St. Joseph AcademySt. Joseph Academy

In 1884, St. Joseph Academy was founded by the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Housed in a renovated building called “Villa Maria,” few students were able to attend this "country school" located three miles west of downtown Des Moines due to limited public transportation. St. Joseph's first graduating class numbered only one, but enrollment quickly grew to 16 girls who were taught by six Sisters of Charity, led by Sister Mary Baptist Seely. The "Villa Maria" was eventually moved to the rear of the school's property and a building which housed a library, classrooms and a hall was built. In 1907, an auditorium, music hall and chapel were added.

In 1909, with enrollment at 62, the Most Rev. Austin Dowling, the first bishop of Des Moines, designated St. Joseph Academy as the Central Catholic High School for girls in Des Moines. In 1912 an alumnae association formed which donated many gifts to St. Joseph Academy throughout the years, including a pipe organ for the chapel and a statue of Our Lady of Grace for the grotto.

In 1963, a $1.2 million addition to the Academy was made consisting of 28 classrooms, two science laboratories, a library and a cafeteria. In 1971, the decision was made to merge with Dowling High School. The College of Osteopathic Medicine, currently known as Des Moines University, purchased the Academy facilities.

old DowlingDowling High School

Dowling High School for boys was established in 1918 with an enrollment of 90 students on an eight-acre site purchased by Bishop Dowling from the Des Moines College Corporation.  Dowling was known as Des Moines Catholic College until 1935 when it was renamed for its late founder.

By 1938 enrollment had increased to 374. In 1941, the old gymnasium known as "Noah's Ark" was torn down and replaced by Kendall Hall, named after Nate Kendall, the late governor of Iowa. Flavin Hall was torn down to provide space for a new two-story building which opened in 1957 and included a chapel, six classrooms, four science laboratories and a library.

In 1963, Bishop Edward C. Daly authorized the first study into Dowling’s future needs and potential new sites. Bishop George J. Biskup announced in 1966 that 55 acres of land had been purchased by Dowling at the intersection of I-235 and Eighth Street in West Des Moines. In 1969, the Diocesan School Board decided to build a new school at this site.

Dowling Catholic New EntranceDowling Catholic High School

In 1970, the BVM Sisters agreed to share in the development of the new facility after a community study indicated a co-educational high school was desired by the people of the Des Moines Diocese. Dowling Catholic High School/St. Joseph Educational Center at 1400 Buffalo Road opened in the fall of 1972.

From 2007-present, the campus has undergone $30 million in renovations and additions as part of the “We Believe Campaign.” All of the classrooms, the sports complex and the media center were entirely renovated. Additions include new science and performing arts wings, a weight room, an access road to 17th Street and an additional parking lot. In the spring of 2015, the St. Joseph Chapel (in honor of St. Joseph Academy) and a new school entrance were completed.


Dowling Catholic High School  |  1400 Buffalo RD.  |  West Des Moines, IA  |  50265  |  (515) 225-3000