St. Wenceslaus High School

Years Active: 1894-1969
(High School Closed in 1958)

St. Wenceslaus School was opened to 130 pupils (at twenty-five- cents-a-month tuition) September 5, 1894. It was staffed by five Sisters of Mercy from Cedar Rapids. Sister Mary Calasanctius Phelan, principal, also taught third and fourth grades and gave piano lessons before and after school hours and on Saturday. Assisting her were Sister Mary Ligouri Kearney, Sister Mary Sebastian Dolan, Sister Mary Philomena Morton, and Sister Mary Magdalene Gorman. Since no convent was connected with the school when it opened, the Sisters resided at the motherhouse on Third Avenue and Seventh Street for two years. Concerned about the comfort and well-being of the Sisters, Father Kopecky offered his home in 1896 to be used by the Sisters; he lived in a cottage nearby. This was the Sisters’ residence until 1920, when the newly appointed Father Vojacek arranged for enlargement of the school building. This addition included suitable accommodations for the Sisters and three new classrooms.

Devoted to the cause of Catholic education and especially to the education of young people, Father Vojacek opened a high school in 1921 with twenty pupils in the ninth grade and Sister Mary Berchmans Lamb as principal. To bring a high school to a standard of excellence even under the leadership of a zealous pastor was hard work, for the boys who finished the eighth grade had been accustomed to working in nearby establishments. Opportunities for a high school education, therefore, held little attraction. But before long, interest in the academic aspect was developed, and this marked the beginning of a steady growth in the enrollment of St. Wenceslaus High School.

On May 26, 1926, only five years after its opening, St. Wenceslaus High School was accredited by the Iowa Committee on Secondary Schools; it was the first Bohemian parish Catholic high school in Iowa, and perhaps in the United States, to be accredited. Father Vojacek rejoiced over this rating of his high school. An ever-increasing student body made the old school inadequate for housing both grade and high school students; and in 1926, at the instigation of the younger members of the parish, a new high school with a spacious hall and gymnasium was constructed. Miss Elizabeth Schmidt (who became Sister Mary Geraldine, SVM, Dubuque) was the first lay teacher, beginning in 1928.

In 1955, St. Wenceslaus Parish joined the other east-side parishes in the construction of Regis Central High School by absorbing eighteen percent, or $245,590, of the original building costs. Most St. Wenceslaus eighth-grade graduates attended Regis. Lack of space forced the closing of the kindergarten in 1957; St. Wenceslaus School building was then occupied by grades one through eight. The elementary school of 132 pupils was directed by three Sisters of Mercy from Cedar Rapids and a lay music instructor. There was an adequate supply of visual aid equipment for use by all teachers. Health services were provided by the Visiting Nurses Association. The Catholic Civics Club of St. Wenceslaus School sent cakes and cookies to three nursing homes several times a year. The club won a trophy in the Jesuit Stamp Contest in 1962. Money realized from this was used to help in the building of a new school and living accommodations for Jesuits in Korea. Other mission projects were also promoted through the Catholic Students Mission Crusade unit. Sale of U. S. Saving Stamps began in 1961. Many children purchased bonds during the school year. Pupils of the school won honors in safety-poster contests; each year an outstanding eighth-grade pupil was awarded the Catholic Workman medal. Several eighth-grade children attended the Introductory Medicine Course at Mercy Hospital. The Catholic Schools, an active organization of the parish, provided all the textbooks each year.

St. Wenceslaus Elementary School closed in 1969.

Source: Monsignor Thomas E. Toale, Ph. D. (2001). Go Forth and Teach: Continuing the Challenge. Dubuque, IA - Iowa: Loras College Press. Archdiocese of Dubuque.

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