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Remembering Key West

Presentation Presence from 1875-1997

In February 1875 Mother Vincent Hennessy opened the front parlor of the Presentation Key West Convent to school children to begin the long story of Catholic education at St. Joseph, Key West, the first Presentation motherhouse in Dubuque. Approximately 20 students were present for the first day of classes.

In July 2008 the parlor in the Key West Convent again welcomed young children who came to thank the Presentation Sisters for their help in acquiring age appropriate playground equipment for their program. Approximately 20 children from the Key West Early Childhood Center came and were welcomed by Sister Benjamin Duschner who had just moved into the convent on that day. The children, ages two to four, introduced themselves, sang songs, were treated to cookies and asked Sister Benjamin to come visit them some day – which she gladly did.

In the intervening 133+ years much has happened. The original parlor school was the beginning of over a century of education provided to children.

The front parlor of Key West was quickly filled and the sisters moved the school to the local public school building. In 1927 St. Joseph Parish built its first school. Over these years, hundreds of students were taught their faith and the basic skills necessary for civic success. The last day of elementary classes was held in the school in May 2007. However, Presentation presence continues today in many ways in the Key West community.

Once again three sisters, Sisters Benjamin Duschner, Beth Driscoll and Leanne Welch, are living in the new convent that was built in 1994 replacing the 120-year-old building into which Mother Hennessy first moved. The school buildings are now occupied by the growing Key West Early Childhood Center that serves children ages two to four during the school year and preschool and elementary age children throughout the summer. The Sisters of the Presentation Ministry Fund contributed to the installation of their new playground equipment.

In 1875 Kate O’Hea, a young girl in the parish, befriended the sisters after Mass on their first day in Key West. In 2008 it is the Denlinger girls, Abbie and Halie, who bring fresh produce to the sisters. More than a century apart the O’Heas and the Denlingers have taught their daughters to share and to be good neighbors.

Presentation presence can also be seen in the many lay people who have been trained by the sisters. Many of the present parish council members, music ministers, religious education teachers, lectors, eucharistic ministers and others involved in the parish have been touched by the lives of the sisters over the years. From a humble parlor to a present day parlor – Presentation presence continues in St. Joseph, Key West.

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