
Catholic education began in the “River City” area in 1888 with the building of St. Francis Academy, a boarding school for girls and a day school for boys and girls. The Academy was staffed by the Sisters of St. Francis from Clinton, Iowa. When this first structure burned in 1908, the sisters returned to Clinton. By the time a new building was erected in 1910, they were not available to return to Mason City.
When a request came from Father Michael Carolan for Presentation Sisters to take over the educational duties in Mason City, the small number of sisters available prompted Mother Benedict’s reply, “We are sorry to disappoint you, Father, but to supply you with teachers is an impossibility at this time.” However, at the advice and urging of chaplain Father Patrick Leahy, two sisters from among the General Council, with two others taken from their duties at the motherhouse, were assigned to take on this task.
Mothers de Pazzi Curtin and Columba O’Callaghan, along with Sisters Mary Baptista Hussey and Leo Roach, made the trek west to Mason City in 1910, thus establishing the Presentation presence in the school which was to last 102 years.
The opening of the school for grades 1-8 saw a larger-than-expected enrollment, which required the hiring of a lay teacher to take over the middle grades. Between 1912 and 1916, grades 9-12 were added, with the first class graduating in 1916. By 1920, increasing enrollment prompted the building of additional classroom space and a renovation was in order. In the process of updating, the school was supplied with equipment in accordance with state requirements, and inspectors from the State of Iowa placed St. Joseph’s on the list of accredited high schools.
The year 1927 saw yet a further significant increase in enrollment and another expansion of facilities. A spacious assembly and a gymnasium graced the new structure, providing for indoor athletics. As enrollment continued to rise, the sisters’ quarters were converted to classrooms, and the parish purchased what was originally the Duffield family home to be used as a convent. This structure was dubbed “The Mansion,” and housed the sisters from 1949-1965 when it was sold and given to the city. Now known as the Charles H. MacNider Museum, it stands as an important arts center today. A final move found the sisters in a new convent located behind the church. The spacious new living arrangement featured a chapel with windows designed by Presentation Sister Josita Zieser.
The educational system continued to evolve, with the addition of the construction of Newman Catholic High School in 1961, the consolidation with Holy Family Parish to become Central Catholic Grade School in 1973, a day care center in 1986, and the eventual move of the whole system to the Newman campus in 2003.
Along with its distinction as an NCEA School of Excellence, the Mason City school system also became a Catholic education family tradition for many. Sister Joellen Price and her mother, Irene, both graduated from St. Joseph School, and even had some of the same teachers. At the closing of the St. Joseph building, Sister Bonita Determan, who made her First Communion there, recalled that her father’s youngest sister boarded with the sisters in the earlier years.
Records kept between 1936 and 1990 list 144 Presentation Sisters who ministered in Mason City, with Sister Joan Brincks being the last sister to teach in the school system. Presentation presence in the school ended in 2012. The parish history counts 30 sisters, nine priests, and two religious brothers among its former members. Who can say how many lives have been impacted by those who could trace their roots to this Catholic foundation in “River City?”
Right photo: St. Joseph Catholic School in 1911.
Presentation Presence from 1913-1968
In 1909 Father John M. Molloy had a great deal of influence on the town of Ryan, Iowa, and also on the parish and school in which the Sisters of the Presentation were to serve for 55 years. Legend has it that Father Molloy was pastor at two parishes when he decided that the rectory would be moved from Belmont to Ryan. He faced fierce objections, with one man threatening to “shoot the first person that touched the house to move it.” As the first mover took a step toward the building, a shot rang out, the man collapsed, and within minutes a wagon carrying a “body” raced out of town. All of this later proved to be a hoax, and by the time everyone knew what had happened the building was moved and settled in its new location in Ryan. (Taken from The Witness, 11-27-88)
In 1910 a church was erected in Ryan, and in 1913 Father Molloy oversaw the building of a three-story structure to house a school and convent, which he named after his patron, St. John (later to be re-named St. Patrick to correspond with the name of the parish). Having secured the services of the Presentation sisters from Dubuque, and having made sure that the local families enrolled their children, Father Molloy was involved in the running of the educational program.
The first sisters on the scene were Sisters Mary Francis Bannon, Agnes Griffin, Cornelia Regan, Loretta Donahue and Antoinette Walsh. These pioneers began working with 140 students: 104 in elementary and 36 in high school; most of these were day students and a few were boarders.
The school flourished, with the high school being accredited by the State of Iowa in 1927. According to the Ryan Hi News, March 22, 1946, the variety of activities offered included retreats, orchestra and glee club, sports, drama, the Seraphic Society for Vocations, 4-H and the Bishop’s Relief Collection. The Mantle, the school yearbook of 1945, also lists the Catholic Student Mission Crusade and the Propagation of the Faith as further activities.
The year 1950 saw the construction of a new brick building, which the sisters occupied until 1968 when the doors closed on St. Patrick Elementary School. The high school had closed the year before.
Sister Sharon Kelchen talks about some of the sisters who taught in Ryan when she was a student there. “Sister William Marie Cota (now known as Sister Lou Cota) made a science room out of next to nothing … and had us carving all kinds of creepy things. Sister Virginia Marie Luschinger got us to music contests, and, yes, even surfaced violins from the sisters so we could give it a try, and one day we went to a workshop to play with the orchestra from Columbus (High School) in Waterloo. For a couple of years we also had dance classes on Saturday – where Sister Alberta Lynch got the instructor from, I don’t know.”
The 1960s brought the Vietnam War and the Second Vatican Council. Sister Kathleen Dolphin, then known as Sister Augustine, recalls that in spite of the cultural turmoil around them the sisters and students made the best of the situation. In some ways “we were like a big rowdy family. On more than one occasion a first-grader would wander into the (chemistry/biology) lab looking for his big brother.”
The success of some of St. John/St. Patrick’s prominent graduates attests to the quality of education they received there. Charlie Duggan rose in the ranks of industry to become vice president of the Illinois Central Railroad. Rt. Rev. Msgr. Dorrance Foley ministered as president of Loras College and was chaplain at Mount Loretto for years. Marty Underwood served as “advance man” for Presidents Kennedy and Johnson. Dr. John Eckstein held the position of Dean of Medicine at the University of Iowa Hospitals. (Virginia Sheets, Manchester Press, Dec. 2009)
According to records kept from 1936 to 1968, and Sister Rosalia Plamondon’s Annals, approximately 94 sisters ministered to the students in St. John/St. Patrick School. They saw 13 young women enter the Presentation community, with a number who entered other religious congregations. Sisters Virginette Burke and Rosaria Harrington returned to teach in Ryan for some years. Young men who went on to become priests included Dorrance V. Foley, Clare Drummy, Francis Schroeder and Clarence Drummy.
Sister Irma Ries, a graduate of St. Patrick School, had this to say: “In my memory, there was no clear distinction between the Catholic church, St. Patrick School and the town of Ryan; they were all closely interwoven. The sisters and priests were ever present caring for and caring about the parishioners. They were an extension of our family and integrated into the community.” She describes ball games, church gatherings and community activities in which all of the same people were involved. Sunday morning was a time for prayer and socializing. “The length of time in church and the length of time for gathering after church were about the same. Ryan is still a place where people know, care and are involved in the community and the lives of one another.”
Left photo: Sisters left to right: Sisters Louise Gleason, Jane Frances Stratton, M. de Chantal Heiser, Henrietta Teff, Veronica Mulgrew, Carmelita Galligan and Edmunda Carey, 1920.
Right photo: Sister Albia O’ Brien and her students in 1939.
Presentation Presence from 1915-1969
“I found a deep faith in the people in Monona, Iowa, and continue to treasure the memories of my days there,” Sister Sheila Ann Dougherty remarks recently. The roots of that faith grew deep in the lives of the people, nourished by Mass celebrated in private homes before a church building was erected.
Father Louis de Cailly, a missionary priest and nephew of Bishop Matthias Loras, began the formal organization of the parish. After his arrival in 1856, the first church building became a reality. Mary Humphrey, in whose home Mass had often been celebrated, was selected to have the church named St. Mary Church in her honor. She, however requested that it be named for the patron of her deceased husband, and so the church was called St. Richard.
At a cost of $850, this structure provided space for communal worship until 1871 when more room was needed. Father Charles Toner, the first resident pastor, oversaw the completion of this second church building.
“It was late August 1915, when Mother Columba O’Callaghan blessed her second band of outgoing missionaries. Another group of five whispered their trust and confidence at the foot of God’s altar before faring forth to their new field of action in Monona. Catholics of Monona offered the first Presentation sisters a welcome stamped with the generosity ever characteristic of the fine people there. As for the residents of a different faith, they greeted the Presentation sisters with cordial friendliness, a feeling which still prevails.” (Unnamed annalist)
Thus the Presentation Sisters began their ministry in Monona in 1915, living and teaching in the school building completed by Father Michael Hogan in that year. Years later when more room was needed because of increased enrollment, a house a block away from the school was purchased for use as a convent. Though there is no record of why or when a name change had been made, the parish and school was then called St. Patrick.
Over the 54 years of Presentation presence in Monona, approximately 60 sisters served the school. The first of these were Sisters Mary Isadore Leonard, Edmunda Carey, Xavier Evens, Baptista Hussey and Helena Gilrain. When they arrived, they began the business of opening the doors to children in grades 1-8, which further generations of sisters maintained until Sisters Mary Anita Boland, de Pazzi Cassidy, Margaret Donnelly and Therese Marie Hawes closed the doors on May 29, 1969.
Early in the history of the Monona school, two years of high school classes were offered, along with the eight grades of elementary classes. Instrumental and vocal music attracted large numbers of students. Sister Mary Genevieve Burke, with an advanced degree from Bush Conservatory in Chicago, is credited with the training of many who later found success in the music field.
Oral history tapes in the archives contain memories of Sister Joanne Feeney, who recalled a fire in the middle of the night. Awakened by smoke, Sister Thomas Collins found her way to the source – the refrigerator in the kitchen was pouring out black smoke. Sister’s quick action resulted in saving the house from burning down.
