Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

The American College of Louvain

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

The American College of Louvain

Article excerpt

The American College of the Immaculate Conception in Louvain (Leuven), Belgium, has been preparing young men for service as priests to the Church in North America for one hundred and fifty years. Conceived in 1857 by Martin J. Spalding, Bishop of Louisville, and by Peter Paul Lefevere, Bishop of Detroit, the seminary in its early decades took advantage of a flourishing of missionary interest and vocations in Europe to provide much needed clergy to the Church in North America. It also provided to American seminarians the opportunity to study philosophy and theology in the famed Catholic University of Louvain in preparation for priestly ministry. It has served as an intellectual, spiritual, and pastoral cradle for many of America's missionaries, pastors, and educators, and continues to do so to the present.

The twin notions of training American seminarians in Europe and of preparing European seminarians for the missions of America -were nothing new to the Church in the United States at the mid-point of the nineteenth century. Both concepts had been advanced and attempted by American bishops almost since the foundation of the nation in the previous century. The two young men John Carroll hesitantly sent to the Urban College in Rome in 1787 "were the first to cross the Atlantic in hope of receiving a priestly formation distinct in quality and character from what was available to them in their own country.1 Likewise, it was not long before foreign-born priests had proven useful in the American missions, the famous Belgian missionary, Charles Nerinckx,2 for example, being already at work in Kentucky by 1805.

The need for many more priests to serve the growing church in America became ever more critical as the young nation developed.Two pastoral pressures were at work: First, immigration from Europe was quickly changing the face of the ecclesiastical landscape in North America. James T Fisher reports that in 1826 there were approximately 250,000 Catholics in the United States out of a total population of eleven million; but over the next three decades the Catholic population skyrocketed to more than three million.3 The number of priests to support these Catholic communities remained dangerously low. According to Patrick W. Carey, in 1830 there were 232 priests in the United States, and by 1866 the number was ten times greater but still only 2,770 to serve the entire Catholic population of the country, by then in the millions.4

second, in the more distant reaches of the continent to the west, the Church found itself still very much a missionary church as it attempted to establish itself among the indigenous populations (often in fierce competition with Protestant missionaries) as well as ministering to farflung but growing Euro-American populations of miners, trappers, and settlers. The situation of the three missionary bishops ministering in the northwest corner of what is now the United States and Canada's Vancouver Island is illustrative. When Francis Norbert Blanchet and Modeste Deniers in 1838, and later, Augustine Magloire Alexander Blanchet, arrived in the Oregon country as young priests from Quebec, they found themselves mostly alone as priests and later as bishops in a vast region for which they had been given responsibility (covering what are now the states and province of Alaska, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, and Vancouver Island). They found some assistance from Pierre Jean DeSmet, SJ.,5 and his small band of Jesuits stationed mainly in the Rocky Mountains and from even fewer Oblates of Mary Immaculate. F. N. Blanchet described the situation as he took up his role as archbishop of Oregon City:

The Archbishop started with 10 priests including T. Mesplie, two Jesuit Fathers at St. Ignaces residence, 13 Sisters and two educational houses.The Bishop of Walla Walla was starting with 3 secular priests including a Deacon, 4 Oblate Fathers of O.M.I., and 12 Jesuit Fathers at the Rocky Mountains. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.