Fargo, Diocese of
FARGO, DIOCESE OF
Suffragan of the Metropolitan See of Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota, embracing the eastern part of North Dakota, an area of 35,786 square miles. The Diocese of Fargo (Fargensis) was established on Nov. 12, 1889, as the Diocese of Jamestown, but the see city was changed to Fargo, April 6, 1897. When the diocese was established, it embraced all of North Dakota, with about 19,000 Catholics, many of them Native American; 30 priests; 40 churches; one hospital; three parochial schools; and an academy for girls.
The first bishop, John Shanley, was consecrated on Dec. 27, 1889, and governed the new diocese under extreme missionary conditions. His episcopacy was characterized by efforts on behalf of the Native Americans, social reforms, and the movement for temperance. He founded and edited the Bulletin of the Diocese of Fargo and contributed an article of historical significance to the Collections of the State Historical Society of North Dakota. When he died on July 16, 1909, there were in the diocese 110 priests, 215 churches, 15 parochial schools, four Native American schools, six academies for girls, five hospitals, and an orphanage.
Prior to the appointment of James O'Reilly as second bishop of Fargo (1910–34), the western part of North Dakota was detached and established in 1910 as the Diocese of Bismarck. O'Reilly, consecrated on May 19, 1910, consolidated the work of his predecessor. Despite the years of drought and depression, which, toward the end of his life, brought many parishes to the brink of bankruptcy, O'Reilly established 34 new parishes and supervised the erection of 56 churches, 54 rectories, 24 schools, and seven hospitals.
On Aug. 10, 1935, Aloisius J. muench was appointed bishop of Fargo and assumed charge of the diocese in the depths of the Depression. He organized the Catholic Church Expansion Fund to refinance mortgaged parishes and to provide credit for future parish development. Muench established the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine and founded Catholic Action News, a monthly diocesan newspaper. In 1941 he convened the first diocesan synod and published a Synodal Book of diocesan legislation. He established diocesan scholarships for needy seminarians and the Priests Mutual Aid Fund for sick, disabled, and retired priests. On the national scene he was active in the Catholic Rural Life Movement and the Catholic Central Union (Verein). In 1946 Muench was appointed apostolic visitator to Germany; he was granted the personal title of archbishop in 1950, appointed papal nuncio to Germany in 1951, and created cardinal priest and elevated to the Roman Curia on Dec. 14, 1959. With his appointment to the College of Cardinals, Muench resigned as bishop of Fargo.
During the absence of Muench in Germany, Leo F. Dworschak administered the affairs of the diocese as auxiliary bishop from 1947 to 1959 and succeeded to the see in 1960. During the early years of his episcopacy, ongoing construction of new churches, hospitals, and other Catholic institutions kept pace with the other dioceses in the U.S. Dworschak inaugurated a Diocesan Development Program (DDP) to support diocesan needs and ensure capital expansion. He was present at Vatican II and began the implementation of conciliar reforms in the diocese. Following the council, he established a Diocesan Pastoral Council. In 1969, he oversaw the construction of a high school and college seminary for the Diocese of Fargo that was dedicated in memory of his predecessor. Cardinal Muench Seminary was an ambitious project for a diocese of Fargo's size. In 1969, Dworschak and Bishop Hilary B. Hacker of Bismarck created the North Dakota Catholic Conference, which continues to serve as the liaison of the Catholic community to the political community of the North Dakota.
Upon the retirement of Bishop Dworschak in 1970, his successor, Justin A. Driscoll, was consecrated at Saint Mary's Cathedral, Fargo, on Oct. 28, 1970. Bishop Driscoll's initial responsibilities included the continuing implementation of the various initiatives of the Second Vatican Council. To improve the administration of the diocese, he expanded the number of deaneries from seven to nine. In accord with postconciliar decrees of Pope Paul VI, Driscoll created the first Priest Senate, later known as the Priest Council, in 1972. He instituted the Permanent Diaconate program in 1977 and took an interest in the Catholic press of the diocese, changing the title of the Catholic Action News to the New Earth. Bishop Driscoll's episcopal ministry came to an unexpected conclusion with his sudden death at an ecumenical conference on Nov. 19, 1984; he was 64.
During Holy Week of 1985, Bishop James S. Sullivan, auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of Lansing, was appointed the sixth bishop of Fargo. One of Sullivan's first duties as bishop was the implementation of the Code of Canon Law of 1983. Following the guidelines of the new Code, Bishop Sullivan commissioned the creation of an all-encompassing diocesan Policy Manual. Sullivan placed great emphasis on priestly vocations. At the peak of his vocational effort, nearly 50 men were studying for the priesthood. He was also responsible for organizing and presiding over the centennial celebrations for the Diocese of Fargo in 1989. Sullivan successfully completed an ambitious capital campaign to provide for the support of retired priests. In the early 1990s, he established the nationally recognized "Opening Doors, Opening Hearts" program in which every one of the diocese's 30,000 homes was visited by parish leaders.
Anticipating Sullivan's retirement, the Holy See announced the appointment of Samuel J. Aquila as coadjutor bishop of the Diocese of Fargo on June 17, 2001. Aquila, rector of Saint Vianney Seminary in Denver, Colorado, was consecrated at Saint Mary's Cathedral on August 24 and given charge of the administration of the diocese, thereby allowing Sullivan to assume a more spiritual and pastoral ministry to the people of the diocese. As Aquila began his episcopacy, 25 percent of the total population within the diocesan boundaries were Catholics, organized in 160 parishes administered by 120 priests. Aquila inherited the urgent need to address parish and priestly ministry in light of the rapid demographic shift from rural to urban areas prompted by significant changes in the agricultural economy.
Bibliography: l. pfaller, The Catholic Church in Western North Dakota, 1738–1960 (Mandan, ND 1960).
[g. m. weber/
s. r. w. reiske]