Our 200 Year History
Mount St. Mary’s Seminary, the second-oldest Catholic theologate in the United States, opened its doors in 1808. Fr. John DuBois, the Mount’s founder and a refugee from the French revolution, arrived in the United States in 1791 bearing a letter of introduction from Lafayette, whose wife he had once counted among his parishioners. Fr. DuBois made the acquaintance of many of the Founding Fathers of the Republic, and offered his services to the first Catholic bishop in the United States, the Most Reverend John Carroll of Baltimore.
His mission territory extended through central Maryland and the Blue Ridge country. Shortly after founding St. John’s Church in Frederick, Maryland, the circuit-riding priest resolved to purchase for himself a small tract of land in northern Frederick County, not far from the Pennsylvania border, where earlier Catholic colonists from southern Maryland had christened the adjacent summit “Mount St. Mary.”
The missionary also desired to affiliate himself with the Society of St. Sulpice, whose members already operated St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore. As part of his service to the Society, Fr. DuBois agreed to open a “petit seminaire” or school where boys and young men could prepare for eventual entry into major seminary. Students from the Sulpician school at “Pigeon Hills” in Adams County, Pennsylvania were brought to the Mountain where they were soon joined by local boys.
Although the germ of the idea to found the Mount cannot be said to have originated with Fr. DuBois, he wasted no time in making the school into his life’s work. Joined in 1812 by the man revered as the Mount’s guardian angel, Fr. Simon Gabriel Bruté, Fr. DuBois and his small faculty strove to offer a full high school and college course to lay students and potential clerics alike, as well as a theological course to future diocesan priests. Although the Mount initially had to give up its theology students to the Baltimore seminary, it gradually won the permission to retain students until ordination. By the early 1820’s, ties to the Sulpicians were severed, and the Mount continued an independent existence under the Archbishop of Baltimore.
In the summer of 1809, Fr. DuBois had the honor of welcoming Mother Elizabeth Ann Seton and her first sisters to Emmitsburg. His earlier work with the Daughters of Charity in Paris was instrumental in the Emmitsburg Sisterhood adopting a modified version of the Daughters’ Rule. In addition, Mother Seton found in Fr. Bruté her ideal spiritual director. The period of the Mount’s infancy came to a close with the departure of Fr. DuBois in 1826, and Fr. Bruté in 1834, to head dioceses in New York and Vincennes, Indiana, respectively.
In 1830, a Maryland state charter was obtained for the Mount, allowing it to grant advanced degrees. The seminary division of the Mount has continued to train priests for the priesthood, drawing the majority of these from the Middle Atlantic States. Graduating classes were generally of modest size until the post-Vatican II period when the seminary enrollment increased dramatically, facilities were expanded, and the student body came to represent significant portions of the North, South, and Midwest. The Mount is a founding member of the National Catholic Education Association.
Early on, the Mount earned for itself the distinction “Cradle of Bishops.” By its centennial year, the entire institution could boast of some 28 episcopal alumni, including the Most Rev. John Hughes (seminary class of 1826), who succeeded Bishop DuBois and became the first Archbishop of New York, and his Eminence John Cardinal McCloskey (seminary class of 1831), also Archbishop of New York and first native-born American cardinal. By 2009, just after its bicentennial year, the Mount boasts 51 episcopal alumni, including the following:
Most Rev. William B. Friend (s'1959), Bishop of Shreveport;
Most Rev. Harry J. Flynn (s'1960), Archbp.of St. Paul-Minnpls;
Most Rev. William E. Lori (s'1977), Bishop of Bridgeport;
Most Rev. Michael O. Jackels (s'1981), Bishop of Wichita;
Most Rev. Paul S. Coakley (s'1983), Bishop of Salina;
Most Rev. James D. Conley (s'1985), Auxil.Bishop of Denver;
Most Rev. Barry C. Knestout (s'1989), Auxil.Bp. of Washington;
Most Rev. Edward J. Burns (s'1983), Bishop of Juneau.
At present, Mount seminary alumni total more than 2,000, with approximately half of whom are alive and active in priestly ministry.