Sister Carla Popes recently recalled her memories of living in Monona from 1967-1968. Among her favorite stories is one of Sister Anita Boland’s passion for playing cards. Business meetings were short and to the point, “so we could get to playing cards.” Sister Carla made a big hit with a local farmer when she admired his Angus cattle, so like the animals her father had raised. He asked her which member of his Black Angus herd looked the best to her. They were both shocked when the one she picked was named Grand Champion Black Angus at the county fair.
Sister Emilie Bormann recalls that the sisters probably startled the local residents when they trekked out of town to the river, carrying their fishing poles and picnic lunch, along with a bat and ball. Roller skating in the gym and cruising down the Mississippi River in Father William Menster’s boat were other favorite activities.
Without a car, the acquiring of groceries was a challenge. These were ordered by phone on Saturday from a man in the neighboring town of Froehlich, and delivered on Sunday when he came for Mass. The order always included a half-gallon of ice cream in addition to the staples they had asked for.
An October 25, 2006 article in The Outlook, a local newspaper, stated that, “In the past 150 years, 28 men and women with roots in St. Richard/St. Patrick Church have responded to the call to serve the Lord. Of these, nine were ordained to the priesthood. Three native sons from St. Patrick Parish have been ordained as permanent deacons. Twelve women and two men from the parish have served the church as vowed religious.” The faith of the early settlers continues strong in the 21st century.
Left photo: Monona community honors sisters with a reunion in 1969.
Right photo: St. Patrick Rectory, School and Church
Presentation Presence from 1919-1927
“An invitation for Nano Nagle’s daughters to work in Colorado came like a bolt from the clear blue. The first request came from Father Ghroman at Akron, the other from Father Schmidt at Stratton.” This is how an un-named annalist described the beginning of the eight years of Presentation presence in Stratton, Colorado.
Two sisters were sent to interview the pastors and look over the prospective places. They also met with Bishop J. Henry Tihen in Denver whose words left no doubt in their minds as to the usefulness of their work in Colorado. In his words, “In no place will you find a more whitened harvest than in Colorado. Any sacrifice required of you to come to us should abound in blessings for your congregation.”
Another factor in the decision to go West was the climate which was reputedly favorable for those afflicted with tuberculosis, of which the community had a few at that time. And so August of 1919 found four Presentation Sisters on their way to Stratton to take up the work of evangelization. They joined the efforts of Franciscan Friars who had established parishes in small towns throughout the Diocese of Denver.
Sister Mary Charles Duffy led the little band consisting of Sisters Mary Archangela Duffy, Marie Therese Bergin and Mary Agnes Griffin. They began classes on September 11, 1919, with an enrollment of 90 students in grades one through eight. Father Felix Schmidt had vacated his nine-room rectory for use as a convent and school room for the four upper grades. Grades one through four were taught on the first floor of an attached adobe structure whose second floor served as a sleeping room for the janitor. This arrangement was to last until a new building could be erected.
Some controversy arose over the plan of the new structure. Father Schmidt wanted a building large enough to take in boarders, since he had responsibility for three other parishes and he wanted the children in those places to benefit from the Catholic education which the sisters would provide. St. Charles parishioners, on the other hand, insisted that a smaller building be erected to accommodate only the children of their own parish.
The pastor won out and a two-story building was under construction by the fall of the sisters’ second year in Stratton. Two years later he resigned, unable to handle the debt incurred from the building. The people deserved credit for their perseverance in struggling with the heavy debt which at the time the new school opened amounted to nearly $50,000. At the time the sisters left, the debt was down to $27,000, with only 70 families in the parish.
In the spring of 1920, three of the sisters became ill with the flu. Sister Mary Charles did not recover, and the sisters sadly reported to Mount Loretto that she had died on March 21. Sister Mary Loyola Murphy was sent to take her place.
Sister Mary Annunciata Schuster, who arrived in Stratton in 1921 at the age of 18, was interviewed in 1988, a few years before her death in 1995. She thought that the weather in Colorado was ideal – neither too hot nor too cold. She recalled, however, the effect of the sand storms, when the whole building had to be swept before school began in the morning.
When asked if she had any hesitation about going so far away from home, she replied in true Presentation fashion, “I never gave it a thought. I always went where I was told/asked to go.” She described the people of Stratton as “very friendly and very good.”
Eventually the need for more sisters to staff missions closer to home resulted in the return of the sisters to Iowa in 1927. Enrollment at that time was 136. Sister Mary Rosalia Plamondon in her Annals makes a point of the fact that one consideration in the decision to close Stratton was the fact that the sisters never had the privilege of having the Blessed Sacrament in their convent home.
Priests in the area kept the school going by teaching there from 1927-1929, when the Sisters of the Precious Blood took over the task of educating the children.
Top photo: Early Presentation Sisters who taught in Stratton. Left to right: Sisters Charles Duffy and Martina Purcell. Not pictured: Clementina Mackey
Presentation Presence from 1919-1940
“Nestled in the rolling hills of northeast Nebraska, the town of Emerson has the distinction of being located in three counties. The largest western section is in Dixon County, while the northeast part is in Dakota County, and the southeast part of town is in Thurston County.” It was established as a junction of the Chicago, St. Paul, Minneapolis, and Omaha Railroad in 1886, according to a 2002 article in an unidentified newspaper.
It was established as a junction of the Chicago, St. Paul, Minneapolis and Omaha Railroad in 1886, according to a 2002 article in an unidentified newspaper.
Sacred Heart School in Emerson was one of four new missions established by Mother Benedict Murphy in 1919. According to her annals, “Ready for occupancy (in late August of 1919) on the Sisters’ arrival was a neat brick convent and school erected under the supervision of the pastor, Father Burke,” with the approval of the bishop, Most Reverend Jeremiah Harty. The members of the first community to occupy the new building were Presentation Sisters Mary Zita Lynch, Davidica Henrich, Raymond Keville and Boniface Rieman.
According to the Presentation Annals by Mother Benedict Murphy, “In September the schoolrooms were filled to capacity by a band of responsive, courteous pupils. Additional teachers were soon required and the complete high school department was added (academic and commercial work).”
Mother Benedict continues, “Sacred Heart School maintained the high educational standard which marked its establishment…” until 1940 “when Mother Perpetua Ryan summoned the sisters home to Dubuque.” During the 21 years that the Presentation Sisters operated the school, they provided room and board for 30 students each year.
Sister Caroline Buscherfeld had personal experience with the boarders, having cooked for them, as well as the sisters, during her time in Emerson from 1928-1940. Students recalled that she always had fresh bread with syrup on it, and her chocolate cake with white frosting was superb. However, it seems that they had baked beans “a lot.” Boarders were expected to clean the tables, do the dishes, dust floors, clean blackboards and erasers and be quiet and sleeping by 9:30 p.m. They loved it when Sister Anne Uhl played the piano and they all danced.
There was never a lack of food for the kitchen since parents who could not afford the tuition paid in-kind with whatever they could bring: fresh-baked bread, homemade butter, dressed chickens and anything their gardens and orchards produced.
A parish brochure found in the archives describes the situation in Emerson in 1937 when rain was in such short supply that upon returning from walks the sisters found themselves covered in dust. The corn crop that year yielded 40 bushels per acre. Some of the sisters tell of the living conditions when water froze in the wash bowls, and snowbanks sifted in through the door.
Sister Eunice Kane spoke at length of the grasshopper infestation which “made lace of the curtains” and left the wash on the line covered with “grasshopper tobacco juice.”
A former student recalled that “Sister Calasanctius would take our class over to the church to make a visit or say the Stations. When we were done, we would all kneel and recite the Litany. Sister knew it by heart and this impressed me.” In such ways the faith was sustained even in the harshest weather conditions.
It is that same faith which is still alive in Sacred Heart Parish in Emerson today, according to its website.
Left photo: Sacred Heart School in Emerson, Nebraska in 1919
Right photo: Left to right: Sisters Raymond Keville, Davidica Henrich and Mary Zita Lynch were three of the first four sisters assigned to Sacred Heart School in Emerson, Nebraska, in 1919. Not pictured is Sister Boniface Rieman.
Timber Lake, SD
Presentation Presence from 1919-1981
“Spiritually fortified with the peace and confidence that comes from participation in Mass and Holy Communion, five Presentation Sisters faced West, bound for the land of the Dakotas. The date was August 26, 1919.” Mother Benedict Murphy’s Annals, quoted in the Timber Lake Historical Society Newsletter of June 2007
Pioneers Sisters Mary Immaculata Daly, Francis Bannon, de Pazzi Curtin, Baptista Hussey and Loretto Donahue found on their arrival in Timber Lake, South Dakota, that the school building had just been started – the basement was barely visible above the ground. Classes were to be held in the church, and the sisters would occupy spare rooms in the rectory. The pastor, Reverend Henry Kipp, confessed that he was afraid that if he waited until the building was ready, the sisters might by then be assigned elsewhere.
With one teacher in the sacristy, another in the church proper and a third in the gallery, St. Joseph School began with around 100 students in grades 1-8. This situation continued until December when Bishop John Lawler arrived to dedicate the new school/convent.
In 1920, boarding students began to be accepted, and by 1921 a full high school program was in place. After the high school closed in 1936, Sister Mary Callista Ryan was hired by the public school district to continue teaching high school classes in the St. Joseph building for a few years.
The grade school closed in 1940 because of lack of funding, but resumed operation in 1946. A new convent, separate from the school, was dedicated September 15, 1963. The final closing of the school occurred in 1979 due to low enrollment, lack of funds and the need for the sisters to staff other community ministries.
For two years, 1979-1981, Sisters Mary Nora Welter and Concepta Joseph Milinski conducted the Holy Cross School of Religion for Timber Lake and its mission parishes of Holy Rosary, Trail City and St. Mary at Isabel, South Dakota.
