The University of Iowa LibrariesThe Biographical Dictionary of Iowa: Jacket Art - Agriculture - Cresco, Iowa by Richard Haines ca 1934 -  Photo by Scott Christopher courtesy of Gregg Narber


University of Iowa Press Digital Editions
Mazzuchelli, Samuel Charles
(1806–February 23, 1864)

–pioneering missionary priest—was called to Dubuque in 1835. On the Fourth of July in 1836 settlers there celebrated with music, toasts, and speeches two events: the nation's 60th birthday and the newly proclaimed territory of Wisconsin. One toast that drew hearty applause was proposed by the new Dominican friar from Italy: "May the American Republic be lasting, glorious and powerful. May Wisconsin Territory, whose birthday we celebrate, be shortly not inferior to any of the states."

    Born in Milan in Lombardy in 1806, Mazzuchelli had left Italy for the United States in 1828. Ordained a priest in Cincinnati, Ohio, he was assigned to Mackinac Island in Michigan, a center alive with fur traders, members of American Indian tribes, and soldiers at the American fort.

    Answering the call from Catholic settlers at Dubuque in 1835, Mazzuchelli helped them found the parish of St. Raphael and build a church. One day in 1837 pastor and people received amazing news: their simple church, still unfinished, was going to become a cathedral for a bishop. A new Diocese of Dubuque was formed, reaching westward over the plains to the Missouri River. The bishop would be John Mathias Pierre Loras, a native of France who was a college president in Alabama.

    Loras learned with dismay that in all of Iowa there was only one priest—Mazzuchelli—who ministered to settlers on both sides of the Mississippi. The new bishop decided to go home to France in search of priests. Early in 1838 he sailed to his homeland, where he found several priests and seminarians willing to join his new diocese. He also secured from the head of the Dominicans in Rome an assignment of the friar Mazzuchelli to the new Iowa diocese for six years.

    Bishop Loras returned to the United States with his French volunteers in the fall of 1838. All were welcomed heartily by the people. Then the new bishop and his vicar began to travel together to Iowa settlements to visit and baptize, preach and offer the Eucharist to his people, form new parishes, and help the settlers build their churches. Sometimes the two men offered parishioners a weeklong spiritual retreat. Of one such experience Loras wrote, "The retreat was accomplished with success.... Mr. Mazzuchelli preached like an Apostle every night and morning, lasting to 12 days."Of the same experience the priest wrote, "My little share of the work was the word to say, and the superior call of my companion was the Spirit to administer."From Iowa, Father Mazzuchelli continued, sometimes with Bishop Loras, to visit his missions across the Mississippi at St. Michael parish in Galena, Illinois, and St. Gabriel's in Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, along with neighboring hamlets.

    When the priest's assignment to Iowa drew to a close, his health was weakened by recurring bouts of fever. In hope of recovery, he was advised to return to his Italian homeland. In May 1843 Bishop Loras asked Mazzuchelli to accompany him as theologian to the Provincial Council of Bishops in Baltimore. When the sessions ended, the Dominican sailed to Europe, going home to Milan and his welcoming family after an absence of 22 years.

    In Italy, as in America, Mazzuchelli rested little. He published for Italians his Memorie of 363 pages concerning the American missions and sought fellow missionaries among the friars. From the Dominican master general in Rome, he received permission to establish a province of friars, a college for men, and a community of Dominican Sisters to conduct schools for the settlers.

    On returning from Italy in August 1844, Mazzuchelli purchased for his projects Sinsin awa Mound in southwestern Wisconsin, near the Mississippi River and Dubuque. At "the Mound" he founded a province of Dominican friars, the College of St. Thomas Aquinas, and the Sinsinawa Dominican Sisters.

    When Mathias Loras died in 1858, Mazzuchelli was called back to Dubuque to preach the eulogy. Therein he reminded knowing listeners of Loras's zeal among their earliest settlers.

    In Benton, Wisconsin, among the lead mines, and in the whole upper valley of the Mississippi River, Mazzuchelli continued his pastoral and educational ministry until his death in 1864.
Sources include Samuel Mazzuchelli: Memoirs of a Missionary Apostolic (1967); Mary Nona McGreal, Journeyman, Pastor, Preacher, Teacher: Samuel Mazzuchelli, American Dominican (2005); and William E. Wilkie, Dubuque on the Mississippi: 1788–1988 (1999).
Contributor: Mary Nona Mcgreal