St. Mary’s Catholic Church

Built: 1864 – 1867

Located at the Northeast corner of E. 15th and White Streets

St. Mary’s (circa 1860)

By 1863, the German immigrant population of Dubuque was increasing dramatically. The membership of the Holy Trinity parish had outgrown its stone church that Bishop Loras dedicated in 1850 for the German speaking Catholics. Therefore, the parish formed the German Roman Catholic Building Association in order to construct a new church, supporting buildings, and to raise funds for the project. The parish purchased five lots from the Langworthy Estate, (a prominent Dubuque family) and hired John Mullany as architect to design the church. Interestingly, Bishop Clement Smyth chose an Irish architect to design a church for the expanding German parish. Mullany had already proven his experience in designing St. Raphael’s Cathedral and thus built a close relationship with Bishop Smyth earning him the commission.

St. Mary’s from a view (circa 1860)

St. Mary’s is designed in the Gothic Revival style of architecture, particularly the tower and steeple with its tiers, spirelets, finials and other decorative details. It is 250 feet in height, the tallest steeple in the region. Early descriptions of Mullany’s design for St. Mary’s reference the Salisbury Cathedral in England as his model. However, it is most likely that he drew his inspiration from Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin’s design for St. George Cathedral, the Roman Catholic Cathedral in Southwark, London, (the St. George tower was never built due to lack of funds). Mullany was strongly influenced by Pugin’s work in Gothic Revival architecture. St. Mary’s is one of the oldest remaining high-style Gothic Revival church buildings in Iowa.  The interior includes lavish decoration and stained glass windows from the F.X. Zettler Company of Munich, Germany, one of the premier art glass companies of the period.

St. Mary’s endured and enriched the lives of its parishioners for 143 years. In 2009, the St. Mary’s parish council voted to recommend to the Archdiocese of Dubuque, that the parish close after years of declining membership, lack of funds, and deteriorating facilities. On May 25, 2010, St. Mary’s celebrated its final Mass, ending a legacy that began in 1867. Although the interior liturgical furnishings have been removed from the Church, it does retain its interior architectural decoration such as windows, murals, stencils and paintings.

St. Mary's Inside 2010

Inside of St. Mary’s (circa 2010)

Through a local community effort in conjunction with the Friends of St. Mary’s, an extensive renovation and restoration of the church and the entire block is currently underway. The restoration will revive the St. Mary’s campus into Steeple Square and kindle a resurgence of the Washington Neighborhood. Please see the Steeple Square website for further information on the restoration project. Click here for a video discussing the history and architecture of St. Mary’s.

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