Louvain, American College at
LOUVAIN, AMERICAN COLLEGE AT
The official title is: The American College of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It was originally founded in 1857 to train European priests for work in the U.S. The project originated with Martin J. Spalding, Bishop of Louisville, Ky., who was in Belgium in 1852 to recruit priests for the U.S. The idea was warmly received by the Belgian hierarchy but opposed by Francis P. Kenrick, Archbishop of Baltimore, who at that time was more interested in establishing an American College in Rome. Political disturbances, however, made the Roman project impossible. The Rev. Peter kindekens, Vicar-general of Detroit, Mich., who was sent to Rome for that purpose, returned to his native Belgium where he found the Belgian hierarchy still interested in the American College. On his return to the U.S., Kindekens wrote to the American hierarchy pointing out the feasibility of a foundation in Louvain (1) to serve as a seminary for the training of European clergy for mission work in the U.S., and (2) to provide the American bishops with a college to which at least some of their students might be sent to acquire a well-rounded clerical training.
The bishops approved the project but could not offer any financial aid with the exception of Spalding and Peter Paul lefevere of Detroit, who made the project their own and promoted monetary support. In February 1857 Kindekens returned to Belgium as rector, and the college was opened on March 19 in an old Benedictine college that had been founded in 1629. In April 1858 the American College sent its first missionaries to the U.S., two to Detroit and two to Louisville, in gratitude to the two bishops, Spalding and Lefevere, who were regarded as founders.
The students followed the theology courses partly at the College and partly at the University until 1877, when the University course was discontinued and the students attended the lectures in moral theology and Scripture given by the Jesuits. In 1898 the Jesuit courses were discontinued and the Belgian hierarchy established a full course in elementary theology at the University. In 1894 the rules and constitution of the American College were approved; and in 1899 the college was officially affiliated with the University of Louvain.
In 1906 two major events marked the progress of the College: the definitive approval of the rules by Pope pius x and the establishment of a department of philosophy. By 1907, the 50th anniversary of its founding, the American College had sent more than 700 priests to the U.S., and counted among its alumni 15 archbishops and bishops. In 1914, under the direction of the rector, Rev. Jules DeBecker, extensive improvements were undertaken— the property was enlarged, and a new building was added. August of 1914 brought the outbreak of World War I, the invasion of Belgium, and a long period of hardship and destruction.
After World War I, DeBecker, with the approval of the American hierarchy, began the reconstruction of the College and classes were resumed in 1919. The first America vice-rector, Rev. Charles Curran of Rhode Island, was named to assist DeBecker, and the first American students arrived—18 in number—in November. From this period onward, the American College passed from a training center for European priests destined for the American missions to a European center of training primarily for American priests.
During the German occupation of Belgium in World War II, the college building was used as a garrison by the occupying forces, and for a time after the war, the university used the American College as a residence for students. At the time a debate was taking place in the United States as to whether or not the American College had outlived its usefulness. The college had prepared over 1,000 priests for the apostolate and gave five bishops to the Church between 1931 and 1939. In 1949 its rector, De Strycker, died and the college was closed. In the same year the issue of maintaining the college was presented to the American hierarchy. After much deliberation, the college was reopened and the Rev. Thomas F. Maloney of the Providence diocese was appointed as the first American Rector of the college. Maloney's first task was to regain the use of the college buildings.
Maloney worked closely with Msgr. Honoré van Waeyenbergh, rector magnificus of the university, to negotiate the return of the American College to the American hierarchy. The college officially reopened on Sept. 30, 1952 with seminarians from 20 U.S. dioceses. Classes, open to other seminarians, were conducted in the college by the professors of the University's schola minor of theology, including Joseph Coppens. Philosophy students attended courses at the Higher Institute of Philosophy. Under Maloney's leadership and with the continued support of alumni bishops, the college enrollment continued to grow. With the opening of the 1955–56 academic year, the seminary population had reached 114 students sponsored by 26 dioceses. The number was the largest in the history of the college which now had a full complement of two years of philosophy and four years of theology.
Maloney's rectorship was marked by his friendship with the guardian of the Irish (Franciscan) College and the cooperation of van Waeyenbergh, now a bishop and an influential figure in the International Federation of Catholic Universities. Maloney, named an extraordinary professor of the university, lectured in pastoral theology at the university. In May 1960 Maloney was appointed auxiliary bishop of Providence, where he died on Sept. 10, 1962.
