Harlan, Edgar Rubey. A Narrative History of the People of Iowa.
Vol III. Chicago: American Historical Society,  1931 pps. 361-362

     For sixty-four years the Sisters of Mercy in Iowa have given practical humanitarian and altruistic service to their fellow men in the school, in the hospital, in the sanitarium, in the home for the aged, in the home for the working girl,- the expansion of their work during these years being proof beyond question of its value.
     Origin of the Sisters of Mercy: In the early part of the nineteenth century there lived in Dublin, Ireland, Catherine McAuley, a cultured young woman of an old and distinguished family who, possessed of a large fortune and impelled by the distress and need of the poor of her native country, decided to devote this entire fortune to the relief and care of orphans, destitute women and poor schools. The first building erected for this cause was dedicated September 24, 1827. Soon many young women joined Miss McAuley to assist in her noble work, that in a few short years her house was changed from a secular to a religious institution. On December 12, 1831, the new institute was confirmed as the Congregation of the Sisters of Mercy. Following this mark of stability, members rapidly increased, similar institutions multiplied, not only in Ireland, but expanded in less than fifteen years to England and the United States.
     Sisters of Mercy in the United States: The first foundation of the Sisters of Mercy in the United States was made at Pittsburgh, in 1843, through the appeal made by the Rt. Rev. M. O'Connor to the Sisters while visiting at their convent in Carlow, Ireland. He explained the great need for carrying out the works of mercy in his diocese of Pittsburgh, and in response to this appeal seven Sisters volunteered to return with him.
     It is recorded in the annals of the Order that when they arrived in New York, the first person to meet them was the Rt. Rev. William Quarter, bishop-elect of Chicago. He, too, needed Sisters to work in the far West, but the most he could obtain at that time was a promise that the Sisters would come as soon as possible, which promise was fulfilled when five Sisters arrived in Chicago, in 1846. This was the beginning of St. Xavier's, Chicago.
     Civil War Volunteers: Although the Chicago community was only in its early development at the outbreak of the Civil war, yet the patriotic zeal of its constituents enabled it to spare eight members to serve their country's cause by ministering to the sick and wounded. It is of interest to note that two of this band of nurses were Mother Mary Borromeo Johnson and Mother Mary Francis Monholland, who later came as charity workers to Iowa.
     The annals record that in September, 1861, these eight Sisters left Chicago in company with the military officer who had been sent to conduct them. They set out by way of St. Louis for Lexington, Missouri, a place they failed to reach. After many delays and thrilling incidents they arrived at Jefferson City. Immediately on their arrival they were requested to take charge of the City Hospital, which was crowded with sick and wounded soldiers. They remained there until April, 1862, when, the division being ordered elsewhere, their services were no longer needed. At Saint Louis, on their way home, they were met by a sanitary commissioner who asked them to take charge of the hospital department on the steamboat Empress, which was carrying wounded soldiers from the battlefield of Shiloh. One one of its trips up the Mississippi the Empress reached Keokuk, Iowa, April 16, 1862. It required two days to remove the sick and wounded soldiers to the hospital. The Sisters did everything possible to relieve the suffering of their patients during the five weeks they spent on their floating hospital.

