Alumnae of Visitation Academy, a Catholic girls’ high school in Dubuque that existed from 1871-1970, recently held their final alumnae luncheon. Two graduates wrote the following article reflecting on the history and impact of their alma mater.
By Marlene Anglin Apel and Rosean Bushman Wilson
Special to The Witness
DUBUQUE — At the request of Bishop John Hennessy of Dubuque, six Sisters of the Visitation left St. Louis and came to Dubuque to establish an academy for girls. In 1871 The Academy of the Visitation opened on Third Street near St. Raphael’s Cathedral. The first year the enrollment was fifty girls. In 1879, because they had outgrown their building, Archbishop Hennessy purchased the General Jones mansion at the corner of what is now University and Alta Vista for the new academy and convent. During the next 86 years, a new convent and various additions were built to accommodate the growing enrollment and academic offerings. The girls were offered regular academic courses including fine arts and spiritual development. The last graduating class was in 1970 when the school closed.
The sisters fostered in the girls a sense of self-worth, self-respect, and empowerment. The sisters’ goal was to send out educated, strong women to propagate Christian/Catholic values, if in no other place than their own little corner of the world.
The sisters, in their wisdom, had techniques to help with their plan. One was the pairing of a senior with a freshman (big sister/little sister) to help with the initial immersion into the structure and expectations of the Visitation school community.
An example of this is Marlene Anglin and Rosean Bushman. (the authors of this article).
Rosean: “My freshman year was made easier by knowing, not only did I have the sisters’ guidance, but also my big sister’s guidance. She knew the ‘ropes’ and wanted only successes for me. Marlene and the other big sisters were already practicing what the sisters expected of us when we went out into the world. Our friendship started with that help from my big sister and grew into what it is today. Marlene and I continue to get together throughout the year to talk about where our lives have taken us and visit about ‘those good old days.’”
Marlene: “Because my grade school years were spent at Nativity School, near the Academy of the Visitation, I was fortunate to know many Sisters of the Visitation Congregation prior to entering high school. I came to the Viz already feeling affirmed, confident and very much loved by the sisters. My transition to high school was relatively easy and I enjoyed four more years of being nurtured and respected by the sisters. My appreciation for their influence in my early life continues to this day. The supportive and loving friendships formed at the Visitation are ones that continue despite the years or miles of separation.”
At our yearly luncheons, we “Viz girls” reminisce about so many experiences: the glee club and/or orchestra, the months of preparation for the Annual Spring Concert at Loras Field House that packed the house, retreats at Cedar Fall’s American Martyrs Retreat House, fashion shows with us wearing the apparel we had sewn ourselves, pairs and clusters of us sneaking down the tunnel to the sisters’ convent basement kitchen to taste-test the Sisters’ heavenly cinnamon rolls, school lunches to die for, Sister Genevieve’s school store which had the school necessities with some treats sprinkled in for sale, quietly going to music practice rooms to take a nap, the sisters chaperoning girls for eight days during THE coveted junior trip to New York and Washington, D.C., the bus trips to Prairie du Chien Campion (all boys boarding school) to dances and military balls … all of this, and oh so much more, was interwoven with a firm footing in the education needed to succeed when we graduated.
In order to keep alive the friendships and values promulgated at the Visitation, in the 1930’s the sisters formed the Visitation Alumnae Association and hosted a Christmas Mass and tea at the Visitation Convent as well as a spring alumnae banquet. The Christmas Masses and teas also included an invitation for our families to join. The sisters continued their effort to see where we were in our lives.
Through the years, the Alumnae Moderators included Sisters Genevieve Durban, Barbara Butler, Paschal Kelley and currently Bernadine Curoe.
Sister Joanne Sullivan continues to keep the alumnae files up to date and administers the Visitation website. The sisters’ ongoing ministry includes attending the wakes and funerals of alumnae and their family members. Sister Patricia Clark as president of the community has a monthly Mass offered for the living and deceased alumnae.
On June 2, 2018, the final alumnae luncheon was held at Loras’ Alumni Campus Center Ballroom. In spite of closing 48 years ago, there were 254 alumnae in attendance sharing friendships and memories of their time at the academy. Those in attendance included seven ladies who graduated from 1941-1948, 70-77 years ago.
The classes of ’58, ’68, ’69 and ’70 were honored.
The smaller communities that have been formed within the Visitation alumnae will continue to gather in their own little corners of the world and spread those values instilled in us so many years ago by those dedicated Sisters of the Visitation.
The final luncheon concluded with strong voices and a few tears praying together the prayer given to the Visitation Sisters in the year 1610 by their founder, St. Francis de Sales:
“Do not look forward to what might happen tomorrow, the same everlasting father, who cares for you today, will take care of you tomorrow and every day. Either He will shield you from suffering, or He will give you unfailing strength to bear it. Be at peace then, and put aside all anxious thoughts and imaginations”
What a legacy!
Marlene Anglin Apel (left) and Rosean Bushman Wilson are pictured at the final Visitation Academy luncheon. The two were ‘big’ and ‘little’ sisters during their high school years and have maintained a connection since then. (Contributed photo)