Saint Francis Seminary


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Saint Francis Seminary:
Through the Years

(from the final issue of the Brown and White)

St. Francis Seminary has a history reaching back a hundred and twenty-two years, though its story really begins fourteen years before that. 1844 was the year the Most Reverend Archbishop Purcell of Cincinnati appealed to the Franciscans of the Tyrol in Austria to come to his city to meet the needs of the German-speaking immigrants. Originally, the arrangement was intended to be temporary, but the severe need for priests in the growing German Catholic population made it clear to the friars that the Order had to look to a long future of service in the Cincinnati area. An institution would therefore be needed for the training of young men to carry on the work of the friars in the "New World". Four years after the arrival of the first Franciscan in the city, Father Otto fair, O.F.M., arrived from Tyrol. He soon became a close friend of Archbishop Purcell, who saw in him an administrative ability. He chose Fr. Otto as the man to set up the school that would become St. Francis Seminary. The first building was on Vine Street.

Two more Franciscans came from the Tyrol in 1858 for the purpose of assuming the tasks necessary for the educational work of the seminary. Fr. Archangelus Gatir was one of these men and he became the first rector. Fr. Francis De Paul Kolb, the other friar, would succeed him in 1861. The Seminary officially opened on the Feast of St. Francis, October 4th, 1858, with a Solemn High Mass in St. John's Church. Thirty young men from the various parishes in the city were enrolled. At the time, the school was called St. Francis Gymnasium, a German word designating an institution of classical learning. Eventually it was changed to the equivalent in English, College, and finally, in 1919, to its present name, St. Francis Seraphic Preparatory Seminary.

St. Francis Seraph Church on Vine Street was completed in 1859, and Fr. Otto began the construction of the friary. On October 4th, 1860, the friary was dedicated and several young men received their habits and entered the novitiate. Among these were five graduates of St. Francis College.

In 1861, St. Francis Seraph parish school was completed, and several of its classrooms were reserved for the exclusive use of the seminarians. A few years later, however) the parish needed the entire building and the students had to make do with the original building.

One year after the end of the Civil War, a branch of the seminary was opened in Louisville, Kentucky. It remained in operation for five years.

In 1867 a special building for the seminary was erected on Bremen Street near Vine. It was dedicated by Archbishop Purcell on Sunday, September 1, with a sermon delivered by Jesuit missionary, Reverend F. X. Wenninger. The new building was a three-story structure containing six large rooms: three classrooms, a chapel, and three rooms on the bottom floor which were for a time given to tenants. The few boarding students were housed with local families.

October 4th, 1883 was the silver jubilee of St. Francis Seminary, and at the celebration of Mass, Father Otto himself delivered the sermon. He joyfully related that in twenty-five years, 69 alumni had become priests, 57 of them Franciscan.

The custody of St. John the Baptist was created a province on March 25, 1886,- forty-two years after the coming of the first Tyrolese friar, Father William Unterthiner, to Cincinnati. Archbishop William Henry Elder officially executed the decree of Provincial erection.

Within two years of this event, the Seminary expanded its curriculum and its enrollment. Since the Friars had become more spread out in their ministry, recruits were coming in greater numbers from other states. The expansion occasioned the need for a larger building. The new structure, erected at 1615 Republic Street, contained five classrooms, a chapel, study hall, music room, laboratory, museum, cloak room, students" lunchroom, and faculty office. Archbishop Elder dedicated this new building on May 14, 1894.

The golden jubilee of the seminary was celebrated in 1908. The solemn Jubilee Mass was celebrated on Monday, October 5th. The speaker, Father Chrysostom Theobald, told that by now 241 alumni were priests, involved in parish and missionary work.

Board for the growing enrollment was becoming difficult now since St. Francis was then a day school. The previous solution of putting up out-of-towners in various homes had developed into a boarding house system to serve the needs of the seminarians. In these houses, the mother of the family saw to the domestic requirements of "her boys." However, the number of students kept growing and eventually rendered the boarding house system impractical. The end result was that St. Francis became a boarding school, but in a very congested part of the city. Finally, in January of 1921, the property for the new site was purchased, a tract of land in a spacious suburban, almost rural, location.

After a year of planning, plans for the building were approved. On the Feast of the Assumption, 1922, Provincial Edmund Klein blessed the site and broke the ground for the new structure. On February 22, 1923, Father Provincial laid the cornerstone with the help of Archbishop Daeger, O.F.M. of Santa Fe. On May 30, 1924, St. Francis Seraphic Seminary was dedicated by the Most Reverend Henry Moeller, Archbishop of Cincinnati.

A description of life in those days at St. Francis was provided by Father Floribert Blank in 1973 in an interview he gave on the occasion of the celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the seminary at its present location. Father Floribert related that in the early twenties daily schedule at St. Francis began with Holy Mass at 7:30, followed by a study period until classes started at 8:15. There were three classes in the morning, a fifteen-minute break and a study hall until lunch. After lunch classes went to 2:30. The students then had an hour of free time and an hour of study. It was then close to suppertime.

After supper it was free time till seven o'clock, at which time there was another study period which lasted until 8:30. It was then only half an hour till bed.

In the years that followed Father Floribert's time, many changes took place in the physical appearance of the building and grounds. Students of today who look at old photographs of the bygone era are surprised to see that in the early days the grounds immediately surrounding the building were quite bare. The tall pines that now tower over the front drive and the great oaks by the man-made lake were planted or transplanted here over a period of years. What has evolved is one of the most beautiful campuses that many have ever seen. Constant improvements are going on even in the present time, under the guidance and perservering hands of Father Aubert.

