St. Columbkille Catholic Church
Built 1904 – 1905
Located at 1240 Rush Street
Four years after the completion of the St. Anthony Church, the Archdiocese of Dubuque again commissioned Dubuque architect, Guido Beck to design his second church in Dubuque for the parish of St. Columbkille. The St. Columbkille Church was built between 1904 and 1905 in the Gothic Revival style of architecture. Prior to the establishment of the parish, Bishop Hennessy invited four Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary to open the West Hill School in 1879, which was shortly after named St. Vincent. In 1887, Bishop Hennessy established the new parish under the holy patronage of St. Columbkille to accommodate the growing population and those living on the West Hill. Unlike the St. Anthony parish which consisted primarily of German parishioners in the “West Dubuque” area, the St. Columbkille parishioners were primarily Irish in an area known as “Little Dublin” and “West Hill.”
Father John Fogarty was the initial pastor and soon ordered the construction of a small frame church that lasted 17 years. A June 20, 1904 Telegraph-Herald article mentioned that the original church was not an “admirable example of church architecture, nevertheless the simple little structure was satisfactory to Father Fogarty and his parishioners.” In 1903, Archbishop Keane hired Beck to design a new church to again accommodate the growth of the parish. Beck’s design called for towering vaulted ceilings and colorful stained glass windows within the Gothic structure.
The cornerstone for the new church was laid in place on June 19, 1904. Bishop Patrick O’Donnell, of Raphoe, Ireland, and good friend of Archbishop Keane, donated the stone as a gift to the parish. Bishop O’Donnell was of the same lineage as St. Columbkille and, according to Archbishop Keane, “always takes much pride in having the honor to show his reverence for the memory of St. Columbkille.” The 2,200 pound sandstone cornerstone was taken from the St. Charles quarry in Ireland. The Telegraph-Herald noted that “the laying of the cornerstone of the magnificent new St. Columbkill’s church on West Hill this afternoon will undoubtedly attract the largest concourse of Catholics that ever attended any similar event in the history of the city.” A procession of the Catholic societies in town began at Fourth and Main Streets and marched towards the Archbishop’s house to escort him up the hill to St. Columbkille.
On the occasion of the June 19 cornerstone dedication, a Telegraph-Herald article gave a detailed description of the design, construction, and interior layout: “The basement and foundation walls are built up with Dubuque quarry stone. The whole structure above the basement will be built with Dubuque brick. All the cut stone trimmings will be of Bedford, Indiana, limestone and the cornices and gable moldings, etc., of galvanized iron. Mr. Tom Byrne and Ed McClain are the general contractors of the whole building. Both gentlemen are members of St. Columbkille’s parish. The Klauer Mfg. Co. will furnish all the metal work. The cut stone work will be done by Doran and Wagner.
The principal dimensions of the new church are as follows: The main body of the church is 108 feet long by 60 feet wide. The total length, including sanctuary and tower projection, is 141 feet. The tower is 17×17 feet square and 150 feet high from the top of the water table to the top of the (cross) spire. The seating capacity of the auditorium is 700 to 750. The sanctuary is 29 feet wide and 25 feet deep. To both sides of the sanctuary are quite roomy sacristies.
A passageway behind the high altar connects these sacristies. Besides the two sacristies there is on the left side of the sanctuary a chapel for the sisters. The wall between the sanctuary and the sisters’ chapel contains a large, overarched opening. This opening will be decorated with artistic gothic ornamental work and art stained glass. Three large double doors form the main entrances to the auditory, leading through the vestibule. From one vestibule one little room is cut off for an office. A gallery for the organ and choir is most beautifully arranged. The rows of graceful columns carry the roof and the Gothic arch system. The main nave and sanctuary are 40 feet high in the clear and the side naves are 27 feet. The basement under the whole building is 14 feet high in the clear, and is divided into a meeting hall and winter chapel. Between said hall and chapel.”
The structure was estimated to cost $30,000 exclusive of furnishings and interior decorations. The same article mentioned that the new church will “represent the growth of Catholicity on West’s Hill and will be an admirable testimonial to the untiring efforts of an energetic pastor for the propagation of the faith.” Unfortunately, the steeple met the same fate as that of St. Anthony’s church and was never built.
The beautiful stained glass windows are from the Ford Brothers Glass Company, Minneapolis, Minnesota. Ford Brothers were known for incorporating opalescent glass into Munich style windows. “The frescoes on the church ceiling were painted in the 1920s by Bernard Hillig, a graduate of the Fine Arts Academy of Copenhagen. The Stations of the Cross, hand-painted murals on Zinc, were imported from Germany. A Wangerin Wickhardt pipe organ was installed in 1922.” – From Dubuque Encyclopedia. Koch, Kevin. “Saint Columbkille Catholic Church,” Strasbourg, France, Editions du Signe, 2011, p. 20.