Muench, Aloisius Joseph

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Cardinal and diplomat; b. Milwaukee, WI, Feb. 18, 1889; d. Rome, Italy, Feb. 15, 1962. He was the oldest of six children of immigrant German parents. After studies at St. Francis Seminary, Milwaukee, he was ordained on June 8, 1913, and served as assistant at St. Michael's Church, Milwaukee, and at the University Chapel, Madison. He received a master's degree (1919) from the University of Wisconsin and studied at the University of Fribourg, Switzerland, receiving his doctor's degree summa cum laude in the social sciences. Before returning to the United States, he spent a year auditing classes at Louvain, Cambridge, Oxford, London, and the Sorbonne. In 1922 he was appointed to St. Francis Seminary, Milwaukee, where he served as professor of dogma and as rector. On Aug. 10, 1935, he was named third bishop of fargo, North Dakota, and on Oct. 15, 1935, he was consecrated in the Gesu Church in Milwaukee by Archbishop Amleto Cicognani, apostolic delegate to the United States.

Assuming his new duties at the height of the Depression, Muench proved himself an able administrator. He organized the Catholic Church Expansion Fund to save many mortgaged and indebted parishes and to provide capital funds for future expansion. He founded a diocesan newspaper, established diocesan seminary scholarships, organized a priests' mutual aid fund, convoked the first synod in the diocese, and published a synodal book of diocesan legislation. Active in many social conferences and organizations, he was a staunch supporter of the Catholic Central Union and was prominent in the National Catholic Rural Life Conference, serving two terms as its president. With two priests of the Fargo diocese, William T. Mulloy and Vincent J. Ryan (both later bishops), Muench edited a sociological work, Manifesto on Rural Life. He was a member of the pontifical commission for the Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C., and of the episcopal Commission for Peace among Peoples, as well as of the international organization Pax Romana. Throughout his 23 years as bishop of Fargo he wrote an annual Lenten pastoral letter for distribution among his flock. The most famous of these, "One World in Charity" (1946), was a plea for just treatment of our former enemies, and it condemned the Morgenthau plan of restricting Germany to a rural economy. A translation of this letter found wide distribution in Germany.

In February of 1946 Pope Pius XII appointed Muench apostolic visitator to Germany; shortly thereafter Secretary of War Robert P. Patterson named him liaison consultant for religious affairs to the military governor of Germany. In this capacity he was advisor to General Lucius Clay and his successors on matters involving the Catholic Church and the American Army of Occupation. He also functioned as administrator of the Vatican mission established by the Pope to provide for the spiritual and material needs of the refugees, expellees, and displaced persons in Germany. The National Catholic Welfare Conference also appointed Muench to serve as military vicar delegate for the Catholics serving in the American Armed Forces in Germany. In November of 1949, in anticipation of Germany's independence and sovereignty, Pope Pius XII named Muench regent of the apostolic nunciature in Germany, and a year later granted him the personal title of archbishop. On March 6, 1951, when Germany became sovereign, Muench as papal nuncio was the first diplomat to present his credentials to the West German government; he was named dean of the diplomatic corps. In gratitude for his varied and signal services to the German people, Theodore Heuss, President of the West German Republic, conferred upon Muench Germany's highest honor, the Grand Cross of the Order of Merit on Dec. 20, 1957.

On Dec. 9, 1959, Pope John XXIII made Muench a member of the College of Cardinals with the title of St. Bernard at the Baths. He was the first American to serve actively as a cardinal in the Roman Curia. He was a member of the Sacred Congregations of Religious, Rites, and Extraordinary Affairs, as well as protector of a number of religious communities. He died in Rome at Villa Salvator Mundi, after receiving personally the apostolic blessing of Pope John XXIII; his remains were interred in St. Mary's Cemetery, Fargo.

[g. m. weber]