Cardinal Muench Seminary, located in Fargo, North Dakota, was established in 1962 as a Catholic institution of higher education dedicated to the pursuit of truth with a view to the formation of future priests. The regional college seminary was administered by the Diocese of Fargo and closed in the summer of 2011.
Cardinal Muench Seminary seeks to form young men in the image of Christ the Good Shepherd and provides the necessary formation for seminarians on the college level in addition to the pre-theology requirements. By emphasizing the liberal arts and especially the tradition of perennial philosophy, Cardinal Muench Seminary seeks to impart a well-rounded university education which will serve as a solid foundation for the future study of theology. Founded in a conviction of the unity and beauty of truth, Cardinal Muench Seminary strives to form future priests in an atmosphere where faith and reason are fully engaged in a harmonious way.
Cardinal Muench was the third bishop of the Diocese of Fargo, from 1935 to 1959. In 1946 he was called by Pope Pius XII to be the Apostolic Visitator (the representative of the pope) to Germany during its reconstruction following the Second World War. He was appointed Apostolic Nuncio in 1951, and was named a Cardinal by Pope John XXIII in 1959. He died in Rome on February 15, 1962. More on Cardinal Muench.
Cardinal Muench Seminary is named after Aloisius Joseph Cardinal Muench. While he was the bishop of the Diocese of Fargo, one of his priorities was to increase the number of men studying for the priesthood. He also voiced a dream of beginning a seminary for the training of priests in his diocese.
After the Second World War there was a significant rise in the number of vocations. For example, the Official Catholic Directory shows that in 1956 there were 97 seminarians studying for the Diocese of Fargo. Because other dioceses experienced a similar increase at the same time, seminaries were full and found it difficult to accommodate the increased numbers of seminarians.
In 1957 a tragedy struck Fargo: a devastating tornado destroyed hundreds of homes on the north side of Fargo, as well as damaging Sacred Heart Convent and Shanley High School. Bishop Leo Dworschak, Cardinal Muench’s successor, recognized an opportunity to realize his predecessor’s dream. He requested that the vacated Sacred Heart Convent be restored and converted into a high school seminary. Originally it was to be named St. Pius X Minor Seminary.
Bishop Dworshak wrote in the Catholic Action News [CAN] (at the time the official newspaper of the Diocese of Fargo):
“Two factors hastened the decision to establish St. Pius X Minor Seminary at this time. First, the desperate shortage of priests makes it increasingly difficult to meet the needs of our growing parishes in the cities of the Diocese. It is true, a seminary will take some priests out of parish work. But I am firmly convinced that our own seminary, even on the high school level, will in the end, increase the number of priests ordained each year for this Diocese. We will never meet our needs until we have our own seminary.
“The second consideration was the increasing difficulty in gaining admission for our students in other seminaries. Nazareth Hall of St. Paul has taken none of our students for some years. Each of the other three minor seminaries, where our students are now registered, are filled this year. Our number of students is increasing, thank God; but that means we must make provision for them.”
On the death of Cardinal Muench in 1962 the seminary was renamed in his honor, but remained under the patronage of St. Pius X. Bishop Dworshak wrote:
“From the moment when Cardinal Muench came to Fargo as our bishop in 1935 he considered the education of priests his primary responsibility and concern. As the shortage of priests became more and more acute because priestly vocations did not increase as fast as the Catholic population he gave more and more thought to the establishment of our own minor seminary as the first step towards a more adequate program for training our priests.
“Before he could launch the project of a seminary he was called upon to exchange his title of Bishop of Fargo for the high office of a cardinal; and, before we could actually begin operation of the minor seminary which is now in preparation, Cardinal Muench was called to his eternal reward.
. . .
“There is no monument to Cardinal Muench that could possibly be more appropriate than an institution dedicated to the work of educating priests—a work in which he was so interested as professor and rector of St. Francis Seminary in Milwaukee—a work which he recognized as being so necessary in his beloved Diocese of Fargo. There is no way in which we—bishop, clergy, religious and people—can pay a finer tribute to his memory than by supporting the work in which he was so interested through prayer, through encouragement of vocations and through financial help.”
the 4th bishop of
the Diocese of Fargo
Cardinal Muench Seminary opened in the fall of 1962 with 41 students, 38 freshman and 3 juniors. In subsequent years additional classes were added. The men lived at the seminary at 1310 North Broadway, and attended classes at Shanley High School, located at the time on the property adjacent to the seminary. The first graduates received their diplomas from Shanley High School.
As the number of seminarians grew the facility became inadequate. Bishop Dworschak proposed that a new building be built. A site was chosen on the north side of Fargo. At the time, it was the largest building project the Diocese of Fargo had undertaken. Construction began in 1965 and the building was ready for use in the fall of 1966. Bishop Leo F. Dworschak dedicated the facility on August 22, 1966.
A complete faculty, independent of Shanley High School, was hired and the high school program received full, independent accreditation. All classes were taught at the new location and diplomas were awarded by Cardinal Muench Seminary.
That same year the college program began. An agreement had been reached between the seminary and North Dakota State University with the North Dakota Board of Higher Education by which CMS college seminarians could matriculate at NDSU. The seminary provides Philosophy, Humanities and Classics instructors to the University.
Bishop Driscoll, bishop of the Diocese of Fargo from 1970 to 1984, and Bishop Sullivan, bishop from 1985 to 2002, continued to support the seminary.
Beginning in 1972 seminarians from others dioceses were welcomed into both the high school and college programs. Throughout the years seminarians from 12 dioceses have studied at Cardinal Muench Seminary: Bismarck and Fargo, North Dakota; St. Paul-Minneapolis, Crookston, Duluth. New Ulm, and St. Cloud, Minnesota; Dubuque, Iowa; Rapid City and Sioux Falls, South Dakota; Springfield-Cape Girardeau, Missouri; and Superior. Wisconsin.
Also in 1972 a new situation arose. The college program was designed for those who had not yet earned a college degree. However, in 1972 a young man entered the seminary who already had a college degree. At first such seminarians were called “Special Students.” Eventually the “pre-theology program” developed; at first it was a 1-year program. As the requirements for priestly formation were increased by the bishops of the United States, the pre-theology program was lengthened into a 2-year program, and only recently has been revised to be a 3-year program.
Another event that occurred in 1972 was the ordination of the first CMS alumnus as a priest.
In 1991 the Vianney Discernment Program was introduced to help young men discerning a vocation to the priesthood. They live in community, learn to listen to God, engage in prayer and receive spiritual direction. Of the 40 men who have participated in the program, 15 have entered the seminary, and, to date, 6 have been ordained priests.
Because of declining enrollment in the high school program in the early 90s, it was no longer feasible to maintain a full faculty. Beginning in the fall of 1991 the high school seminarians once again took classes at Shanley High School. Thus the program had come “full circle.” With the departure of the last high school seminarian in the spring of 2001, the high school program ended.
Bishop Aquila become the bishop of the Diocese of Fargo in 2002, and, despite low numbers, continued to support the seminary’s programs. An effort was made to increase enrollment, but fell short. On April 8, 2010, Bishop Aquila announced that the program of priestly formation at Cardinal Muench Seminary will come to an end (complete press release). That day come on Friday, May 13, the Feast of Our Lady of Fatima.
During its 49 year history, 923 young men have participated in the various programs, 364 graduated from the High School or Collge programs, and, as of spring 2011, 106 have been ordained priests.