A letter to Mr. Andrew Aberle from Sister Mary Martin McCormick, dated January 25, 1979, expressed the view of many of the sisters, saying, “Timber Lake holds a special place in the memory of any sister who has been fortunate enough to teach there; they have thoroughly indoctrinated the rest of us so that we feel the decision (to leave) as much as if we had been there.”
Memories of sisters who ministered in Timber Lake range from frightening to humorous. The first category includes the blizzard of 1966 when the wind took the convent door, shattering the glass and ripping off the top. For three days the wind increased until it ended in “a screaming crescendo Friday night.” Gusts up to 100 miles per hour packed snow in drifts which reached the eaves, making it impossible to open the door or see out the windows. Letter from sisters dated March, 1966
Sister Mary Georgia Schmeltzer recalled the Depression (1929) as the most difficult experience she ever had. Hundreds of animals died in the drought. There was little food, though the government gave some food and 13 cents per day for the boarders. Cereal was made by pounding wheat between stones for breakfast and supper.
The grasshopper plagues occupied the memory of Sister Mary Inez Doyle. The insects caused massive crop failures. Sister Mary Valeria Durnan described the terror of discovering that the building was on fire, and watching the boarders make their way down the metal fire escape in their bare feet and pajamas.
In spite of the tragedies, many happy memories prevailed in the minds of the sisters who for a short time called Timber Lake their place of ministry. Annals written by one of the early sisters tells of the visit of Bishop Lawler for the dedication of the first school. As the guest of Father Kipp, the Bishop was placed in the “best room” of the rectory, relegating Sisters Baptista and Immaculata to sleep in a small unused room on an unstable cot. They managed to make it through the night until one sister got up in the morning, the cot collapsed, and the other occupant landed on the floor in a tangle of blankets. A good deal of laughter ensued, causing “a serious breach of traditional Presentation strict silence.” Mother Benedict Murphy’s Annals
During the aforementioned fire, a visiting sister lost her teeth in addition to everything else she possessed. Imagine her surprise later when a little girl appeared at the door, teeth in hand, asking who had lost them!
Many of the sisters recalled warm friendships formed with the people of Timber Lake. In some cases these friendships led to the sisters being asked to be Baptismal sponsors; in some cases the babies were named after them, all evidence of high regard on the part of the parents.
Though the Dubuque Presentation Sisters ended their involvement in Timber Lake in 1981, the work of Sisters Peggy Boehm and Darlene Gutenkauf from Aberdeen continued a Presentation presence in the area from 2003-2008.
Left photo: Left to right: Sisters Mary Loretto Donahue, Immaculata Daly, Baptista Hussey, de Pazzi Curtin and Francis Bannon represented the first Timber Lake Presentation community.
Right photo: St. Joseph School in Timber Lake, South Dakota, erected in 1919 was destroyed by a fire on January 19, 1950. The newly-constructed Holy Cross School opened in 1952 and closed in 1979.
Presentation Presence from 1919-1929
“The Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Dubuque, Iowa, who had not previously been represented in the Diocese, were placed in charge of the school, St. Joseph’s Boarding and Day School.” The parish Historical Yearbook, 1887-1976, describes the introduction of the Sisters of the Presentation in this manner.
The school opened with 24 boarders (both boys and girls), 65 day students, and 30 music students. Between 1919-1929, eight sisters served in the school. Classes were offered for grades 1-8, with the addition of some high school grades the first year.
Sister Mary Xavier Evans led the little band of sisters in their first endeavor in the Diocese of Denver. Listed in the annals as her companions were Sisters Mary Antonio Murphy, Evarista Powers, Leonarda Leonard, Innocentia Sanner and Rose Jochum. Pastor Reverend Louis Groham, described by Sister Innocentia later as “a very kind man,” introduced the sisters to the parish and settled them into their new home.
About her first mission experience in Akron, Sister Innocentia recalled that the sisters had a real community spirit, which helped alleviate the feeling of isolation for those who were so far from their Iowa roots. She also remembered harboring some people overnight when a storm arose after a school program directed by Sister Mary Antonio. Weather evidently could be a problem, though the climate was generally mild.
Sister Mary Leonarda Leonard had this to say about the weather: “It was never very cold and there were few storms; sunshine almost every day. We had to make our own sunshine when we came back to Iowa.” She enjoyed the people, the students and the boarders during her 10 years in Akron.
A transplant from Iowa, Sister Mary Josephine Kennedy spent 1919-1921 as a boarding student at St. Joseph. Her family had purchased some land 18 miles from school, and the law required that they live on the land for two years in order to claim it. The Kennedys later returned to Iowa.
Depression conditions, according to the Parish Yearbook, caused the closing of the school. Other factors mentioned in the annals included the increasing need for more sisters to staff the schools closer to home, and the fact that, for the last two years that the sisters were there, the parish had no resident pastor; hence there was no opportunity for daily Mass.
In testimony of the enduring appreciation for the work of the sisters, a mural and name plaque were placed in the Church in 1955 to honor Sister Mary Antonio Murphy. The plaque reads: “With prayerful gratitude, affection and esteem, this mural is dedicated to the memory of Sister Mary Antonio, Sisters of the Presentation, presented to St. Joseph Church, Akron, Colorado, June 13, 1955, by her former pupils and associates.” Presiding at the Mass and ceremony was Right Reverend Monsignor Joseph R. Koch who had been pastor at St. Joseph Church during 1922-1928, the years that Sister Antonio was principal.
Presentation Annals of 1932 sum up the history of the sisters’ work in Akron, Colorado, and attest to the fact that their influence extended beyond the school walls. “A fertile field for Catholic action claimed the unstinted efforts of the Presentation apostolate of religious instruction. Return of lapsed Catholics and more than a few conversions attest the impress of Presentation sisters teaching there.”
Presentation Presence from 1920-2010
“In 1920, the Reverend Thomas Davern saw the completion of a parish school at St. Mary’s made possible by the generosity of Mr. Denis Hessian, who donated funds for its erection.” (Early Missions Annals #223C) Thus began the Catholic school system in Humboldt, Iowa.
According to an article in the Humboldt Independent dated March 14, 1996, Denis Hessian grew up poor and felt deprived of religious training in his youth. Having no wife or children, he wished to provide for other children what he lacked in his own childhood by giving money to build and maintain a Catholic school at St. Mary Parish.
The first Presentation Sisters to minister in Humboldt were Sisters Mary Joseph Kennedy, Evarista Powers, Gerard Murphy and Benigna McCarron. They arrived the week of August 20, 1920, and met their first students on August 30. An enrollment of 50 pupils in grades 1-10 bolstered Father Davern’s confidence that he had made the right decision in building a parochial school in an area where the Catholic population was in the minority.
The school began, as did many in that era, as a boarding school. The dormitories on third floor accommodated 20 girls and 20 boys. First floor served as the sisters’ quarters and the music room. Second floor was designated for use as school rooms.
By 1934, grades 11 and 12 were added to the school which received state accreditation in 1935. The four grades of high school continued until 1942. Today St. Mary’s serves preschool through sixth grade. A total of 94 Presentation Sisters ministered on the faculty over the years, the last of whom was Sister Louise Scieszinski who retired in 2010. A capable staff of a lay principal and teachers carries on the mission begun by the four pioneers in 1920.
In a speech delivered on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the school, Former Student Joe Ennis praised the sisters for their “dedication and concern for the spiritual and material welfare of all students, their teaching by precept and example, of respect and responsibility, along with the other three Rs of education…” He commended early parishioners who took turns providing wood from their own farms to stoke the furnace, and whose children took their turns at janitorial services along with their fathers.
Sister Benigna McCarron related in an interview for the oral history archives that at first the original three-story school/convent building had two electric light bulbs: one in the bathroom and the other in the kitchen. Camp chairs served as pews in the chapel. Sister praised Father Davern’s generosity in providing needed items, food and even textbooks which he traveled to Chicago to purchase.
Sister deLourdes Verhey recalled forming lasting friendships in Humboldt, most notably with Dr. Beryl Michaelson who became a generous benefactor of the sisters. Sister Lawrence Mulligan, principal from 1960-1967, recalled the good relationships with public school officials, one of whom commented on the excellent quality of students entering high school from St. Mary School. To quote Joe Ennis “…the honor students at St. Mary’s continued to be honor students at Humboldt High.”
Card playing was a favorite pastime in the community, according to Sister Pierre Kollasch who dubbed her first mission, “my first love.” Father Fitzpatrick, pastor during her time at Humboldt (1948-1952), would play cards with Sister Roberta Burke and the other sisters on Saturday afternoons. If things got slow and players hesitated too long, Father would say, “Masses are at 8:00 and 10:00” to hurry things along. Sister Pierre also described an incident during her second tour at St. Mary’s in 1974-1975. A former pupil whom she had helped in first through third grade returned as an adult to thank her for her assistance, and he brought with him a chicken for the sisters’ dinner.
Another former principal, Sister Dianne Michels (1981-1989) added kindergarten and a computer lab, as well as shared time in grades 7 and 8. She expressed her admiration for the thriving parish community in which the Knights of Columbus and the Ladies’ Society worked together for both parish and school.
Sister Ruth Ann Takes described Humboldt as “a little bit of heaven” when referring to her work with adult choir, funeral choir and liturgy planning, along with giving private lessons in piano, organ and guitar.
The tradition of excellence in education and faith formation continues to thrive at St. Mary School.
Presentation Presence from 1920-1968
“In 1920 some timid, home-loving sisters considered South Dakota almost beyond Earth’s end. However, four valiant daughters of Nano Nagle were found who were ready to face anything for the honor and glory of God in the name of the Iowa Presentation Sisters. They were Sisters Mary Albia O’Brien, Mary de Sales Weibel, Mary Winifred Donohue and Mary Rita Duffy. Fired with ambition for achievements in the Master’s ripening fields in the land of the Sioux tribe, Sister Mary Albia, as superior, knelt with her companions before the altar in Mount Loretto Chapel and prayed God to bless their efforts at St. Mary’s in Winner.” Annals
Thus began the history of the Presentation presence in Winner, South Dakota. It didn’t take long for the four sisters to succumb to the warm welcome given by Father Charles H. Virnig and his parishioners. Through the years, 39 other sisters followed in the footsteps of Sister Mary Albia and her companions.
