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St. Raphael Parish has a long and rich history that reaches back to 1833 when the first missionaries came to this area. Father Samuel Mazzuchelli, a Dominican priest, came in 1835. He built and named the first Church, which was located on the property where St. Raphael School building now stands. Bishop Mathias Loras arrived in 1839. The church was then raised to the status of a Cathedral. In 1857, in response to the rapid growth of Dubuque, Bishop Loras made plans to build a much larger Cathedral Church. This is the present Cathedral as was dedicated on July 7, 1861.

In 1843 the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary (BVM) came to Dubuque and began the first Cathedral School. A Catholic school was part of the history of the parish until 1976 when the parish school was closed.

The Cathedral Church was renovated several times, most recently in 1986. The Church organ was restored at that time also.

The history of this parish is a record of stories of grace, of courage, of vision and of dedication by those holy men and women who have served here. May the Lord, who has begun this good work among us, see it through to its completion.

Audio Self-Guided Tour

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The Cathedral: Then and Now
Tour the Mortuary Chapel
The Stations of the Cross
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Learn More About the Bishops Buried in the Mortuary Chapel


The Sanctuary contains the three important pieces used during the Liturgy: the altar, the ambo and the presider’s chair.20150504_160139


This is the main section of the church from where the assembly participates in the Mass.20150504_160105


The place where people are baptized is called the baptistry. The large pool of water is called the baptismal font. Water is used as a sign of new life.

The large candle beside the font is the Easter candle, or Paschal candle. It is present to remind us of the light of Christ.



The table of the Lord is where we celebrate the Eucharist. We offer our gifts of bread and wine. Through consecration, they become the body and blood of Jesus.



As you look at the altar, the ambo is to your right. This is where the lector and the priest proclaim the Word of God.


Metropolitan Cross

Because that Cathedral is the seat and home parish of the Archbishop in the sanctuary there is a  special crucifx signifying the Archbishop’s authority over the local church. This special cross is called a Metropolitan Cross and is processed in during liturgies when the Archbishop is present.



The Eucharist is kept in the tabernacle. The tabernacle sits on the altar behind the screen. Chairs and kneelers have been set up in front of the tabernacle, so people can come and pray quietly.

The candle that hangs from the ceiling of the church above the altar is lit when the Eucharist is present. When you see that the candle is lit, you can bow your head or genuflect to show reverence and respect for the Eucharist.


The Bishop’s Chair and Crosier

In every Cathedral there is a chair (cathedra) for the Bishop when he is celebrating Mass there. Our Bishop’s chair in the Cathedral is moved to the front when Archbishop Jackels is here.

Next to the chair is the staff or crosier. This belonged to Bishop Loras. Every Bishop carries a crosier wherever he is presiding.



Many churches have statues of saints throughout the building. Almost every church has a statue of Mary inside. Mary is very special because she is the Mother of God and the Mother of the Church. Often, when you look at the altar, the statue of Mary is on the left-hand side. Sometimes, it is on a small side altar with seats in front, so people can come to church and pray quietly.



Discover more about the relics and who is present in the reliquaries!

Under the altar is a box which contains the relics of St. Cessianus, a young boy who was martyred in the 4th century. Relics are usually small pieces of bone from the saints. There are many relics at the Cathedral contained in special cases called reliquaries. These are in the Corridor of the Saints located behind the Statue of St. Joseph.

Relics Relics


The sacristy is where the priests, deacons, altar servers, Eucharistic ministers and lectors prepare for Mass. The vestments of the priests and deacons are kept here. Each season of the church year has a different color for the vestments. Pay attention the next time you go to Mass. For the next few weeks, watch what color the priest wears and when it changes.Sacristry

Reconciliation Chapel

As you know, other sacraments are celebrated in churches besides the Eucharist. You can come to church to celebrate the sacrament of Reconciliation

Reconciliation Chapel

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