John Mullany’s St. Mary’s Catholic Church

John Mullany’s St. Mary’s Catholic Church

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.


John Mullany’s St. Raphael’s Cathedral

John Mullany’s St. Raphael’s Cathedral

St. Raphael’s Cathedral

Built: 1857 – 1861

Located at the intersection of W. 2nd and Bluff Streets

St. Raphael’s Cathedral is John Mullany’s first notable design accomplishment in Dubuque, although the construction may have caused him more grief than triumph with the Financial Panic of 1857 and the tightening of financial support to achieve his initial design. The cathedral is modeled after Magdalen College in Oxford, England. The cornerstone was laid in July of 1857 and the building was completed in 1861. It was over three times larger than its predecessor and witnessed its first Mass, offered by Bishop Loras two months before his death, on Christmas 1857. The cathedral received its formal dedication and blessing on July 7, 1861.

Old Postcard of St. Raphael’s Cathedral

Interior of the Cathedral (circa 1886)

Mullany’s design for the cathedral was 83 feet across the front, with a limestone façade and brick sides. The steeple and tower area were to be 243 feet high. The architectural style is predominately Gothic. The building’s most unusual feature is the lancet window at the base of the tower. Mullany also designed the elaborate altar screen that still exists today, though substantially modified.  There are two entrances at the side of the tower within the body of the building. In Mullany’s original design these two entrance walls were to have terminated in their own gables, with high pinnacles at each of the corners. Mullany also had projected a tall, thin spire roof, but a more abridged 243-foot-high square tower was eventually added in 1876 through a fund-raising effort.

Close up of the Cathedral Screen (circa 2016)

By May 1871, the fund-raising effort to complete the tower had only raised $5,000 of a projected $30,000. In 1872-73, when it was realized that the Cathedral’s foundations would not support a tower of Mullany’s intended height, construction was again halted. Mullany ceased to be associated with the Cathedral at this point and went on to other projects. The 1876 revision of the tower was topped with four pinnacles, instead of Mullany’s planned steeple of cut limestone.