     Sisters of Mercy come to Iowa: Following the close of the Civil war, in 1867 Mother Mary Borromeo Johnson and four Sister companions from Saint Xavier Academy, Chicago, opened a school in the little town of DeWitt. Shortly afterwards doctors from Davenport asked for Sisters to open a hospital. In response to this invitation Mercy Hospital was opened in 1868. In 1869 a school and academy were opened in Independence by Mother Mary Francis Monholland and her cultured and experienced Sisters. Davenport having the most desirable location, Mercy Hospital was made the first Motherhouse of the Sisters of Mercy in Iwoa, and Mother Mary Borromeo Johnson was chosen Mother Superior. From this house as a center, all the other houses in Iowa, with one exception, (Council Bluffs), have been either directly or indirectly founded.
     Development in Iowa: Mercy Hospital, Davenport, filled an urgent need in the pioneer community and its growth was rapid. From the first day to the present the work has gone ahead; addition after addition has been erected; the latest is the new $500,000 building now under construction. Today Mercy Hospital, together with its departments for nervous and mentally afflicted men and women, ranks s one of the best equipped institutions in the country.
     From this institution foundations have been sent to Iowa City, Cedar Rapids, Dubuque, Des Moines, and Marshalltown. In later years the labors of the Davenport Sisters of Mercy have been extended to a Young Women's Home in Davenport and schools in Davenport, Burlington, West Burlington, Mount Pleasant, Manilla and Rockwell City.
     In 1875 seven Sisters from the Motherhouse in Davenport opened the Convent of Our Lady of Mercy and Saint Joseph's School in Cedar Rapids. After some years this Motherhouse was transferred to Sacred Heart Academy, located in the outskirts of the city. This community has been devoted almost entirely to the work of education. At present these Sisters conduct three hospitals, a junior college, an academy, numerous schools throughout the state and at Marion a seminary for boys, a model of its kind.
     In 1879, at the urgent solicitation of the Rt. Rev. John Hennessy, five Sisters from Davenport arrived in Dubuque on January 13 to found a hospital. This was the beginning of Saint Joseph's Mercy Hospital. Notwithstanding hardships and limited funds, the Sisters, with the cooperation of citizens interested in a great work of mercy, made the establishment a notable success. It became a Motherhouse in 1882.
     The needs of the time made expansion along other lines necessary. As a result Saint Anthony's Home for the Aged was opened in 1887, and also Saint Joseph's Sanitarium. This latter institution is today one of the best equipped and most popular of its kind in the state.
     Besides institutions conducted in Dubuque by the Sisters of Mercy, they have hospitals in Sioux City, Clinton, Mason City, Fort Dodge, Waverly and Cresco; schools at Eagle Center, Bankston, Ackley and Independence.
     In 1887 the Sisters of Mercy from Minnesota opened Saint Bernard's as a Motherhouse and hospital in Council Bluffs. In 1902 Mercy Hospital was erected. Other institutions conducted by these Sisters include an academy, a seminary for boys, several schools, a home for working girls, a home for the aged and three hospitals in Iowa.

    Summary of Institutions Developed and Conducted by the Sisters of Mercy in Iowa from 1867-1931: The period from 1867 to 1931 has been an era of rapid and unprecedented growth in schools, hospitals, sanitariums, homes for the aged, homes for working girls, and training schools for nurses. The first school record of the Sisters of Mercy in Iowa in 1867 shows an attendance of forty pupils. In 1930 the grand total of all pupils in thirty parochial schools, two academies, two seminaries for boys and a junior college exceeded 5,000. The first hospital record shows that during the first year of hospital service in 1868, seventy-six patients received care and treatment. The 1930 records show that 30,580 patients were cared for. The total number of patients treated in their sanitariums for 1930 reached 3290; total number of homes for aged, 225; total number of Young Women's Boarding Homes, 200; and total number in training schools for nurses, 750. The original band of Sisters who came to Iowa in 1867 numbered only five; today there are 550 Sisters of Mercy in Iowa. Their great mission of mercy has extended beyond the borders of the state to Michigan and Montana.
     A New Era: On August 25, 1928, the Sisters of Mercy from all parts of the United States, having realized the advantages of united effort, held a general chapter, or convention, at Cincinnati, Ohio, for the purpose of forming a strong, well-organized, unified body. As a result, a union of the majority of the communities, with a total membership exceeding 5,000 which had heretofore been working independently, was effected. The vast territory which is covered by this great united body was divided into provinces, each under a Mother Provincial and all subject to a Mother General, who, with her council, is located at the General Motherhouse, Washington, D.C.
     Mount St. Agnes: One outcome of this reorganization of communities of interest to Iowa is that of Mount Saint Agnes, Dubuque, became the Novitiate for the Province of Cincinnati, Ohio. In this imposing structure, with its beautiful Romanesque chapel, its extensive grounds, and location of great natural beauty, more than eighty-three Novices at the present time are receiving preparation that will fit them to continue efficiently and successfully the work inaugurated by their foundress and carried on so magnificently by their predecessors for the space of a hundred years.



