Mary Frances Clarke, BVM


"Mary Frances Clarke acted as a catalyst in a community that has made her mission as real in 1833 as it is in 1984."
— Jane M. Daly, 1984


Mary Frances Clarke, BVM, born in Dublin, Ireland in 1803, played an important part in the educational and religious formation of this state. She and four other religious women emigrated to America and worked with the poor and illiterate in Philadelphia. In 1833, Clarke organized her community, the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. For 10 years, the sisters labored among the city's downtrodden, before departing for Dubuque, Iowa at the invitation of Bishop Mathias Loras. There they founded St. Mary's Academy, the first Women's college in Iowa. After suffering a disastrous fire in 1849, the Academy was reestablished by Clarke as Mount St. Joseph's Academy and College, today known as Clarke College. The Sisters of Charity also started various elementary and secondary schools around the state that have educated generations of Iowans. Clarke died in 1887. Clarke was inducted into the Iowa Women's Hall of Fame in 1984.