One of their students, Alta Dowd, joined the Presentation Sisters and was known as Sister Mary Francis.
The impetus for the building of St. Mary School in Winner came from Bishop John J. Lawler. His letter to Father Virnig, dated March 2, 1918, states, “You may tell the parishioners that I shall insist on a parochial school, and that it is my wish that you begin to take subscriptions and prepare for the building.”
When the sisters arrived in September 1920, they found an unfinished school, and so they began instructions in the church, using the main body of the church and the sacristy. They lived in the rectory while Father Virnig lived elsewhere until the combination school/convent was completed.
With the blessing and dedication of the new building on November 20, the sisters and students were ready to move in on Presentation Day, November 21. The second floor provided space for sleeping quarters for the sisters and 35-40 boarders. Classrooms occupied the first floor, while the lower floor housed the kitchen, dining room and music practice rooms. The boarders came from great distances, and so arrived on Sunday evening to stay until Friday afternoon. Occasionally they stayed over the weekend as well when the weather did not permit their parents to come for them. The sisters had study hall duties and supervision of bed time rituals and morning wake-up calls along with their teaching responsibilities.
St. Mary School provided instruction in all of the basic subject areas, as well as music and a flourishing extracurricular program for grades one through eight. The music program was very large. The annals describe one of Sister Leo’s recitals from which 40 students were missing because of a blizzard, but “from the length of the program you would never know they were missing.”
In 1934 it became necessary for the Presentation Sisters to return to Dubuque, and for three years the Benedictine Sisters from St. Joseph, Minnesota, took over the teaching duties. According to the parish history book published in 1960, adverse conditions, doubtful crops, price conditions, families leaving the parish and lack of funds closed the school in 1938. By 1940, however, conditions had improved to the point where the Presentation Sisters returned, to remain until 1968. By then the population had decreased to an extent where there were too few students to make a full faculty feasible and the doors closed for the last time.
Oral history tapes available in the archives at the Presentation motherhouse provide interesting anecdotes described by the sisters who ministered at Winner. Sister Denise Kollasch recalls that South Dakota is known as the pheasant capital of the United States. As housekeeper she talked of the day when she helped clean and prepare 157 pheasants for the boarders’ dinner. She was in charge of churning butter from the cream obtained from parishioners.
Sister Clement Bird comments that the older boarders helped with the pheasants. Her impression of the locale was “no trees” and “hot all the time.” Traveling to be with other Presentation Sisters for Thanksgiving entailed a 200-mile trip, but it was worth it to get together “so far from Dubuque.”
Parents sacrificed to send their children to St. Mary School, according to Sister Patrick Waldorf, who recalls that families included the sisters in excursions to the Black Hills, and to Timber Lake to visit fellow Presentation Sisters. The parents were very gracious and often expressed their appreciation for what the sisters were doing for their children. The school population usually included six to 10 Native American families whose children were always ready to help, and who sometimes stayed over the weekend when their parents were unable to have them at home.
Sister Patrick recalls teaching Saturday religion classes at other towns, in addition to full-time classroom activities during the week. A TV station near Winner (150 miles being “near”) once had several sisters on a panel during Catholic Schools Week, giving the sisters a chance to talk about their work and the purpose of Catholic schools. “If busy people are happy people, we were the happiest people alive,” according to Sister Patrick.
Any of the sisters who ministered at Winner, South Dakota, expressed fond memories of the welcoming and gracious people who lived there. Many warm friendships were formed which lasted for years after their departure.
Presentation Presence from 1927-2015
“Father (Thomas) Davern organized the parish men to assist in the building of St. Cecelia Academy. The basement area of it was dug by horses pulling slips and fresnos along with many hands digging with spades and shovels. The farmers would drive their teams to town daily during the week with feed to sustain the animals at noon. An organized group of ladies prepared the eats at the noon meal. Much of the food was donated by all concerned … Then the contractors who steered the building process also used the parishioners who would volunteer their assistance.” Memoirs of St. Cecelia Academy by Floyd T. Bode
The spirit of cooperation exhibited in the building of St. Cecelia Academy in 1927 continued to be a hallmark of the parishioners in the Algona area. Through several periods of restructuring, the school system has continued to be maintained by the generosity and work of those who have seen three and four generations of families educated there.
On September 5, 1927, Presentation Sisters Mary Hildegarde McBride, Elise O’Malley, Agnes O’Brien, Ellavene Dolan, Archangela Duffy and Justine Smith opened St. Cecelia Academy, welcoming 164 students in grades 1-8. One grade was added each year until the first class of 18 graduated in 1932.
Bishop Garrigan High School opened in 1959, supported by parishes in Algona, St. Joseph (Bode), Wesley and Whittemore. At that time St. Cecelia and St. Joe merged their elementary students who attended at either center. Several other communities of sisters taught with the Presentations until the center at St. Joseph closed in 1991.
Kindergarten was added in 1979, the same year that elementary students from Wesley and St. Benedict entered the system and St. Elizabeth Ann Seton became the new name for the Algona center. Students later came from several other areas as their home centers closed or their parents desired Catholic education at the high school level which was not available in their hometown.
Preschool began in 1982 with four-year-olds. It has expanded to include three-year-olds, kindergarten prep and all-day class and day care options. A new middle school wing was built in 1991, and the original Academy building was demolished to make way for a parish center in 2015.
The Sisters of the Presentation continued to staff the school system and maintain the high standards of education which parents expect and deserve. They were also active in parish ministry, serving as coordinators for religious education as well as for the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults.
Sister Annette Skyles, middle school teacher at Seton until her retirement in 2004, has fond memories of her time in Algona. She especially remembers the family atmosphere created by the faculty and staff. Their support of the sisters, and their creative preparation for liturgies, stand out in her memory, along with their support of her in nominating her for one of the first Bishop’s Awards for Excellence in Teaching.
Having the distinction of teaching in both the St. Joseph and the Garrigan centers, Sister Janet Stelken recalls her work with the confirmation candidates who were juniors in high school. The incorporation of students, sponsors, teachers, pastors and parents in retreats and discussions, created a community of faith which enriched the lives of all participants. She welcomed the support offered by the different groups, and credited this with enriching the program for all involved.
In 2010, Sister Hermann Platt left the Seton Center. Sister Janet Goetz officially retired from the Bishop Garrigan center in 2015, although she continues to serve by volunteering at the school and in the parish. Over the years, 145 Sisters of the Presentation served in the Algona area.
Presentation Presence from 1947-1985; 1987-2001
“In the name of the parish … especially on behalf of two generations of Sacred Heart families, we publicly express our gratitude to the Presentation community and to all the individual sisters who have served … at Sacred Heart.” (Father Leon Connolly, parish bulletin, 1985) These comments recognized the 58 Presentation Sisters who ministered in Osage, Iowa, in the catechetical school, Sacred Heart Grade School, and in parish ministry.
Sacred Heart Parish was established in 1878, with the appointment of Reverend James Saunders as the first resident pastor. When the first church, built in 1879, burned in 1928, the result of a chimney fire, Mass was held in the Osage Theater until a new brick structure was completed.
The year 1947 saw the beginnings of a catechetical program under the direction of Presentation Sisters Mary Damian O’Brien, Jeanne Marie Chute and Columba Offerman. The sisters began classes in the convent, the church basement, and the bank building, with music lessons in the convent after school. Students were released from the public school for religion classes two times per week. The sisters taught in Osage, Mitchell, Riceville, St. Ansgar and Orchard for pre-school through high school youth.
According to the Parish Directory published in 1973, “The church expected an arrangement for the building of a convent school to be completed in the spring of 1889.” A school building was eventually completed in 1955 and was used for released time religion classes for two years. Over the years, the parish has seen 15 women enter religious life and six men become priests or religious brothers.
In 1957 Sacred Heart School began operation with a full curriculum of studies for 96 students in grades 1-4; one grade was added each year until 1961 when grade 8 was reached. The first sisters to staff the school were Sisters Mary Dorothy McCormick, Annette Skyles, Roger (Dolores) Moes and Joseph Marie (Marie) Barth. Sister Dorothy applauded the pastor, Father Thomas J. Conroy, for his generous assistance in helping to supply whatever the sisters needed.
The erection of a gymnasium in 1966 came from a recommendation by the State Department of Education that a full physical education program be implemented. Conroy Hall became a center for parish and school activities. In 1967 grades 7-8 were admitted to shared time classes, with the opportunity for students to take typing, home economics and shop at the public school. A learning center was added in 1969.
By 1985, due to the shortage of sisters, the Presentation community withdrew from Sacred Heart School. Classes continued under the direction of a lay principal and staff until the spring of 2012. At that time the local school board made the decision to close, “after concerns of low enrollment and continuing financial woes became apparent …. According to school and parish officials, Sacred Heart School has always been known for its spirit of service and community.” (The Witness, April 15, 2012)
At an all-school reunion in 2002, the most frequent comments from students cited the great lunches, especially the pizza made by Theresa Waters. Others expressed appreciation for the opportunities to help prepare for and participate in school Masses, “always a wonderful experience.” The science fair in Des Moines got several mentions, as did “getting chicken pox from my 1st and 2nd grade teacher!” Music and band experiences were fond memories for many.
Sister Francine Quillin recalled Father Conroy’s concern “that the sisters did what they were supposed to do, because he liked having the younger sisters there … he used to call if we had clothes out on the line and it started raining. And he would make sure we were in by 9:00 p.m. One time a priest was visiting Sister Dorothy, and at 9:00 p.m. Father Conroy called the convent to tell the priest to leave because the sisters were supposed to begin silence at that time!”
