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Sister Carolyn (Lester) Farrell, BVM

Sister Carolyn (Lester) Farrell, BVM

Sister Carolyn (Lester) Farrell, BVM died Sunday, June 14, 2020, at Marian Hall in Dubuque, Iowa.

Funeral Services, Virtual Visitation, and Sharing of Memories were Wednesday, June 24, 2020, in the Marian Hall Chapel. Burial is in the Mount Carmel Cemetery.

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

Sister Carolyn was an elementary teacher at St. Paul School in Davenport, Iowa, and St. Tarcissus School in Chicago; and principal at St. Patrick School in Dubuque.

During her tenure as director of continuing education at Clarke University, she served on the Dubuque City Council and as mayor. Carolyn also served two terms as regional representative in the BVM Congregation and as founding director of the BVM Women’s Office.

In Chicago, Carolyn was 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, Carolyn continued to advocate for women and justice for all people.

She was preceded in death by her parents and brothers Freddy and John. She is survived by siblings Dolores (George) Zeller, James (Caroline) Farrell, Margaret (Ed) Whitman; and Thomas (Sandy) Farrell; nieces, nephews and the Sisters of Charity, BVM, with whom she shared life for 66 years.

Memorials may be given to Sisters of Charity, BVM Support Fund, 1100 Carmel Drive, Dubuque, IA 52003 or online at

Watch Sharing of Memories, Virtual Visitation, and Funeral Services for Carolyn Farrell, BVM

Carolyn Farrell BVM eulogy

Sharing of Memories for Carolyn Farrell, BVM

The Dubuque City Council Designates July 6 as Carolyn Farrell Day
Listen to the Proclamation:

Open to the Call: Carolyn Farrell, BVM
Interview by a Clarke University student, 2016

This Post Has 15 Comments
  1. Carolyn was a special treasure in my life for over 50 years. What began as a teacher-student relationship turned into one of the most meaningful and cherished friendships of my life. She was a mentor and inspiration to me. My deep sympathies to Carolyn’s family and other friends and her BVM sisters.

  2. Willing to serve and be Mayor of Dubuque. Service in teaching at all levels.
    A wise voice for the Coalition for Nonviolence (CNV). Also willing, praiseworthy, to work with others in the mundane of flyer production and distribution. A person of true faith.

    More than missing her, she will be remembered. Praise Be to God and this fine servant.

  3. I was fortunate to be in Sister Mary Lester’s first class, 4th grade at St. Paul the Apostle in Davenport. She was young and sassy and we all loved her. I had lunch with her 50 years later in 2015 and she kept bringing up my classmates by name. I couldn’t believe she could remember all those names. I asked her how she did it and she said nobody ever forgets their first class. After us she went on to a highly distinguished career as a BVM both within and outside of the order. A truly remarkable person that I’ve always admired. My sympathies to her family and the BVM community. She will be missed. I feel blessed just to have known her.

  4. I was fortunate to have Sister Mary Lester (as we knew her then) for two grades at St. Paul’s. She was a great teacher and left me with many fond memories. She truly was a great role model and concerned for all people. She will be missed. I wish there were more people like her in education.

  5. Sr. Carolyn was a mentor to me, always demonstrating that women can do anything they put their mind to….with grace, dignity, and respect. It wasn’t about what you looked like, your gender, or your political views. It was about working together, respecting each other, and treating each other the way you would want to be treated. Sr. Carolyn’s accomplishments will live on forever in peoples’ hearts and minds. Deepest sympathy to her family and friends. XO Forever! Jackie

  6. I met Carolyn when I first started working at Loyola in the mid 90’s it was a gift to know here. May her memory be eternal.

    1. Sister Mary Lester was my second grade teacher at St Paul the Apostle school. It must have been her second year at the school.
      I recall her being very young and very energetic. That year our class was composed of first and second graders. First graders sat on on one side of the room and second graders on the other.
      In the first grade there was another boy named Chuck. When Sister would be teaching my class, the second grade, every time she would call on me, the other Chuck would stand up an answer. It was frustrating for Sister so one day she pulled me aside and asked me if I would mind being called Charlie. I agreed and that immediately solved her problem.
      Although I now rarely use the name Charlie, occasionally someone will call me by that name and I always immediately think back to second grade and Sister Mary Lester.
      I know that God has blessed her soul. HE definitely blessed us with her presence.
      She was an outstanding person.

  7. I am so glad someone had the foresight to make a video of Carolyn explaining her decision to run for Dubuque City Council. The clip reflects the eloquence of the truth she embraced in plain and simple language – her hope that other women would follow her lead and take their place at the table.
    Carolyn approached every issue in that same insightful manner and I learned a lot from her.

    Thank you, Carolyn! What an honor it was to know you.

  8. Sr Carolyn was an amazing and important leader for me during my time with the Gannon Scholars Leadership Program at Loyola University Chicago. She was an outstanding mentor who helped to shape me become the leader I am today. I am grateful that I was able to see her just under 2 years ago at Loyola. I always looked forward to my visits with her. Her legacy will live on through the lives of all the people she touched.

  9. She was someone that you could put into any situation and she would stand her ground in the most diplomatic way and come out a winner. Maybe not at that moment but history would prove her right. She knew where she was and new how to move forward into any situation. May all of us who knew her continue to pursue what she believed in now and forever. Amen… celebrate her life.🎈

  10. Carolyn and I were classmates at SJA in Des Moines. I sense her presence as if we talked yesterday. That has to be because she was both confident in herself and open to others and filled with life.

  11. I was fortunate to have Sister Mary Lester at St Pauls so many years ago. She was so good to all the young kids in her class.
    My thought and prayers are with her family and her BVM community.

  12. Carolyn Farrell, BVM, was a true friend to both of my parents (Rita Garvey O’Connor and Tom O’Connor) over the past 50+ years and a lifelong role model for me. I have such fond memories of her coming to stay with us for a weekend visit, usually along with Sr. Barbara Kutchera. I would listen as Barbara and Carolyn and my parents would discuss life, and politics (including church politics of course), and tell stories from their times together in Dubuque, the people they all knew in common, and their lives at the time. I loved the mornings when we would wake up to tell stories from our dreams – and Barbara would encourage me and my sister to draw pictures of our dreams. Both Carolyn and Barbara always spoke to me and my sister like we were real people, so I loved their visits. As I got older, I started to realize that it was a bit unusual that some our dearest family friends were nuns and that one of them had been the mayor of Dubuque. I was interested in education administration for a while – so when I was in college I spent a day shadowing Carolyn in her role as a vice president of Loyola University in Chicago and director of the Gannon Center for Women and Leadership, which I think we both enjoyed a lot. Carolyn and my parents kept up their regular visits to each other for all these years – my mom had just spoken to her on the phone a few days before she passed. I’m so sorry that she’s gone, but very grateful to have known her. Rest in peace, Carolyn.


  14. I started school at Clarke College in 1978. I worked at Clarke as a student and I was assigned to Carolyn Farrell’s office. She was the Director of Continuing Education at the time. She had great energy, passion and purpose. Above all she was genuinely a wonderful, kind person. She will be missed by the community at large and especially her dear BVM sisters. My life was enriched by her and I feel blessed to have known her if only for a short time. Enjoy all the blessings of heaven Carolyn …. you deserve it.

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