The history of St. Patrick Parish begins with its establishment as a mission of St. Raphael Cathedral in 1852. The first church, a small frame structure, was dedicated by Bishop Mathias Loras in 1853. In 1858, Rev. Patrick McCabe became the first permanent pastor.
In 1870, Rev. Roger Ryan began a forty-two year pastorate during which the parish grew in numbers and spirit. Father Ryan established a boys’ school on the present parish property; the girls of the parish were sent to St. Joseph Academy at 13th & Main Streets. When the sisters of Charity (BVM) moved the girls’ school to the present Clarke University, the former boarding school became the parochial school for girls.
The cornerstone of a new brick church was laid in 1877, and the building dedicated on August 15, 1878. In 1928, Rev. J.J. Hanley remodeled and enlarged the church. The Novena of Our Sorrowful Mother was inaugurated in the parish in 1937, and grew to an attendance of over five thousand at the nine services held every Friday during World War II. This Novena is still held every Thursday at 11:30 a.m.
In 1951, a new three-story school was built on the corner of 15th & Main Streets and enrollment reached a peak of almost 600 for the eight grades. In 1982, the schools of St. Mary and St. Patrick were combined into Downtown Catholic with attendance at the buildings of both parishes. In 2001, St. Mary – St. Patrick became part of Holy Family Catholic Schools; in 2002, it merged with Sacred Heart – Holy Trinity School and became known as St. Francis School, with grades five through eight in the building, as well as the new Our Lady of Guadalupe Spanish Immersion School. In 2004, St. Francis School closed and in 2006, the building was sold to Four Oaks of Iowa.
From 1995-2008, St. Patrick was lead by a pastoral administrator. From 1999 to 2010, St. Patrick was clustered with St. Mary Parish, Dubuque. With the closing of St. Mary in May 2010, St. Patrick was linked with the Cathedral.
Since the mid-1990’s a Spanish Mass has been offered on Sundays. More and more Hispanics from the Dubuque area are becoming an integral part of St. Patrick Parish. In addition to welcoming the Hispanics, the older members of the parish have reached out to the needy of the area by providing a free meal on Wednesday evenings in Foley Hass as well as serving the needs of the poor through the St. Vincent DePaul Society. In the midst of many changes in the downtown area, St. Patrick continues to adapt to the needs of the times and be a sign of Christ’s presence.