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Dwenger, Josesph Gerhard


Second bishop of Fort Wayne, Ind.; b. Maria Stein, Ohio, Sept. 7, 1837; d. Fort Wayne, Jan. 22, 1893. His parents, Gerhard Henry and Maria Catherina (Wirdt) Dwenger, were immigrants from Ankum, Hanover, Prussia. Joseph lost his father at the age of three. His widowed mother moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, where Joseph attended Holy Trinity, the first German parochial school in the state. In 1849 his mother died of cholera, and young Joseph was cared for by the Society of the Precious Blood, which he entered five years later at Thompson, Ohio. He was sent to Mt. St. Mary's Seminary, Cincinnati, for the last two years of his preparation for the priesthood. By papal dispensation, he was ordained at 22 years of age on Sept. 4, 1859.

Dwenger's first assignment was the supervision of the society's seminary program, which had been under criticism by ecclesiastical authorities. He was instrumental in obtaining a site for St. Charles Seminary at Carthagena, Ohio, where he was rector until 1864. That year he was assigned the pastorates of Wapakoneta and St. Mary's, Ohio, with missions at Glynnwood and Celina. In 1866 he attended the Second Plenary Council of Baltimore as theologian to Abp. John B. Purcell and as representative of his society. He was occupied from 1868 to 1872 in giving missions in Ohio, Indiana, and Kentucky.

On April 14, 1872, Dwenger was consecrated by Purcell to succeed Bp. John H. Luers at Fort Wayne. He was not yet 35 years of age and was the youngest bishop in the U.S. For the next 20 years he labored to strengthen his young diocese. Having been orphaned himself, he took special interest in providing orphan asylums for boys in Lafayette, Ind., and for girls in Fort Wayne. He also developed a parochial school system, dividing the diocese into several school districts, and establishing a diocesan school board to conduct annual inspections in each parish. His system was adopted by the provincial synod of Cincinnati, and by the Third Plenary Council of Baltimore in 1884. This council selected him to present its decrees to the Holy Father for approval. He had previously gone to Rome and to Lourdes in 1874, as leader of the first national pilgrimage to these sites. During his last years, Dwenger's name was associated with the cahens ly controversy, and he was subjected to unfounded charges that were made against his patriotism.

Bibliography: h. j. alerding, The Diocese of Fort Wayne, 1857-September 22, 1907 (Fort Wayne 1907). f. j. zwierlein, Life and Letters of Bishop McQuaid 3 v. (Rochester 192527) v. 2, 3.

[p. j. knapke]

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