Sister Marilou Irons recalled the enjoyable family Halloween parties, especially the family that came dressed as Smurfs, blue hair and all. Several teachers and students alike mentioned roller skating in the new gym before the tile floor went in. When an addition was made to the convent, the workers on the other side of a plastic sheet could be heard making comments which Sisters Dolores Moes and Marie Barth surmised were intended to be heard by the sisters as they ate their supper.
Presentation Sisters returned to Osage in the person of Sister Mary Rosanne Rottinghaus, who served in parish ministry from 1987-2001. She worked with the Renew program, with married couples and with religion classes. Planning for and providing liturgical music and visiting the elderly in their homes meant a full schedule for her. Sister Rosanne says, “I enjoyed the cooperation and spirit of the people in the parish. I am grateful for the friendships made there during those years.” Sister Rosanne retired in 2001, ending Presentation involvement in the parish.
Presentation Presence from 1941 – Present
“In the name of the parish … especially on behalf of two generations of Sacred Heart families, we publicly express our gratitude to the Presentation community an
“The Midwest was still new when pioneers in ox-drawn wagons trekked westward in search of a place for a home and the maintenance of their families. Lured by the beauty of its fertile prairie lands, many halted and staked off claims in Minnesota.” Annals #233
As early as 1855, the first Catholics arrived in the Monticello area, and were served by mission priests. The first Mass in Monticello was offered by Bishop Joseph F. Busch of St. Cloud. In June of 1909, St. Henry Parish became a reality, its name chosen to honor Father Henry Blum who had served the parish as a mission from Buffalo, Minnesota.
The year 1937 saw the Franciscan Sisters from Little Falls staffing the school of religion, which they maintained until 1941. Upon their withdrawal, Pastor George Van der Velden made the trip to Dubuque, Iowa, to ask Mother Perpetua Ryan for sisters to take over the religious instruction in the parish. Sisters Mary Denise Kollasch and Callista Ryan, accompanied by Mother Perpetua, made the journey to Monticello to bring the lantern of Nano Nagle to the northland.
Their interview with the pastor and the public school principal revealed that released time for religious instruction was not new to the area. Cooperation between the public school officials and the local pastors had already been established, and continues to the present day. With the arrival of September, the sisters welcomed 141 students. Over the years the population increased until in 1978 over 700 students from five parishes were being served by three sisters and 65 volunteer teachers.
Full-time catechetical work was new to the sisters, who had been educated as Catholic school teachers. With students in grades 1-10 coming during the week from their public school classes, Sunday School classes for four- and five-year olds, Wednesday evening classes for grades 11 and 12, and adult education, the schedule was far from the experience of those accustomed to full days of instruction with the same group of students for a year. Sister Eunice Kane, arriving in 1942, began a systematic training in catechesis for sisters and volunteers alike.
By 1980, the sisters had begun to transition to more parish work, taking their place on the parish council, the liturgy committee and in the ministerial association. Former work with students in classrooms, and private piano and organ lessons, gave way to such positions as parish music minister. The ministry expanded to include the parish in Mound, the neighboring town. Progress is noted at St. Henry with the building of a new church in 1999. The parish Hispanic ministry includes a Mass in Spanish each Sunday.
Today, Sister Carolyn Link resides in Monticello, the 38th Presentation Sister to do so. She is catechumenate coordinator at St. Henry, where she has spent the last 25 years. She serves as pastoral minister/liturgist at Mound. She is recognized in the area as an artist of note, spending her spare time in the study and practice of her chosen field. Her comment in the parish centennial book of 2009 tells of her love for St. Henry: “What first attracted me to St. Henry was the liturgy. It was prayerful, the community was warm and inviting, the music was exceptional. I felt like this could be home.”
The centennial book provides comments about their experience from several other sisters. Sister Eunice observed: “The love shown for the sisters by members of St. Henry Parish was always very evident. A good example would be the sudden appearance of some good steaks … whenever a visiting sister was present.”
Sister Diana Blong remarked, “I remember the warmth and friendliness of the parish and community and the generosity and willingness of people to participate. I will not forget the natural beauty of Minnesota – nature walks and cross-country skiing.”
Sister Irma Ries agreed with Sister Diana. “When I worked as the religious education director, you, the people of St. Henry Parish, grabbed a corner of my heart. I came as a stranger, but you quickly invited me into your family and friendship circles.”
From brave pioneer families to settled and rooted citizens, the people of St. Henry maintain their spirit and their love for God and family.
Charles City, IA
Presentation Presence from 1952-Present
“In 1854, as prairie schooners moved westward, a small band of pioneers settled along the Cedar River in a village which was to become Charles City. Missionary priests from the Diocese of Dubuque … were assigned to visit the area a few times each year. In 1867 a pastor was assigned to the community, and Mass was celebrated in Taylor Hall, the Court House, as well as in private homes.” Open House booklet, June 10, 1973
After some years of fundraising, a Gothic brick structure was erected under the direction of Father Clement Lowery, and dedicated as the parish church in 1885. While the building was plagued by fire on two separate occasions, and by a tornado in 1968, the faith of the parishioners was undaunted. In 1972 a new church was constructed which reflected changes in liturgical thinking and serves today as a place of worship and community gathering.
In 1895 the pastor, Father Patrick McGrath, saw to the building of a school for the children of the parish. The Sisters of Mercy from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, welcomed 160 boarding and day students on the first day of school. In 1912 a new wing was added to accommodate increasing enrollment.
Continued changes marked the history of the school. In 1949 enrollment had reached 281, and by 1958 it reached 500. A tornado which destroyed a large section of town damaged the school building also. At that time the high school grades were dropped and students from St. Mary Parish of Roseville were added to the enrollment. Over the years grades seven and eight were dropped, kindergarten and preschool were added, and in 2002, an early childhood wing was added to the building.
Because of lack of personnel, the Sisters of Mercy were unable to continue staffing the school, and in 1952, 14 Sisters of the Presentation from Dubuque came to assure the parishioners that the high quality of education would remain in place. Sister Mary Angela Feeney was principal for grades first-12th from 1952-1958, with an enrollment of 118 in the high school and 286 in the elementary.
Over the years, 100 Presentation Sisters have ministered in Immaculate Conception School and Parish, including Sister Mary Diana Blong who presently serves as pastoral associate.
A new convent was constructed in 1960, but was not ready for the sisters to move in before school began that fall. Sister Martha Boland remembered that the move took place the last day of school before Christmas vacation in “the worst snow storm of the year.” In spite of the short notice, everything was in place for the Christmas celebration, “including the tree.”
Immaculate Conception School was cited by the National Catholic Education Association in 1989 for its efforts at fundraising, and for increasing teacher salaries. In 1954, 63 students petitioned Congress to add the words “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag. Both the House and the Senate passed a resolution to add the phrase to the pledge.
In addition to teaching in the school, several of the sisters were involved in parish ministry, notably from 1977-79, 1985-97, and 1999 to the present. They also participated in other widespread projects during their work in Charles City. Among the activities in which they were involved were: Habitat for Humanity; catechetical schools in Nashua, Charles City and Roseville; speech and music festivals; and the Child Abuse Prevention Council for Floyd and surrounding counties for which they helped to get a grant established. At the time of the tornado in 1968 many of the sisters were involved with the Red Cross, Salvation Army and other civic organizations in taking care of the needs of the citizens.
According to a newspaper article in The Witness in September 1987, “Four young men from the parish entered the priesthood, and two became religious brothers; at least 25 women entered religious life.” Five Presentation Sisters count Charles City as their home.
Presentation Presence from 1923-2009
The histories of three northeast Iowa parishes and schools are closely related, and in some cases intertwined. The following narrative relies heavily on the history of each parish according to Monsignor Justin A. Driscoll’s account in “With Faith and Vision” (c.1967) to summarize the individual history of each place.
St. John the Baptist, Peosta: 1923-1993
According to Monsignor Driscoll, the school in Peosta opened in 1923. The earlier attendance center had been in Centralia, Iowa, and was staffed by the Franciscan Sisters of Dubuque.
In 1923 the Sisters of Charity, BVM, took charge of the new building in Peosta with 62 students. Growing to include all grades first through 12, it was accredited by the State of Iowa in 1928. Enrollment fluctuated over the years because of the Depression, and in 1933 the high school was closed.
In 1993 the Peosta center merged with Epworth, Placid and the Farley-Bankston consolidation to form Seton Catholic Elementary School. Grades third, fourth and fifth were assigned to the Peosta center, and the system was placed under the direction of the Sisters of the Presentation of Dubuque.
Another Presentation connection in the area was the Northeast Iowa Technical Institute School of Nursing. Sister Mary Rosalie Whalen was one of its nursing instructors from 1974-1989, according to records in the archives.
St. John, Placid: 1894-1993
Originally named Pleasant Grove, Placid was later named after the abbot of New Melleray Abbey. The first school building in Placid was opened by Reverend James Commerford in 1894. The Franciscan Sisters of Clinton replaced several lay women who had taught the children before that time. The new school housed grades first through eighth.
In 1912 the sisters were unable to continue staffing the school, and lay teachers again stepped up to continue educating the young people of the area. By 1917 the Clinton Franciscan Sisters had returned. In 1946 Sisters of the Presentation took over the running of the school until they were replaced again by the Franciscan Sisters in 1952.
Placid became part of the Epworth-Peosta-Placid merger in 1968, and in 1993 that group merged with Farley-Bankston to form Seton Catholic Elementary School system.
St. Patrick, Epworth: 1935-2009
Epworth was a mission parish, served by the pastor at Placid, from 1879-1935. After the establishment of St. Joseph School in Farley, the Sisters of the Presentation from there attended to the catechetical needs of the children in Epworth.
With the opening of the parochial school in 1955, four Presentation Sisters were assigned to elementary grades. Students in St. Patrick School had the advantage of association with several outside groups. The seminarians from Divine Word College Seminary worked with seventh and eighth grade students in a kind of “Big Brother” relationship. In 1960 students were able to receive piano and organ lessons from the music teachers in the Farley center. The Dubuque County schools provided the services of a county nurse, a speech therapist, a psychologist and a special education director.
