To recount the history of Saint Patrick’s School is to also recount the history of the Presentation sisters in Waukon, Iowa, and indeed of Catholic education in Allamakee County. The five sisters who came in 1883 to serve the Irish immigrants in northeast Iowa were members of an Irish community which had, only nine years earlier, made its first establishment in Iowa.
When the Reverend John Hawe directed the building of a combination convent and school, some practical-minded parishioners had doubts about the viability of a Catholic school. However, the newly-arrived sisters found nearly every Catholic child in Waukon enrolled for the first day of class.
Sisters Mary Presentation Griffin, Alocoque Murray and Ignatius Sheehan conducted the academic program in grades one through eight, while Sister Mary Stanislaus Dillon handled the music and Sister Mary Teresa Downey assumed domestic duties. Over the next 10 years the program and the enrollment grew: all 12 grades were attempted but because the building became too crowded, the program shrank to 10 grades and remained at that size until 1939.
By 1893 more space was needed for the growing population of boarders and day students. A new wing doubled the size of the building and was soon filled to capacity. In 1936 the wing was removed and the original structure was completely remodeled to serve as a convent only. A new building was constructed which would house the grade and high school, parish hall, kitchen and gymnasium for the next 20 years. The first four-year high school graduating class celebrated its commencement in 1941.
More remodeling in 1956 transformed the parish hall and kitchen into classrooms and a kitchenette. The church basement was redone to accommodate parish gatherings, the school lunch program and, in 1959, one classroom. A second classroom building, opened in 1961, housed kindergarten through grade six. The year 1965 saw the construction of a new convent and the razing of the original building.
Diminishing enrollment caused the closing of the high school in 1970. Today, preschool through grade six share the two classroom buildings with other parish and community groups.
Over the years a warm relationship between the Sisters of the Presentation and the people of Allamakee County has been mutually beneficial. The sisters have given generously and lovingly of their resources, both academically and spiritually, through the operation of the school, the conducting of CCD classes, in parish and liturgical ministry, and most recently, in donating over $2900 from their garage sale proceeds towards Student Tuition Assistance at St. Patrick’s School. They have, in turn, received abundantly.
Thirty-four women from the Waukon area have lived and died as members of the Presentation community: Sisters Mary Genette Bakewell, Clement Bird, Canice Byrnes, Helen Cassidy, Redempta Collins, Thomas Collins, dePazzi Curtin, Monica Curtin, Mercedes Deeney, Oliver Dixon, Coletta Donahue, Loretto Donahue, Winifred Donahue, Dominic Dougherty, Imelda Dougherty, Berchmans Flanagan, Eulalia Gavin, Agnes Griffin, Adorine Hitchins, Alicia Howley, Cyrilla Kernan, Michael Laughlin, Laurayne Mahoney, Elizabeth Maroney, Juliana McCormick, Martin McCormick, John McGeough, Elise O’Malley, Constance Quillin, Cornelia Regan, Justine Smith, Honora Sullivan, Henrietta Teff and Aquin Walsh.
Living members of the community who claim Allamakee County as home number 15. Sisters Kay Cota, Lou Cota, Suzanne Gallagher, Marilou Irons, Carolyn “Carrie” Link, Maura McCarthy, Anne McCormick, Francine Quillin, Raeleen Sweeney and Leanne Welch still serve the Church in the active apostolate. Roberta Burke, Therese Marie Hawes, Dorothy McCormick, Louis McCormick and Bernard Mauss serve as praying members of the retirement group.
The last Presentation Sister to serve at St. Patrick’s was Sister Margaret Anne Kramer who served as teacher, principal, director of religious education and pastoral associate during her 15 years at St. Patrick’s. She left Waukon in the spring of 2000.