Immaculate Conception High School

Years Active: 1906-1979
(Formerly St. Joseph's Academy)

Up to 1870, a young woman, Caroline Hayer, taught the first and only parish school in Cedar Rapids. It had about fifteen children. Shortly after completion of the new church, 1870, Father Lowery began work on St. Joseph Academy, and invited the Cedar Rapids Sisters of Mercy to take charge. The first Sisters found the new three-story school unfinished. They slept on the floor and lived amidst the noise and confusion of carpentry. “During the summer they visited homes and assisted carpenters in laying floors and installing windows,” said Sister Mary Ildephonse Holland in Lengthening Shadows. The carpenter Sisters were Sister Mary Isidore O’Connor, Sister Mary Gertrude McCullough (later mother general), and Sister Mary Boniface Daly. Before the opening of the school, the remainder of the faculty came: Sister Mary Malachy O’Brien, Sister Mary Cecilia Piper, Sister Mary Francis McCormick, Sister Mary Philomena Early, Sister Mary Nicholas Scallan, and? Mother Mary Agatha Mullaney.

Immaculate Conception, then still formally called St. Joseph Academy, was used for many years as motherhouse, novitiate, and boarding school for girls, as well as for parochial school. The opening days were difficult. Money was hard to obtain; the Sisters received no salary, for by some paradoxical arrangement, the institution was a parish school and yet was not a parish school. Children were expected to attend St. Joseph, but no organized effort was made by the parish to assist in the support of it. Concerning this, Sister Ildephonse said, “Some time after coming to Cedar Rapids, Father Gunn transferred the deed of St. Joseph to the Order of Mercy with the feeling, no doubt, that since the Sisters of Mercy were operating the school, keeping up all repairs, etc., without organized assistance from the parish and without salary, they should possess the deed. The property was returned to Immaculate Conception parish in 1920.” In 1881 the community of ten Sisters and twenty-five boarders had the facilities of the new school building, the old church, and a small brick house which served as janitor quarters, art shop, and music room. By 1900, there were thirty-five kindergarten pupils and forty-five boarders.

Although for many years St. Joseph was well known by students and faculty alike as Immaculate Conception High School, the name was not formally changed until 1906 during the pastorate of Father Toomey. To maintain pace with the continuously rising enrollment, various additions and improvements were made in the Immaculate Conception Parish: the school was remodeled in 1919 to free the third-floor dormitories for classroom space; a cottage on the site of the present school was used for elementary grade school classes; the school was ready for occupancy at the beginning of the 1927 school year. This building comprised classrooms for the elementary grades on first floor and for the high school on second floor. The school was equipped with science rooms and labs, commercial rooms, library, assembly, gymnasium-auditorium, cafeteria, and kitchen.

Students from Mount Mercy College Teacher Education Department began their professional student-teaching program at Immaculate Conception School in 1935. The year 1942 saw a return to lay teachers, with Miss Margaret Toedt on the faculty of the high school. In 1951, a house on an adjoining lot was purchased and remodeled to accommodate two first-grade classes; in 1955, buses were chartered for Immaculate Conception students. St. Pius X, a daughter parish, was opened in 1961 absorbing one hundred students of Immaculate Conception School. Immaculate Conception was one of the six cooperating parishes contributing toward the building of the new interparochial Regis High School, which opened in 1958. This parish contributed $545,755 or forty percent of the initial building cost.

After the opening of Regis High School, Immaculate Conception was used exclusively for elementary grades. In 1965 a faculty of nine Sisters, seven laywomen, one Sister part-time music instructor, and one layman part-time physical education instructor cared for 381 pupils.

During the pastorate of Msgr. William P. Leonard, the school experienced a gradual decline in students due to the exchange in demographics of the area. During the 1978-79 school year, with a student population of sixty-five, it was decided to close Immaculate Conception Grade School. The final eighth grade class graduated in June of 1979, and the school closed. Sr. Peggy Murphy, RSM, was the last principal. Children of I.C. Parish then attended either St. Matthew or All Saints Grade Schools, or Regis Middle School and Xavier High School. The building was sold and torn down in 1983. A parish parking lot replaced the former building, an ignominious ending to a once great school.

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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