    Mercy Hospital, founded in 1869, is the pioneer institution of its kind in this section of the country. At the time of its opening, 55 years ago, it was the only institution outside of a hospital at St. Louis, west of the Mississippi river.
    Prior to 1869 the only public relief for the sick and injured was transferred to the Poor Farm, four miles out in the country in an open wagon.
    The pauper charges of Scott county and the insane of the community were crowded together, and conditions were deplorable. The officials, and especially the Scott County Board of Supervisors, were intensely interested in the adoption of plans for the betterment of existing conditions. Several plans had been offered and had later been rejected.
Appeal to Sisters.
    One evening in September, 1869, while G.H. Watkins, county overseer of the poor, was attempting to formulate a better system for the care of indigent insane and other charges of the county, he decided to appeal to the Catholics.
    Calling upon J. McMonomy, Mr. Watkins explained the plans and asked if there was not a possibility of persuading the Sisters of Mercy of Chicago to establish a hospital in Davenport.
    A meeting was held at St. Anthony's church and the matter was given further consideration, in the minutes of the board of supervisors of October 13, 1869, the following words are recorded:
    "Mr. Watkins on the Committee of the Poor reports that the Sisters of Mercy are willing to open an institution and include in their plans the care of the poor and insane of Scott County; the general purpose of the institution to include the care of every class of suffering and sick except contagion."

Building Provided.
    Negotiations between the county officials and the Sisters of Mercy of Chicago provided that suitable facilities for the establishment of a hospital should be provided. At that time a Sisters' Academy was located at the west edge of the city, on the site now occupied by Mercy Hospital. This building had been erected 14 years previous to 1869. It was now vacant and in sad need of repairs.
    The Board secured permission to convert the building into a hospital, providing that it should be used for no other purpose than the care of the sick. Before establishing the hospital the Sisters insisted that at least 10 patients be secured and a loan of $2,000 be secured from Scott county.

Hospital Opened.
    The necessary pledges were forthcoming and in November, six Sisters of Mercy from Chicago arrived in Davenport and assumed charge of the work of renovating and overhauling the building preparatory to he opening of the hospital proper. This was soon accomplished and on December 8, the doors were opened to admit the first patients.
    Active in the establishment of the hospital were Dr. Peck, who had served as an army surgeon during the Civil war; Miss Fejervary; Mrs. Mitchell; Rev. Father Palamoges, and numerous others who gave liberally not only of their money but of their time as well. Rev. Mother Borromeo was the first Mother Superior in charge of the hospital. She passed away several years ago, and here remains repose beneath a memorial in the rear of the present Mercy hospital.
     The first candidate to join the band of Sisters was Sister Mary Catherine, who is still living at the hospital and is active despite her years of unrequited toil among the sick and the needy of the community.

First Year's Work.
    During the first year of its existence, Mercy hospital cared for 76 patients, both general and insane. When the hospital was first opened, a medical board was formed by the foundress, Reverend Mother Borromeo, assisted by Dr. Peck. Dr. O.C. Rundy was elected president and Dr. C.S. Maxwell, secretary. Drs. Maxwell and Greggs comprised the consulting board. The following were members of the attending board: Drs. W.F. Peck, G. Hoekfner, J. McCourtney, W.A. Hasford ,W.D. Middleton, and D.C. Roundy, and Henry Braunlich who was for five years a member of the board and is still active in the work of the hospital.
    Immediately after the organization of the hospital the private hospital operated by Drs. Henry and Carl Matthey and others, closed its doors and turned their effects to the Sisters.

Cholera Epidemic.
    In September, 1877, cholera swept down on the little city of Davenport like a fog in the night, snuffing out the lives of hundreds of human beings.
    The board of health was hastily reorganized and public measures adopted to combat the plague, Judge James Grant came to the rescue of the stricken city and secured rooms for an emergency hospital. In less than five hours after the opening, the hastily improvised hospital was filled with patients. But who was there for care for them, to minister to their needs?
    Unannounced by the blare of trumpets, at this crisis in the history of the struggling city two Sisters appeared at the improvised hospital and offered their services.
    The Sisters remained in charge during the epidemic ministering to the wants of sufferers, cheering them, soothing fevered brows, and receiving the last messages to those who were about to pass into the Great Beyond.

