Cardinal Muench Seminary

Cardinal Muench Seminary was established as a diocesan High School seminary in 1962, was expanded to a college seminary in 1966, and soon afterward became a regional college seminary. It was located on the north side of Fargo and closed in the summer of 2011.

A Brief History

A Cardinal’s Dream

Cardinal Muench Seminary was named after Cardinal Muench (for more on Cardinal Muench, read the biography of 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.

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Seminarians studying for the Diocese of Fargo

The Dream Comes True

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 ordered 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.


Portrait of Bishop Dworschak

Bishop Dworschak

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, bishop of the Diocese of Fargo from 1947-1960, 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.”

CAN, Vol. 25, No. 4, April 1962, page 2

Cardinal Muench Seminary opened in the fall of 1962 with 41 students, 38 freshman and 3 juniors. 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.

Growth and Expansion

As the number of seminarians grew, the facility became inadequate. Bishop Dworschak proposed that a new building be established. A site was chosen on the north side of Fargo. At the time, the new seminary 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.

exterior of cardinal muench seminary

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 matriculated at NDSU. The seminary provided Philosophy, Humanities and Classics instructors to the University.

Seminarians enrolled in each CMS program

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 surrounding dioceses have studied at Cardinal Muench Seminary.

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,” but eventually the “Pre-Theology Program” developed. At first it was a 1-year program, but 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.

Another event that occurred in 1972 was the ordination of the first CMS alumnus as a priest.

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Total number of seminarians at CMS

In 1991 the Vianney Discernment Program was introduced to help young men discerning a vocation to the priesthood. They lived in community, engaged in prayer and received spiritual direction. Of the 40 men who have participated in the program, 15 have entered the seminary, and, as of the spring of 2013, six have been ordained priests.

Decline

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 would come to an end. That day was Friday, May 13, 2011, the Feast of Our Lady of Fatima.

Seminarians entering seminary

Paul Denning, Gordon Kuklok and John Martineau entering the original CMS building in 1963.

Seminarian leaving seminary

Lee Fortin was the last seminarian to leave CMS in 2011.
(It rained that sad day.)

During its 49 year history, 923 young men participated in the various Cardinal Muench Seminary programs, 364 graduated from the High School or College programs, and, as of the spring of 2013, 123 have been ordained priests.

Contact Information

The records of Cardinal Muench Seminary are maintained by the Diocese of Fargo. Correspondence should be sent to:

Cardinal Muench Seminary
c/o Diocese of Fargo
5201 Bishops Blvd., Suite A
Fargo, ND 58104