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Frozen in Time: Origin of Saint John’s University [VIDEO]

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COLLEGEVILLE – Saint John’s University is one of the most historic schools in Minnesota with its origins being traced back to the mid-1800’s.

It all started with Boniface Wimmer, a German monk, who established the first Benedictine monastery – St. Vincent’s in Pennsylvania in 1846. He later accepted an invitation of the Bishop of St. Paul, Joseph Cretin, to send priests to the northern part of the St. Paul diocese and to found a house in the area.

In 1856 a group of five monks were sent west from the monastery by steamboat.

Saint John’s archivist Peggy Roske says it was from here that the group of monks settled in Central Minnesota.

“Monks made their way to St. Cloud-they were offered a piece of land to use on the banks of the Mississippi,” Roske says.

The group of monks began exploring and settling in the area. Between 1856 and 1864, the group moved back and forth from St. Cloud to St. Joseph due to land disputes.

“They left Germany in 1846 and came to St. Cloud in 1856….in 1858 because of the litigation of land, they moved to St. Joe and lived here for a few years,” Roske says.

Eventually, in 1864, the group settled in the Collegeville area.

“They decided that things looked a lot rosier up the hill where Lake Sagatagan is-where we are today,” Roske says.

The school started out as an educational institution for training monks and teachers.

The first buildings of the school were described as a “frail shed built of boards”-a log building about 12 x 20 and another one 14 x 20. The second building had an attic, with a kitchen, studio and a spare room.

There was only one professor at the time (Cornelius Wittmann) and there was room for an occasional guest.

Complete early chronology (Information from Archivist Peggy Roske):

  • 1846: Boniface Wimmer leaves Metten, Germany for Pennsylvania, founds St. Vincent’s.
  • 1856: Monks leave Pennsylvania; arrive in St. Cloud.
  • 1858: Monks move to St. Joseph because of St. Cloud land litigation.
  • 1861: Civil War breaks out.
  • 1862: Indian uprising
  • 1864: St. Cloud land litigation goes against St. John’s; Monks move to Indian Bush (Collegeville Station).
  • 1866: Monks move to the shores of Lake Sagatagan.

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