Parish History

What Irishman is there that has never heard of the three great Irish Saints: Patrick, Brigid and Columbkille! St. Patrick brought the Catholic Faith to pagan Ireland in 432 A.D. In the year 453, St. Patrick himself baptized Brigid (Bridget). She consecrated her life to Christ and founded a powerful convent school in Kildare. St. Columbkille was born in Donegal, 521 A.D. He and 12 companions established a monastery on the Island of Iona in 563 A.D. From there they brought the Holy Gospel to Scotland and places far beyond. He died on Iona in 597 A.D.

The impact of their spiritual work resounds around the world even today! With this same Faith, the Irish came to America. Irish Catholic families of miners, mill and rail workers settled in Little Dublin of Dubuque here on West Hill. The Cathedral, built by Fr. Samuel Mazzuchelli in 1835, was slightly over a mile away. Walking up and down the muddy hill, without modern streets or sidewalks, was a hardship for the Faithful to get to Mass or school. Bishop Hennessey and Mother Vincent were determined to help the people learn and live the Holy Faith in this new land of promise and freedom.

In 1879, the Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, supported by the Bishop and many devout Catholics, built the convent school on Rush Street. Sunday Mass was offered there and children were allowed to assist. Parents were thankful that their children would learn to read, write and would grow up to love God in this world of trials and hardships. May we never forget the sacrifices of these pioneers.

On May 24, 1887, Bishop Hennessy established a new parish under the holy patronage of St. Columbkille. With the Feast Day of St. Columbkille on June 9, Fr. John Fogarty was named the first Pastor. Born and ordained in Ireland, Fr. Fogarty would serve here until his death in 1910. He first moved into a vacant house in what is now Msgr. Dunn Field. There were hordes of rats that swarmed from an old mine shaft nearby.

His plans for a church and rectory began immediately. This clapboard church called, Noah’s Ark or the Tabernacle on stilts, though simple and small, served the needs of the faithful for 17 years, some 8,000 Masses, 600 Baptisms and 100 weddings.

In 1903, continued growth of the parish prompted Archbishop John J. Keane, to hire architect Guido Beck. He designed the new church with towering vaulted ceilings, colorful stained glass windows and graceful Gothic lines. On June 19, 1904, the cornerstone, a gift of Bishop O’Donell of Ireland, was set. Beautiful St. Columbkille’s church as we see it today is a work of religious devotion, built through the hard work of an immigrant neighborhood, standing as testament of Faith in Jesus Christ through family generations.

Today, we joyfully give thanks to Almighty God for 120 years of sharing in Jesus’ Divine Life. As the Parish of St. Columbkille we continue our spiritual journey together. YOU are invited to participate in preparing for St. Columbkille’s 125th celebration in the year 2012! Our Five Year Plan will prepare us to be a Beacon of Hope and the Light of Christ for generations yet to come!

Father Gabriel Anderson

Pastor of St. Columbkille
May 24, 2007

We are the patience, the courage, the sacrifice of a long past,
We are the energy, the faith, the loyalty of a glorious present,
We are the devotion, the hope, the dream of a limitless tomorrow.

We are St. Columbkille Catholic Parish!