In 1968 the Epworth-Peosta-Placid merger meant that the Epworth school was no longer a separate entity. By 1993 it became necessary to consolidate further and the Seton Catholic Elementary School system was created. Grades kindergarten, first and second were assigned to the Epworth building.
In addition to the school connections, Presentation Sisters also helped staff the Divine Word Spirituality Center in Epworth from 1993-1996. Sister Julia Wingert assisted in this endeavor.
The last Presentation, Sister Mary St. James Lickteig, left the system in 2009, ending the era of Presentation presence in the area schools which began in 1887 at St. Joseph School in Farley.
Presentation Presence from 1956-2008
Sheldon, a thriving town in the northwest corner of Iowa, was founded by Irish settlers, who carried their heritage with them to the New World. The first priest to minister to the Catholics in Sheldon was Msgr. Lennihan, who served the church in several counties in the area from 1873-1876. The first Catholic church in Sheldon was built in 1880.
In 1955 Father J. J. Hyland fulfilled his desire for a Catholic school in his parish. Five Sisters of the Presentation arrived in August of 1956 to open St. Patrick School: Sisters Mary Philip Jasper, Therese Marie Hawes, Macrina Donlon, Frederick Pint and Sheila Kane. They found the parishioners to be supportive of their efforts to provide an education which integrated religious truths and values into all subject areas and into all aspects of life.
Over the years, 49 Sisters of the Presentation ministered in St. Patrick School and Parish. The last to serve was Sister Anne McCormick, who gave 19 years to the people of Sheldon, the last 11 years as the lone resident of the convent situated across the street from the school and church.
According to the parish centennial booklet, published in 1973, three young men from the parish had been called to serve as priests, while five young women had entered communities of religious women.
During the 52 years that Sisters of the Presentation were present in the parish, they found that “teaching school” was only part of the range of activities in which they would engage. There were fundraisers, sacramental preparation in neighboring parishes, sports activities, parish events, hospice volunteering, visiting nursing home residents, ecumenical prayer services and the list goes on.
One fundraising activity which has brought much-needed money for necessities is the “Fun and Fund Night” which began in 1971 with a cake sale. The activity, according to Sister Mary Karen Jasper, principal at that time, “helped to draw all of us together.” This annual event has grown to include the sale of hand-made articles, a white elephant auction, refreshments and entertainment provided by the school’s choral group. It remains a vital source of income for the school as well as a social event which parishioners of all ages enjoy.
Other activities which continued to draw parishioners together included a regional golf tournament, attended in 2004 by four Sisters of the Presentation who were avid golfers. (The Globe August 26, 2004) The Nestle Toll House Bake Sale Contest in March of 1997, according to the Sheldon newspaper, produced dozens of cookies and over $4,000 in revenue, along with excitement and camaraderie.
Mission activities have always been a part of the Catholic school experience. One notable example for Sheldon students was their sponsoring the education of a girl in India. Through the generosity of St. Patrick parents and students, she was able to attain a high school education which would have been financially impossible without this help. One student involved in this work said they did it because “she is a part of God’s family.” Another maintained, “It helps Victoria with her life in India and it teaches us kids responsibility and caring.” It is evident that the activity taught many life values along with providing the feeling of satisfaction that comes with helping others.
After a visit to the school in March of 1999, the managing editor of the Sheldon newspaper, Jennifer Dyke, commented on the “Christ-centered atmosphere at St. Patrick, not just because of the symbolism on the walls and doors, but by the examples set by the teachers and followed by the students.”
As part of Catholic Schools Week in 1999, former principals were featured in radio spots on the Sheldon radio station. Sister Karen Jasper (1971-75) cited the Christian community of faith-filled, supportive and generous people she had worked with. Sister Lynn Marie Fangman (1975-77) found people willing to spend long hours for the good of the school. Sister Pamela Quade (1977-81) was impressed with the creativity of the students and the cooperation of parents for the good of the school.
While the last Sister of the Presentation left Sheldon in 2008, this “Christ-centered atmosphere” continues in full force under the direction of dedicated lay faculty and staff.
The tradition lives on.
Wahlert High School
Presentation Presence from 1959-2006
A study of the four Catholic high schools in Dubuque, begun in 1955, discovered deteriorating buildings and overcrowded conditions. Loras Academy, Immaculate Conception Academy, St. Joseph Academy and St. Columbkille School were under the auspices of various religious community groups at the time. A decision was made to undertake the construction of a central Catholic high school to serve the needs of the students in the area.
April 7, 1957, was the launching date for a campaign which reached 2,000 people from the 15 parishes in the Dubuque area. A 50-acre plot of land was purchased and construction began, resulting in the dedication of the new facility on November 3, 1959.
The new building opened with a faculty of 85 members including representatives from each of the religious congregations, along with priests, Reserve Officers’ Training Corps instructors and lay teachers. Opening enrollment reached 1,670 students; a maximum enrollment of 2,226 would come in the 1966-67 school year, when it was determined that an addition was needed to accommodate the activities programs. Another addition, named Mazzuchelli Middle School, was added in 2005 with an approximate enrollment of 400.
Over the years, Wahlert High School administrators remained up-to-date on the latest trends in education. In the first years, a four-track system was used. Eventually this gave way to modular scheduling, team teaching, individually guided education and independent study. Foreign languages, including Latin, French, Spanish and German, were offered.
In order for faculty members to be able to work closely together, a unique living arrangement was provided for priests and sisters. Seven priests occupied the former St. Rose Priory, later named Vianney House, while 50 sisters made their home next door in the former Good Shepherd Home for Girls, which became Regina Convent.
Eight Sisters of the Presentation moved into their new home on Asbury Road in 1959, accompanied by 20 Sisters of Charity, 20 Sisters of St. Francis and two Dominican Sisters. Each group occupied a separate area of the building and they shared some common areas. This was to be their residence until 1983 when numbers dictated a new arrangement. At that time several sisters moved to Holy Trinity Convent in Dubuque.
From 1959-2006, 42 Presentation Sisters served at Wahlert High School, beginning with Sister Mary Ernestine Meyer, chair of the home economics department, and Sister Mary Fleurette Einikey, in charge of the library. At times as many as 11 Presentation Sisters were on the faculty, and in later years that number dropped to one. The last to serve was Sister Rita Cameron, who left her counseling position in 2006.
Sister Elena Hoye, teacher at Wahlert from 1979-1985, had this to say about her experience: “Wahlert Catholic High School holds a special place in my heart. It was there that I learned how to really teach. Father Joe Herard was the principal, and through his guidance and insistence that everyone learn and use the Madeline Hunter’s teaching model, I fell in love with teaching. I will be forever grateful.”
Wahlert High School continues to serve the young people of the Dubuque area as part of the Holy Family Catholic School System. Students come from the elementary schools in town, and from the surrounding tri-state area.
Resurrection School and Parish
Presentation Presence from 1961-Present
After having conducted religious education classes at St. Philomena Parish in Asbury for 25 years, the Sisters of the Presentation took over the operation of the new school which was built in 1961. At that time the name of the parish, and subsequently that of the school, was changed to Church of the Resurrection. The school consisted of eight classrooms and encompassed grades one through six.
The first sisters to minister at Resurrection School were Sisters Joan Lickteig (who served as principal), Dianne Michels, Donna Determan and Louann Doering. One lay teacher completed the faculty roster. The sisters traveled from the Presentation motherhouse to Resurrection each day. Sister Donna Demmer continues the Presentation tradition, the last of 66 members of the congregation who have served at Resurrection.
By 1964 a second set of eight classrooms had been added, and in 1967 the two sections of the building were connected by a temporary church space, a multipurpose room, restrooms and janitorial space. 1967 also saw the construction of a convent on the parish grounds, and the sisters no longer needed to commute to their place of ministry. This allowed the sisters, in the words of one of the original faculty members, to become “more fully a part of the parish, our parish.”
With the opening of Wahlert High School in 1959, students leaving eighth grade at Resurrection had the opportunity to extend their Catholic education for four more years. Further expansion provided a separate church in 1985, allowing the former temporary quarters to be converted to a gymnasium. Pre-school and day care opened in 1986, expanding the age range of students accepted in the facility.
Delivery of the curriculum varied through the years. In 1972, Individually Guided Education (IGE) was introduced, consisting of multi-age groups of students each learning at his/her own pace. In 1981 the school board voted to enter a shared time agreement with Dubuque Community Schools whereby seventh and eighth grade students spent half of the school day at Jones Middle School where they received instruction in science, math, music and home arts. This arrangement allowed room for a learning center at Resurrection where students received additional assistance through small-group activities.
The now Holy Family Catholic Schools system has its origins in 1981 as the Dubuque Metropolitan System of Catholic Education. This merge placed all the Catholic elementary schools in Dubuque under the direction of one administrator. Eventually, by 2006, all students in sixth through eighth grades moved to Mazzuchelli Middle School on the Wahlert Catholic High School campus.
In addition to serving in the school, Presentation Sisters have been a part of the parish in such capacities as parish minister, Eucharistic minister, youth coordinator, and teacher of religious education for public school students. Volunteers have provided music for the liturgies and joined in parish fundraising activities.
Sister Donna Demmer, presently teaching in the school, remarks, “As a teacher at Resurrection Elementary School I have seen many changes starting with a kindergarten through eighth grade building to a preschool through fifth grade building. When seventh and eighth grades were here I enjoyed just stopping to watch volleyball, basketball and football games. It is always great to see and hear about the accomplishments of students from Resurrection.”
Sister Donna Demmer states, “The goal of Resurrection School today is to be a place that is respectful, reverent, responsible and resourceful. The parish is one which is very concerned about social justice issues and care for the environment. I’m proud to be a part of such a great community.”