Also unfathomable to the modern day student accustomed to the power mower and tractor was the tremendous amount of time and labor their predecessors had to put in to keep the grounds neat and trim. An early issue of our August publication reports the all-day Saturday work. In time this was modified to daily housework. The schedule became tougher as time moved into the thirties and forties. The 1945 issue of the Brown and White recounts the following schedule: Rise in the morning at 5:45 (few of the present student body are even aware that such a time exists!). Mass at 6:00, breakfast at 6:45, study period at 7:30, classes at 8:00, fifteen-minute recreation at 10:30, singing until the eleven o'clock study period, and chapel at 11:50 for midday prayers. Lunch followed at noon and classes resumed at 1:00. At 2:30 it was recreation until it was time to go to chapel at 4:30. Another study period followed at 4:45, supper was at 6:00, study hall again at 7:15 which lasted until 8:35. There was free time then until Benediction at 8:45. The students were in bed by 9:30.

Father William Trummer remembers when the students used to care for farm animals here, mainly cows and chickens. For a time the students even raised crops in the spacious fields. This continued until the mid-thirties, though the cows were to remain for some years after.

Father Aldric Heidlage wrote of the curriculum, "No doubt, the development of the studies program through the years would prove a most interesting story, much too long, however, for present purposes. Certain points must be noted. From 1886-1930, the seminary program included a fifth year in order to bring the entire training curriculum under the legislative requirements of the Church.

"Before World War I, German was the language in which most of the teaching was done. Until the mid-l960's, the curriculum was primarily classical and required; while remaining collegeprep in character, emphasis has shifted to liberal arts together with a greater introduction of elective courses." College credit was given for that fifth year work. "Since at least 1951, it (St. Francis) has been approved by the State of Ohio Department of Education as a first grade, fouryear high school."

In 1949, St. Francis Seminary celebrated its twenty-fifth anniversary at the present location. the Brown and White in June of that year reported that from among the one thousand three hundred and thirty-nine students who had studied at St. Francis in these twenty-five years, one hundred and eighty- three were by then priests. One hundred and fifteen were at the time in the clericate, a novitiate, and ninety-four students were studying then at St. Francis.

In the decade that followed, enrollment continued to grow. By 1962, the number of students at the seminary exceeded two hundred, but the building had only been built to accommodate about one hundred fifty. From 1962 to 1964, half the student body was housed at St. Joseph Hall in Northside while changes were made at the Mill Road building to make more room, such as putting bunk-beds in the dorm and using classrooms for other purposes when classes were not in session.

In 1964-65, enrollment reached its peak: two hundred and twenty eight. It was planned then to build a new academic building which would house two study halls, eight classrooms, a reading laboratory, the students" library, a larger locker room and shower room, living quarters for three faculty members, consultation rooms, bowling alleys and a gym. The top floor of the old building would then be made into a large dormitory. The whole wing would be connected to the old building by an enclosed bridge.

Sadly, these plans had to be modified. The mid-sixties were also a time of changing attitudes in both the church and in America. Within a year enrollment dropped significantly.

From 1967 on through the early seventies, the seminary building underwent some drastic renovations. In July of '67, construction was begun on the new gym building, which was ready for use after Easter, 1969. About the same time, considerable remodeling was done on the lower floor, especially in the kitchen area. The new gym building meant that rooms previously used for the athletic activities could now provide space for other facilities. The bowling alley, library, reading room, biology lab and hobby shop came to occupy the location that formerly held the old gym, locker room, and shower room.

The next dramatic change took place in 1973. That summer the chapel, which had been lavishly and splendidly designed in Spanish style was stripped of statues, murals, and marble to bring in a more modern atmosphere of simplicity. The newly whitewashed room was furnished with a plain altar of polished wood. The crucifix, lecture and chairs matched it in simplicity. A screen divided the Blessed Sacrament Chapel from the main body of the church. The friars and students have continued to work to keep the most sacred place in our community beautiful and still strikingly simple.

In March of this year, when the decision to discontinue the seminary was publicly announced, it was reported by the province that in one hundred and twenty two years, St. Francis Seminary has educated four thousand, five hundred students, of whom six hundred and fifty have become priests, twenty have been professed brothers and six of our alumni have been bishops. Archbishop Daeger, who laid the cornerstone for the present building, was a graduate of St. Francis.

Such is the bare outline of a proud history. The true essentials are contained in an eternal spirit not easy to catch in words: a spirit of joy, faith, determination, and sense of responsibility. The personalities of many venerable men still continue to influence the community either through their successors or by their very presence in our community up to this time. We are confident that our spirit, and therefore our history, will continue for years to come as the young men trained here go out to serve the Lord and His people in so many ways.


Situated on 127 wooded acres on the northern outskirts of Cincinnati, St. Francis Seminary offers a classical four-year high school course to boys and young men who wish to prepare for the priesthood in the Franciscan Order.

Nearly 100 years old, St. Francis Seminary was begun on October 4, 1858, in downtown Cincinnati.

Requirements for Admission

Students are accepted after graduation from the eighth grade and from other high schools. Qualities looked for in a seminarian are good health, sufficient talent, good character, the right intention and approval of parents and pastor.

Field of Activities

St. Francis Seminary is staffed by the Franciscans of the Cincinnati Province of St. John the Baptist. They have parishes, schools, chaplaincies and missions in Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Kansas, Missouri, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana and Arkansas; abroad, in China.

Missions in the U. S.

The Franciscans have 19 mission chapels and 51 mission stations among the Navaho Indians; 18 churches and chapels among the various Pueblo Indians; 85 mission churches and chapels and 13 mission stations among the Mexicans and Spanish Americans; 16 mission churches and chapels and 4 mission stations among the Negroes.

Make Application Now

If you should like to be a Franciscan priest, you can write for more information to:

Reverend Father Rector, O.F.M.
10290 Mill Road Cincinnati 31, Ohio