Rev. Paul D. Riedl, a 1935 alumnus of the college and priest of the Springfield, Mass., diocese, succeeded Maloney as rector. The early years of his rectorship (1960–1971) were an exciting period in the history of the college. Several of its university professors served as periti during Vatican Council II and many of the American Council Fathers visited the college on their way to or from sessions of the Council. Responsibility for the college was formally entrusted to a committee of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops (NCCB) whose membership consisted of one bishop from each of the 12 episcopal regions in the United States.
The latter years of Riedl's rectorship were a critical period for the college. The rapid decline in the number of American seminarians brought with it a rapid decrease in the number of American seminarians studying in Louvain. The postwar growth of the university and tensions between Belgium's Flemish and Walloon populations threatened and eventually brought about a splitting of the university. Walloon professors hoped that college students would attend classes on the planned campus at Louvain-la-Neuve. Flemish professors of theology, on the other hand, decided to inaugurate a program of theology with courses in English. They would include a number of professors from religious congregations, hitherto barred from university appointment except as "extraordinary professors." The American College remained in Louvain, now commonly called Leuven. Its enrollment of less than 50 seminarians were complimented by a number of priests in graduate studies.
Riedl and the Rev. Clement Pribil, vicerector of the college, worked closely with university professors in the development of the new English-language theology program. Two alumni of the college, Raymond F. Collins (Providence, '59) and Francis J. Manning (Oklahoma City, '60), were among the four visiting professors appointed in the new program that opened in October of 1969. In 1970, Pribil took over the mantle of leadership from Riedl (d. 1997) who then returned to his Springfield diocese. By that time, Collins had been appointed to succeed Pribil. Pribil's rectorship was marked by efforts to increase the enrollment of the college. In this task he was assisted by his successor, with whom he served as corector during the fall semester of 1971.
Collins' appointment resulted from the shared vision of the college's leadership, its NCCB committee, and the university faculty. Ties with the "English faculty" were the hallmark of Collins' tenure as rector. Collins was appointed a university docent in 1972 and was promoted to ordinary professor in 1977. He would remain in that capacity until he assumed the deanship of the School of Religious Studies at the catholic university of america in 1993. At one point college enrollment passed the century mark, with more than 80 seminarians and a score of priests in graduate studies. Almost 100 men were ordained to the priesthood during the Collins years.
When Collins resigned from the rectorship in 1978, he was succeeded by Rev. William Greytak, a priest of the Helena diocese and professor of history at Carroll College. Greytak brought with him the spirit of the West with the result that the college was no longer as oriented towards the U.S. northeast as it had been. He sold the villa property outside the city that had belonged to the college and negotiated with university officials for full title to the college's properties. Greytak returned to his post at Carroll College in 1983, entrusting the college rectorship to Rev. John J. Costanzo, a priest of the Pueblo, Co., diocese. Costanzo's rectorship (1983–88) was marked by stability in enrollment and emphasis on a development program, with the assistance of the Rev. Frank E. Lioi, formerly rector of the Rochester, N.Y., seminary.
In 1988, Monsignor Ivory of the Newark archdiocese became the seventh American rector of the American College. Ivory was an alumnus of the college and served as its spiritual director for a five-year period during Riedl's rectorship. Ivory's rectorship was marked by internal strife, resulting in the appointment of Rev. Melvin T. Long, of Salina, Kan., as interim rector in the spring of 1992. Ivory was the last of four successive American rectors of the college to possess an earned doctorate. Long had served as the college's first full-time director of pastoral formation during Collins' rectorship. At the time of his appointment as interim rector, Long was in charge of the Office of the American College located in the recently built NCCB-USCC building in Washington. He returned to the nation's capital in 1993 when Rev. David Windsor, CM, was appointed as rector.
Windsor was the first American rector of the college who had not been an alumnus. His tenure as rector was marked by the increased organization of the college staff, the use of modern technology, and attention to an American advisory board. His concern for the development of the college prompted Windsor to make repeated trips to the United States. Despite his efforts, enrollment continued to decline. When Windsor relinquished the rectorship to his vice-rector, Rev. Kevin A. Codd, an alumnus of the College and a priest of the Spokane, Wash., diocese in 2001, the college had reached its lowest ebb in enrollment.
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