Our Global Roots
Our Global Roots
The Sisters of the Presentation founded by Nano Nagle in 1775 has become a world-wide organization spanning 24 countries and six continents. The Dubuque foundation, stemming from Mooncoin in Ireland, has followed the lead of Nano in expanding its mission to Central and South America, Africa and Ireland.
Bolivia: 1970 – Present
The first foreign mission venture of the Dubuque Presentation Sisters got underway in August of 1970 with the commissioning of Sisters Maura McCarthy and Ileen Marie Sweeney to Bolivia. At the commissioning, Sister Helen Marie Feeney and Archbishop James J. Byrne bestowed on each a missionary cross. After language school in Cochabamba and living with a local Spanish-speaking family for a time, the two missionaries began their work in Ivirgarzama, Bolivia, an experimental parish sponsored by the Archdiocese of Dubuque.
Transferring to Entre Ríos in 1972, the sisters began having Sunday Communion services with the people and training catechists to continue Sacramental preparation and worship services in outlying regions. They later expanded their work to include an academy, a pharmacy, outreach to those in rural areas and advocacy for those lacking the identification papers needed to access government assistance.
Further expansion included work with the Guaraní tribes in Timboy. Having learned the language of the indigenous people, Sister Maura later wrote the history of the Guaraní people and their struggle to escape from the power of the rich land owners.
Casa Betania in Tarija recently became a house for university students to study and experience community life.
To date, in addition to the two founders, seven sisters have served in the Bolivian mission: Sisters Therese Corkery, Julianne Brockamp, Therese Marie Hawes, Marge Healy, Suzanne Takes, Mery Cari Paz and Janella Frankl.
Guatemala: 1990 – 2001
Sister Rita Menart fulfilled her dream of working with the oppressed when she went to Chupol, Guatemala, in 1990. She found that many people were poor and had suffered injustice from the wealthy landowners who had exploited the indigenous people, leaving them with nothing. With a companion, Sister Barbara Ford, BVM, Sister Rita began Sacramental preparation, and classes in Scripture reading. Development of church leaders was an especially important part of the ministry, since priests were available to say Mass almost every other week.
Sister Rita, later joined by Sister Marge Healy, worked with the uneducated, preparing catechists to continue the work of the church. A multitude of languages and dialects, along with wars and rebellions, made the ministry difficult. By 1995, the ruling military and the guerillas agreed to a truth commission which allowed people to tell their stories of death and loss of loved ones, giving the people a chance to mourn their dead with dignity.
Moshi, Tanzania, Africa: 1998 – 2001
The Theological Pastoral Center in Moshi, Tanzania, was the arena for Sister Diana Blong’s ministry of teaching missiology classes. The work was a three-year academic and pastoral program designed to prepare women religious of East Africa for leadership roles in the church, leading to a Missia Canonica certificate.
Sister Diana also taught English to the women who were candidates for the Holy Spirit Sisters, her hosts during her stay in Moshi. Used to the concept of being “on time” in her culture, Sister Diana was faced with the idea that “Time is not ours. Time just is.” She found a greater focus on person than on what is accomplished. Differences in food and the lack of consistent electricity, proved difficult in the beginning, and her ability to adapt was stretched.
Ballygriffin, Ireland: 2013 – 2014
Sister Jennifer Rausch returned to the place where it all began when she journeyed to Ballygriffin, Ireland, in the Blackwater Valley, the birthplace of Nano Nagle. A visitors’ center has been established there to “preserve the legacy, memory and message of Nano Nagle by promoting a place of peace, nourishment and healing in the modern world and promoting and practicing sustainable living and care of the earth.” The center includes historic buildings, walled gardens and the tomb of Nano Nagle.
Activities at the center range from greeting visitors, giving retreats and days of reflection, and passing on the heritage of Nano and the Presentation Sisters, to helping with organic farming.
Upon her return to Dubuque, Sister Jennifer brought with her a precious artifact: the door knocker from the house in Mooncoin from which Mother Vincent Hennessy had departed to bring the Presentation Sisters to Dubuque, Iowa, in 1874.
Photo: Left to right: Sisters Therese Marie Hawes, Therese Corkery, Maura McCarthy and Julianne Brockamp welcome their first jeep, making mountain traveling less arduous.
St. Paul, MN
Presentation Presence from 1962-1990
On August 13, 1962, three Presentation Sisters were welcomed to St. Odilia Parish in St. Paul (Shoreview), Minnesota, by Father Leo Kapphahn, OSC, and his assistant Father Jerome Plourde, OSC. On August 16, Sisters Michelle Gallagher, Carol Duffy and Elaine Van Zile were joined by Sister Philip Jasper, who would become the first principal of St. Odilia School. The sisters found themselves to be part of a vibrant, active, newly-formed parish led by the Crosier priests and brothers. On September 4, 1962, classes began at St. Odilia with a total enrollment of 456 in grades second through sixth.
Though their main concern would be teaching in the school, there were other opportunities to be involved with the many parish organizations. Over the years, the sisters would find themselves in religious education work, choir, making liturgical banners, serving on the liturgy committee and assisting in the summer day camp program. On a diocesan level, Sisters Michelle Gallagher and Marilyn Ann McCormick worked on the Archdiocesan Sisters’ Institute and the Sisters’ Vocation Council respectively.
In time, some of the sisters acted as faith formation directors whose work touched the lives of children and adults from pre-school age to the elderly. Some would become part of a team that visited the sick and shut-ins, bringing Communion and keeping the parish presence alive for those who could no longer be active in the community aspect of the church.
By 1970 the number of sisters serving in the parish had grown to 10. Over time 45 Presentation Sisters called St. Odilia their home away from home. As members of the Presentation community began to decrease, so did the number of sisters available to minister in the parish. By 1990, only Sisters Marie Louise Murphy, Josita Zieser and Teresa Marie Lewis remained for the final year of Presentation presence at St. Odilia.
Remarks from several of the sisters who ministered in the parish indicated that they found the students to be friendly and cooperative, the parents to be very supportive, the faculty and staff “a joy to work with,” and the liturgies well-planned and inspirational. They spoke highly of the priests and brothers for their dedication to building an exemplary community of faith in which all members were encouraged to be fully involved.
At the time the Presentation Sisters left St. Odilia, Father Charles Kunkel paid the following tribute to the sisters:
“On behalf of all the Crosiers, lay staff, members and parishioners of St. Odilia, I want to thank all the Presentation Sisters who have taught us so well. Only our God knows how much all of us have received because of these good sisters serving the Lord Jesus among us. They will be greatly missed.”
“The memory of our parish will always carry the story of the Presentation Sisters among us for 28 years, both teaching us and living what they taught in radical religious faithfulness. Much of what these sisters brought to our Catholic school and to our parish will remain with us, because it is established deep within the soul of our community. We are deeply grateful for all that the Sisters of the Presentation brought to us out of love for God and for God’s people. We were privileged and blessed because of these sisters. We have been taught well.”
A guest book from the farewell gathering for the sisters included 147 names, a testimony of the gratitude and friendship of the parishioners for their years of service in the parish and school.
Sisters who served at St. Odilia also expressed their appreciation for the gifts they had received during their time in the parish and school. Fond memories are still shared at the dinner table about the time spent in ministry, and the friendships formed there, some of which endure to the present day.
Photo: Sister Jeanine Kuhn referrees a boys’ basketball game.
Oak Lawn, IL
Presentation Presence from 1964-2005
“Four Presentation Sisters arrived in Chicago, Illinois, on August 11, 1964, to begin a new mission at St. Germaine Parish in Oak Lawn, Illinois. Sister Mary Philip Jasper was the superior, and her sisters were Sister Mary Emilie Bormann (councilor), Sister Mary Magdalen (Kay) Cota and Sister Richard Marie Kane.” This quote from the annals of the St. Germaine community describe the beginning of a new venture for the Dubuque Presentation Sisters, opening a school in a newly-established parish, their first new school east of the Mississippi. The sisters were met by the pastor, Father Walter Sheridan, who gave them the grand tour of the facilities.
St. Germaine parishioners came from a variety of national and cultural backgrounds. Some had arrived recently in the United States and retained their cultural heritages and languages. This was another first for the Dubuque sisters. Up to this time, they served in areas where national origins had become less important to the residents and accents were no longer noticeable.
Presentation presence in the parish of St. Germaine was to last from 1964 to 2005, and would encompass school and parish work. School opened on September 8, 1964, with an enrollment of 258 children in grades one through four. The staff consisted of four sisters, two lay teachers and assistant pastor, Father Anthony Clair, who taught some of the religion classes. Grades five and six were added in 1965, with grades seven and eight being added in 1966 and 1967 respectively. The church and school buildings were officially dedicated by Archbishop John Cody on May 22, 1966.
St. Germaine students initially occupied six rooms on the first floor of the building. Students from St. Linus Parish used seven classrooms on the second floor and the remaining three rooms accommodated the kindergarten students from McDonald Public School. As the number of St. Germaine students increased to include eight grades and an enrollment of 588, they eventually filled both floors of the building. The first eighth grade graduating class left St. Germaine to attend various local high schools in 1967.
For the first few years, the sisters lived several blocks from the school and commuted by car each day for classes. By 1971, a new convent was constructed on the school grounds, eliminating travel time and providing more convenient access to their classrooms. A total of 42 Presentation Sisters served in Oak Lawn, 41 in the school and one in parish ministry.
Two weather events were to impact the citizens of the Chicago area in January and April of 1967. January saw a blizzard which caused the dismissal of school for several days. While all in Oak Lawn remained safe throughout the event, many people were stranded in commuter trains for as long as 13 hours. All roads in and out of Chicago and its suburbs were closed. While students and teachers enjoyed a forced vacation, the situation caused much stress for everyone.
On April 2 of the same year, a tornado struck the Oak Lawn area, barely missing the school and convent. Collapsing buildings trapped a large number of residents, and numerous deaths were reported. A mixture of gratitude for their safety and grief over the loss of many lives occupied the emotions of the sisters for weeks afterward. The experience left many residents fearful of storms.