Growth of the Hospital.
    Mercy hospital filled an urgent need in this pioneer community, and its growth was rapid. Before the first year was at an end additional quarters were necessary, and additions were built. From that day to this the work has gone ahead; addition after addition has been erected, new buildings planned and constructed until today the hospital ranks as one of the best equipped in the country.
    Accommodations are provided for approximately 200 patients in  the main hospital and for 200 in the buildings for the mentally afflicted.
    The 76 general and mental patients of 1869 have increased to 4500 in 1923.
    The Nurses' Home which was erected in 1919, is a model building, accommodating 90 nurses.

Other Foundations.
    From the local institution foundations have been sent out to Iowa City, Dubuque, Cedar Rapids, Des Moines and Marshalltown. In addition to this work, the task of teaching others to carry on the work has been maintained both here and elsewhere. In every emergency, whether of county or community- during the Civil war, during the World war, in the cholera and the influenza epidemics- Mercy hospital has hurried to the call of duty and humanity.
    Mercy hospital is situated in the northwest part of the city, just within the corporate limits. The building fronts on Lombard street, while the spacious ground look out upon the rich farm lands and the scenic beauty of the Mississippi bluffs. The site is not surpassed in point of beauty and healthfulness. Apart from the noise of the city and yet partaking of all its advantages, the location is ideal for hospital purposes.
    The hospital embraces the most improved features of hospital construction and equipment, and furnishes the best facilities for the care of the sick.
    On the first floor are located the hospital offices, laboratories, pharmacy, rooms for resident physicians, medical library, record room, operating and Doctors' consulting rooms.
    The second, third and fourth floors are devoted mainly to private rooms. Each floor, however, has four private wards, an auxiliary pharmacy, diet kitchen, and a linen room aiding toward greater efficiency and comfortable service.
    There are four operating rooms each with its own equipment for general surgery. Special operating rooms with special equipment are devoted to eye, ear, nose, throat and genito-urinary surgery. Convenient to each operating room are two surgical dressing rooms, instrument supply rooms and complete modern sterilizing apparatus.
    The Laboratories occupy eight rooms in the south of the first floor. The equipment is the latest and best that can be obtained.
    The Pharmacy is located on the first floor. It is well stocked with all chemicals and pharmaceutical preparations that may be of service in a large hospital. A Sister who is a Registered Pharmacist devotes her time to the work of this department.
    On each floor there are auxiliary medicine rooms supplied with all the necessities for routine and emergency needs.
    The Obstetrical Department to which the entire new wing of the fourth floor is given is well equipped for efficient service in this special branch of work.
    In the Dietetic Department are prepared diets for the various conditions of health and disease.

Training School for Nurses.
    Mercy Hospital School for Nurses was established in 1895.
    Since that time 240 nurses have received diplomas. Graduates are in great demand and many of them are holding responsible positions as Hospital and Training School Superintendents, Surgical Nurses, Visiting, Public Health and Social Service Nurses thruout the United States.
    The course of lectures is thorough, comprising all subjects, medical, surgical, obstetrical, nervous and infectious, needed to complete a nurses training.
    The Training School is accredited by the State.

    The Training School is non-sectarian. There is no interference with the religious convictions of the student. The school is conducted by the Sisters of Mercy, hence it is Catholic in its purpose and atmosphere. The Nurses, pupil and graduate, enjoy the blessing of an annual triduum- a pleasure looked forward to and a source of much spiritual good. Catholic Nurses are to hear Mass in the Hospital Chapel on Sundays and holy days; it is the custom to receive Holy Communion on Sundays and on the first Friday of every month.
    Officers of Mercy Hospital are Rev. Mother Mary Gertrude, directress; Sister Mary De Pazzi, superintendent of the hospital; Sister Mary Loretto, superintendent of the nurses school.
    Officers of the Hospital Staff are Dr. A.B. Kuhl, president; Dr. B. Schmidt, secretary; Dr. R.R. Kulp, treasurer.
    The executive committee is composed of Dr. F. Neufeld, Dr. W.E. Foley, Dr. L. Kornder, Dr. O.A. Dahms, Dr. O.R. Voss.


