An institution for the education of priests. Its official title is "The American College of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary". It was founded in 1857, with the cordial support of the Belgian hierarchy, by two American bishops, the Rt. Rev. M.J. Spalding, then Bishop of Louisville, Ky., later Archbishop of Baltimore, and the Rt. Rev. P.P. Lefèvre, Administrator of the Diocese of Detroit, Mich. Its purpose was, on the one hand, to enable American-born students to pursue thorough courses of theology in Europe, while familiarizing themselves with the languages, usages, and customs of the Old World; on the other hand, to afford young men of various European nationalities an easy means of preparation for the work of the ministry in America, thus presenting to the bishops an opportunity of adopting well-trained subjects for their several dioceses. Originally, the college was established only for the instruction of students in elementary and advanced theology. They were supposed to have studied philosophy, either in America or in one of the preparatory seminaries of Europe. The actual scope of the college is somewhat wider. In October, 1906, a faculty of philosophy was organized providing a two-years' course for students who have successfully completed their classical studies.
Although the bishops mentioned above took the initiative in establishing the college, its field of action has by no means been confined to their two dioceses. The co-operation of all the dioceses of the United States has been requested, and several ecclesiastical provinces situated in British-American territory have taken part in the work. These include the Archdiocese of Victoria, B.C., with the suffragan see of New Westminster, and the Archdiocese of Port of Spain, Trinidad, with the suffragan see of Roseau. Among the American bishops who enjoy special rights in connection with the college are those who have donated to its fund the sum of $1,000, becoming thereby Patrons of the College. To them the constitutions approved by the Holy See in 1895 accord precedence in the matter of sending students to the college, as also in the adoption of its graduates for their dioceses. In the event of the college being closed, they would have certain claims upon its property. The patronal dioceses are at present seventeen in number: Detroit Louisville, Natchez, Oregon City , Baltimore, Nesqually, Victoria, B.C., Hartford, Buffalo, Port of Spain , New Orleans, Richmond, Newark, Leavenworth, Helena, Belleville, and Tucson. It would be difficult to set a valuation upon the property held at present by the college. It may, however, be safely stated that since its foundation $110,000 has been expended in the purchase of ground and in the erection of buildings which provide ample accommodation for 150 students. As it was found impracticable for the bishops patrons to exert permanent and effectual control of the college by their collective action, the Third Plenary Council of Baltimore resolved to appoint a committee of three bishops duly qualified to represent the American hierarchy in the management of the college. The members of the committee are at present the Right Rev. C.P. Maes (Covington), Chairman, Most Rev. P.W. Riordan (San Francisco); Right Rev. J.L. Spalding (Peoria). The rector of the college is also subject, as regards both spiritual and temporal administration, to the Congregation of Propaganda. This Congregation appoints the rector on the recommendation of the committee of bishops and after consultation with the college faculty, and gives him ample authority in the matter of ordaining student. His annual report on the condition of the college must be sent to Propaganda as wed as to the committee of bishops.
As to the courses followed by the students, that of advanced theology has been taken, from the first, by students sufficiently well trained to try for the decrees given at Louvain. Of these, Bishop Riordan and Bishop Spalding were made licentiates of theology in 1865 and 1866. Most of the students, however, take the elementary course of theology which, until 1877, was given, partly at the Catholic University and partly at the college, by professors appointed by the rector. The course having been abolished at the university in 1877, the students were allowed to follow the lectures given by the Jesuit Fathers on such subjects as were not treated in the college, namely, moral theology (in part), and Holy Scripture In 1898 the Belgian hierarchy, at the request of the committee of American bishops, established a full course of elementary theology at the university, which is now followed by the students of the American College, and by those of various other seminaries and religious communities. Certain branches, however, such as pastoral theology , liturgy, sacred eloquence, and modern languages, are taught at the college by professors belonging to the institution.
From its foundation to the present day, the college has given four archbishops to the hierarchy of the Church : Charles John Seghere (Oregon City), d. 1886; Francis Janssens ( New Orleans ), d. 1897; P. W. Riordan (San Francisco); B. Orth (Victoria, B.C.); and eleven bishops, namely: A. Junger (Nesqually), d.1895, J. Lemmens (Vancouver Island), d. 1897, J. B. Brondel (Helena), d. 1903; A. J. Glorieux (Boise); C. P. Maes (Covington); J. L. Spalding (Peoria); A. Van de Vyver (Richmond); T. Meersehaert (Oklahoma), J. J. O'Connor (Newark); Wm. Stang (Fall River); Joseph J. Fox (Green Bay). It has sent 661 priests to America, 506 of whom are living and who are distributed as follows in the various provinces: Baltimore, 25; Boston, 36; Chicago, 69, Cincinnati, 122; Dubuque, 19; Milwaukee, 31; New Orleans, 65; New York, 61; Oregon City, 68; Philadelphia, 25; St. Louis, 74; St. Paul, 20; San Francisco, 4; Santa Fe, 23; Victoria, B.C., 16; Port of Spain, 4. There were 72 students entered on the rolls of the college in 1906; 62 in advanced or elementary theology, and 10 in philosophy.
The college has had four rectors since its inception, namely: the Very Rev. P. Kindekens, 1857-60; the Right Rev. Monsignor J. De Neve, 1860-91; the Right Rev. Monsignor Willemsen, who held the office from 1891 to 1898, when the present incumbent, the Very Rev. J. De Becker, assumed the charge. During the ill health of Monsignor De Neve, the Right Rev. Monsignor Dumont acted as pro-rector from 1871 to 1873, and the Rev. J. Pulsers from 1873 to 1881. Moreover, since the approval of the constitution of the college by the Holy See in 1895, and the exact definition of the duties of a vice-rector, this office has been held first, by the Very Rev Wm. Stand, D.D. (1895-99) now Bishop of Fall River, and by the Rev P. Masson, who is also professor of pastoral theology, liturgy, and sacred eloquence. There are 21 professors who give, at the University and at the College the lectures attended by all, or some of the students.
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