Presentation Sisters’ work in the school continued until 1998 when Sister Beth Driscoll was assigned to the initial formation program of the Presentation community in Dubuque. Meanwhile, Sister Sheila Ann Dougherty had begun parish ministry in 1995. She worked as RCIA director, served as a member of the spiritual growth team in the parish, coordinated schedules for lectors and Eucharistic ministers, ministered with prayer groups and served as spiritual director for several people in the area.
In 2005 Sister Sheila Ann was called to St. Jude Parish in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Her leaving St. Germaine signaled the end of Presentation presence in the area.
The Presentation Room at the church remains as a reminder of the first teachers in the school. It features a mural of the Presentation Motherhouse and another of the St. Germaine school and church buildings.
Photo: Left to right: The first sisters to mission at St. Germaine: Sisters Mary Magdalen (Kay) Cota, Mary Philip Jasper and Mary Emilie Bormann. Not pictured is Sister Richard Marie Kane (Associate Carol Kane).
Presentation Presence from 1944-1977
“Even before the first meeting of the Ecumenical Council, one could see a Catholic sister in Oregon, Illinois, riding a Church of God bus.” A parish bus had been used to transport the students, but it was old and “often was just too tired to make its daily run. On those days the Church of God graciously loaned their bus to pick up the Catholic pupils.” History of St. Mary School, 1971, author unknown.
Father Arthur Kreckel, pastor at St. Mary Parish in 1944, became convinced there was an urgent need for Catholic education in the parish. Approaching the Sisters of the Presentation in Staten Island, New York, he received assurance that four sisters would come to Oregon and minister in the parish. Previous to this time, the Trinitarian Sisters had served in the parish.
An existing building became a convent, and was designated by Pope Pius XII as a motherhouse. This new Presentation community was granted permission to establish a novitiate and accept young women for vows in the Sisters of the Presentation, Diocese of Rockford (Oregon), Illinois. Setting up a kindergarten and nursery became the first priority, along with catechetical work in neighboring Byron and Morris.
On September 27, 1944, Mother Mary Regis Joseph Newton and Sisters Mary Rita Joseph Ryan, de Lourdes Joseph Donlon and Paul Joseph Fidaleo arrived to begin the new venture. Sister Mary Concepta Joseph Milinski, also from Staten Island, joined the group later. They were welcomed by Bishop John Boylan of the Diocese of Rockford. Sister Mary Joseph of the Infant Jesus Leifker (now known as Sister Mary Jo), from the local area, later entered the Oregon Presentation community.
In the words of Sister Mary Jo, “The community was a very happy one where many stories about New York were told.” Mount Loretto oral history tapes
Mother Regis led the community in the early years. She was described as having great leadership qualities with a loving, caring nature for everyone. She soon won the approval of the Oregon people. In 1960, she died of cancer.
Classes began, using the first floor of the convent as a school; the sisters established themselves in their residence on the second floor. This arrangement continued until 1947, when a separate house was purchased for the sisters’ residence. In 1945, grades first and second were added, with third and fourth grades added in 1946, followed by fifth and sixth grades in 1947. The addition of grades seven and eight respectively in 1948 and 1949. A new school building was dedicated in 1959. By 1968, grades seven and eight were no longer taught at St. Mary School.
In 1963 the sisters from Oregon amalgamated with the Dubuque Presentation community, and the Dubuque Presentation Sisters assumed responsibility for the school. An ecumenical census, in conjunction with all the parish denominations in the city, was done in 1966.
Declining enrollment, and the decision to concentrate on the religious education needs of the entire parish, caused the closing of the school in 1971. A comprehensive CCD program was introduced that served children, teens and adults. This program was directed by the Presentation Sisters until they withdrew from the parish in 1977.
Twenty-four Presentation Sisters served in the school and parish: the five original foundresses from Staten Island, one who joined the community in Oregon and 18 Dubuque Presentation Sisters.
Photo: Left to right: Dubuque Presentation Sisters who served in Oregon in 1968: Sisters Francine Quillin, Joan Marie Delay, Carolyn Link, Janice Merfeld, Clement Bird and Annette Skyles with Pastor Frank Bonnike.
Presentation Presence from 1968-2016
The work of the Sisters of the Presentation in Waterloo, Iowa, varied with the years. Twenty-one sisters served as teachers, parish ministers and spiritual directors in the city between 1968 and 2016.
Columbus High School opened in 1959. A central Catholic high school, it replaced three parish high schools. Sixteen sisters ministered on the faculty at Columbus between 1968 and 1989, teaching in the various departments. The sisters also had representation on the school board and offered the students opportunities for spiritual growth and for service.
Sister Helen (Ignatius) Cunningham, a certified reading specialist, was recognized by the reading consultant for Area Education Agency 7 for her comprehensive Secondary Reading Skills program. The program offered developmental reading courses to students with significant reading disabilities.
Members of minority groups made up 10 percent of the student population, most of them from Southeast Asia such as Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. Sister Helen spent many hours working with those who were learning the English language and American customs. She said her goal was to “help them feel at home and succeed; build a sense of self-worth in each student.”
“Their courage and perseverance as they struggled to understand the spoken and written word, to speak English, and hardest of all, to compose their own ideas in written English, was an amazing phenomenon to observe.” Many of these students continued to correspond with Sister Helen after they had graduated from high school, keeping her informed of their progress in their chosen fields.
The parishes of St. John and St. Nicholas in Evansdale, Iowa, began a new venture in 1971. The first team ministry situation in the Archdiocese of Dubuque included four priests and one lay man who would serve the needs of both parishes. In 1973, Sister Marlene McDonnell joined the team, serving in the religious education portion of the ministry until 1976.
From 1984-1990, Sister Barbara Rastatter ministered to the people in Blessed Sacrament Parish in Waterloo. An article in the Waterloo Evening Courier, in the fall of 1986, describes her ministry as “visiting all parishioners in nursing homes and hospitals, and those who are physically restricted to their homes and no longer can attend regular church services.” She especially loved bringing music to the nursing home residents, playing the organ each Thursday and watching the responses of those attending.
“It was a blessing to serve the people of Sacred Heart Parish in Waterloo from 1995-2001,” says Sister Louann Doering. She noted that the leadership of the pastor, staff, school and religious education personnel called forth involvement by the parishioners who were ready to volunteer their time and skills wherever these were needed. Sister Louann’s ministry at Sacred Heart involved organizing Renew groups and church volunteers. More touching were the visits to the homebound, bringing communion and hearing the residents tell of their discouragements, joys and fears.
Offering spiritual direction to individuals who requested her assistance was the ministry of Sister Jeanine Kuhn. She also served as a Hospice volunteer. Sisters Jeanine and Michelle Gallagher lived in an apartment in Waterloo, both serving as mentors for individual students at the University of Northern Iowa one day per week. Their influence extended to the residents of their apartment building where they took part in the activities there.
Presentation presence in Waterloo ended in 2016, when Sisters Jeanine and Michelle returned to Dubuque where they now offer spiritual direction, community prayer and service.
Photo: Left to right: Sisters Jeanine Kuhn and Michelle Gallagher.
Cedar Falls, IA
Presentation Presence from 1969-2012
Saint Patrick Parish traces its history to the first Mass in Cedar Falls, Iowa, celebrated by Father Patrick McGinnis in the home of Andrew Mullarky in 1855. In 1856 Father John Shiels began to minister to the Catholics of Cedar Falls, and directed the building of a new brick church. In 1867 Father Thomas Gunn was appointed the first resident pastor. As the population grew, a second church was built in 1876. This latter building was razed by fire in 1913 and replaced in 1916.
In the early 1900s, Father Luke Donlon established the Newman Club for college students, taught an accredited class in religion at Iowa State Teachers College and acted as spiritual director for the students, beginning a long-term association between the parish and the college population.
St. Patrick School opened in 1891 under the direction of the Sisters of Charity, who remained until 1969 when the Sisters of the Presentation took over the educational duties. Principal Sister Irma (Mathias) Ries led the first Presentation faculty consisting of Sisters Barbara (Arthur) Rastatter, Suzanne Gallagher, Annette Skyles, Michael Rottinghaus, Lorraine Baxter and Noreen Burlage. Between 1969 and 2012, 36 Presentation Sisters ministered as teachers, principals and directors of parish religious education programs.
The parish and school reflected the population of the city. Many of the parents were professors or students at the University of Northern Iowa who demanded high educational standards. Family involvement was a given component of the program, and every effort was made to accommodate the needs of busy parents.
A unique feature of the program at one time was the use of Individually Guided Education (IGE) begun in 1972. This method involved pre-assessment of knowledge, planning for future learning, implementation of the plan and re-assessment. Small group, multi-age teaching provided for the individual needs of each student.
To enhance the total religious education in the parish at the same time, teachers of the school and of the religion classes were involved in planning and teaching the part-time program. The resources of the school were available for the total program using the IGE approach throughout. Adults and children were all involved in the learning activities.
At various times throughout the years, St. Patrick School added a latch key program, a preschool and Spanish language classes from third to eighth grade.
Enrollment fluctuated at St. Patrick School, as it did in the rest of the city. However, an article in the Courier on January 10, 1999, noted the increased enrollment in St. Patrick School despite smaller numbers in the neighboring public schools. Sister Louise Scieszinski, principal at the time, when asked why she thought this was the case, cited the fact that parents wanted Christian values-based teaching, along with strong academics and a family-centered school. This set of attributes has always been part of the program at St. Patrick School, along with individual student responsibility and parent involvement.
During their tenure in Cedar Falls, the Presentation Sisters were active in parish activities along with their ministry in the school. They were engaged in work with the St. Vincent de Paul Society, served as extraordinary ministers of Communion, visited parishioners in their homes and in the hospital, tutored immigrants learning the English language and were members of the parish choir.
The last Presentation Sister to minister in St. Patrick parish and school was Sister Marilou Irons, who left in 2012.