1880 Census Sisters of Mercy - Dubuque, Iowa

Census Place: Mercy Hospital, Sisters Of Mercy, Dubuque, Dubuque, Iowa
 Source: FHL Film 1254338  National Archives Film T9-0338     Page 108D

 Relation Sex Marr Race Age Birthplace
Catherine MURPHY Self F S W 30 IRE
   Fa: IRE Mo: IRE
Honora GILL Other F S W 24 NY
   Fa: IRE Mo: IRE
Mary PAULA Other F S W 26 IL
   Fa: IRE Mo: IRE
Mary GALLAGER Other F S W 22 IA
   Fa: IRE Mo: IRE
Mary RAGEN Other F S W 24 WI
   Fa: IRE Mo: IRE
Catherine BUCKLEY Other F S W 30 IRE
   Fa: IRE Mo: IRE
Catherine SOUTH Other F S W 25 IL
   Fa: IRE Mo: IRE
Thomas MURPHY Other M W W 85 IRE
 Occ: Boarder Fa: IRE Mo: IRE
Patrick CAHILL Other M W W 85 IRE
 Occ: Boarder Fa: IRE Mo: IRE
Patrick MEALIER Other M S W 40 IRE
 Occ: Boarder Fa: IRE Mo: IRE
William WELCH Other M S W 45 IRE
 Occ: Boarder Fa: IRE Mo: IRE
Richard ENGLISH Other M S W 28 NY
 Occ: Boarder Fa: ENG Mo: SCOT
Mary OREILLEY Other F W W 73 IRE
 Occ: Boarder Fa: IRE Mo: IRE
Maria O'NEIL Other F S W 68 IRE
 Occ: Boarder Fa: IRE Mo: IRE
Mary KELLY Other F W W 80 IRE
 Occ: Boarder Fa: IRE Mo: IRE
Margaret BOWEN Other F S W 22 IA
 Occ: Servant Fa: IRE Mo: IRE
Bridget FANNING Other F S W 22 IA
 Occ: Servant Fa: IRE Mo: IRE
George BROOKS Other M S W 21 OH
 Occ: Laborer Fa: OH Mo: OH
Mary O'RYLEY Other F S W 60 IRE
 Occ: Assistant In Charge Of Infants Fa: IRE Mo: IRE
   Fa: ENG Mo: IRE
   Fa: ENG Mo: IRE
Mary MONAHON Other F S W 10 WI
   Fa: IRE Mo: IRE
Margaret MONAHON Other F S W 8 WI
   Fa: IRE Mo: IRE
Martha MONAHON Other F S W 6 WI
   Fa: IRE Mo: IRE
John MONAHON Other M S W 3 WI
   Fa: IRE Mo: IRE
William DRUMMOND Other M S W 8 IA
   Fa: IRE Mo: IRE
James DRUMMOND Other M S W 6 IA
   Fa: IRE Mo: IRE
Mary DRUMMOND Other F S W 3 IA
   Fa: IRE Mo: IRE
William RATTIGAN Other M S W 6 IA
   Fa: IRE Mo: IRE
Joseph RATTIGAN Other M S W 3 IA
   Fa: IRE Mo: IRE
John MC GRATH Other M S W 5 IA
   Fa: IRE Mo: IRE
Catherine MC GRATH Other F S W 3 IA
   Fa: IRE Mo: IRE
William HAY Other M S W 12 IL
   Fa: IRE Mo: IRE
Frank CORCORAN Other M S W 11 IA
   Fa: IRE Mo: IRE
Gilbert MONTGOMERY Other M S W 12 IA
   Fa: IRE Mo: IRE
Mathew MCCORN Other M S W 8 IA
   Fa: IRE Mo: IRE
William DOLAN Other M S W 4 IA
   Fa: IRE Mo: IRE

Contact Information

Sisters of Mercy Convent

804 West 3rd Street Apartment 2
Dubuque, IA 52001
Tel: (563)-556-2141


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2001 Cathy Joynt Labath