History-making sister served as mayor


DUBUQUE — Sister Carolyn (Lester) Farrell, BVM, the first woman and first woman religious to serve as mayor of Dubuque, died June 14 at Marian Hall. Sister Farrell also was a longtime educator and leader in her community and beyond.

She was born on Nov. 2, 1934, in Des Moines to James and Catherine Carroll Farrell. She entered the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary congregation on Sept. 8, 1953, professed first vows on March 19, 1956, and final vows on July 16, 1961.

Sr. Farrell

Sister Farrell served as an elementary teacher at St. Paul the Apostle Catholic School-Davenport and St. Tarcissus School-Chicago, and principal of St. Patrick School-Dubuque. During her tenure as director of continuing education at Clarke College-Dubuque, she served on the Dubuque City Council and as mayor. She served two terms as regional representative in the BVM congregation and as founding director of the BVM women’s office.

In Chicago, Sister Farrell served as interim president of Mundelein College, associate vice president at Loyola University and founding director of the Gannon Center for Women and Leadership. She returned to Dubuque to become the director of the Roberta Kuhn Center and served as a member of the board of trustees at Clarke University. During her retirement, Sister Farrell continued to advocate for women and justice for all people.


“Carolyn’s passionate belief that women’s voices belonged among elected officials led her to run for the Dubuque City Council in 1978, becoming mayor in 1980,” said BVM President Sister Teri Hadro. “She strongly believed in servant leadership and did everything in her power to listen to Dubuquers about civic issues that mattered to them.

She was proud to be the first woman mayor of Dubuque, but in Carolyn’s mind, it was less a personal achievement than a step forward for all women. Carolyn knew the significance of role models and her life as a sister and as a civic leader provided encouragement and support for women of all ages.”

Her funeral was held June 24 in the Marian Hall Chapel and was broadcast online. Burial was at Mount Carmel Cemetery. Memorials may be given to Sisters of Charity, BVM Support Fund, 1100 Carmel Drive, Dubuque, IA 52003 or online at https://www.bvmsisters.org/support_donate.cfm


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