American College of the Immaculate Conception

The American College of the Immaculate Conception, or the American College of Louvain, was a Roman Catholic seminary in Leuven, Belgium, which operated under the auspices of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Founded in 1857, the American College closed as a seminary in June 2011.

The American College from Naamsestraat
American College, Louvain


The College was founded in 1857 by the bishops of the United States, under the leadership of Bishop Martin J. Spalding of Louisville and Bishop Peter Paul Lefevere of Detroit. Its founding purpose was twofold: to train young European men to serve as missionary priests in North America and to give American seminarians the opportunity to study at the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven.[1]

The front gate of the American College, which contains some of the stonework from the college's predecessor, the Aulne College

The College grew rapidly in its early years, most notably under the lengthy rectorship of John De Neve, its second rector. It is estimated that approximately eight hundred priests trained at the American College went on to serve in the American missions during the second half of the nineteenth century. They served in dioceses and vicariates all across the United States, and had a huge impact on the young American Church.[2] Many served as bishops of newly formed dioceses, including the "Apostle of Alaska" Charles John Seghers; the second archbishop of San Francisco, Patrick Riordan; and the founding bishops of Boise and Helena, Alphonse Glorieux and John Baptist Brondel.

The College continued to train young men for service to the Church in the United States into the twentieth century under the rectorship of Jules De Becker. The seminary remained open even through the First World War, preserving some of the books and treasures of Leuven, including the famous medieval statue of the Sedes Sapientiae, through the conflict and the widely decried burning of Louvain by German troops. During the war, the college took on the roles of emergency hospital and dispensary of food and clothing, at times helping as many as fifteen hundred people per day. The seminary survived the war and continued to operate until 1939, when it was forced to close just before the Second World War.[1]

A stone carving of a Native American chief in the facade of the American College, reflecting the College's historic commitment to the American missions.

After its 1952 re-opening under the rectorship of Thomas Francis Maloney, the College educated and formed hundreds of priests for the Church in the United States. In addition to its primary mission of seminary formation, the American College expanded to accommodate priests and religious seeking higher education degrees at the university and offered a variety of sabbatical opportunities for priests, religious, and lay ecclesial ministers from around the world.[3][4]

On November 22, 2010, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops released a statement, reading in part, "Due to the small number of seminarians and available priest faculty, the American College of the Immaculate Conception in Leuven, Belgium, has announced its closure in June 2011."[5] After 154 years, the college closed its green doors for the last time, leaving the Pontifical North American College in Rome as the only European seminary governed directly by the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops.[5]

The College's signature song was a Marian hymn, O Sodales, authored by Gustave Limpens in 1862.

Current useEdit

In the two years immediately following the closing of the seminary, the American College housed the Mater Dei religious community. The Mater Dei community is a small international community of 15 men, mostly priests, who study at the Faculty of Theology. The community was initially formed as a place for priests and lay theologians who could not find housing elsewhere, but quickly built an identity of its own with the help of the Dean, Lieven Boeve, of the Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies, KU Leuven. Mater Dei currently cares for the chapel on site, offering daily masses and rosaries. The current superior of the community is Martin Kallungal.

The College underwent significant renovations beginning in the fall of 2013 to prepare it to be housing for other students, including Mater Dei and the St. Damien Community of students and researchers from the United States studying philosophy, theology and canon law at the Universities of Louvain.


The American College is located within the city of Leuven, along the Naamsestraat (Dutch: Namur Street). Leuven lies within the Archdiocese of Mechelen-Brussel.

The college always had a close relationship with Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, particularly its faculty of theology. KUL's Maria Teresa College, which hosts the faculties of theology and canon law, is a ten-minute walk away from the American College.

Sponsorship and governorshipEdit

While a seminary, the American College was sponsored and overseen by the Catholic bishops of the United States. It was one of only two "national" seminaries for the United States in the sense of sponsorship by the conference of bishops as a whole, the other being the North American College in Rome. The American College was actually the older of the two institutions, founded two years before its "younger sister" in Rome.

The grounds of the American College. The college's main building is visible through the trees.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops oversaw the college by way of the Committee for the American College, which functioned as a board of directors. Fourteen U.S. bishops sat on that committee, and the committee chair at the time of the seminary's closure was the Most Reverend David Laurin Ricken of the Diocese of Green Bay. The college also had an advisory board, made up of both lay and clerical supporters of the college.[6]

At the close of the 2010-2011 academic year, there were nineteen seminarians in formation with the college. Their sponsoring dioceses were: Boise, Cheyenne, Congregation of Holy Cross, Green Bay, Lublin, Madison, Milwaukee, Orange, Portland (Oregon), Rochester, Salford, and Spokane.[7]


The primary mission of the American College was the formation of priests with a missionary spirit. Its alumni went forth to serve as many of the priests, professors, and missionaries of the Catholic Church in North America. Up until its closing in 2011, the College continued to form and educate young men for the priesthood, primarily for dioceses in the United States. In addition to the classes offered by the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, the College seminary provided a comprehensive program of human, spiritual, intellectual, and pastoral formation for seminarians.

The College also hosted graduate students pursuing higher studies in theology or canon law, sent by their dioceses or religious congregations. For many years, the American College also ran a semester-long sabbatical program for priests, religious, or laity sent by their dioceses or religious congregations. Both the graduate students and sabbaticals took classes through the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven while living at and participating in opportunities provided by the college.


On August 19, 2011, representatives of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and the Board of Directors of the American College of the Immaculate Conception, Catholic University of Louvain signed an agreement providing for the future use of the property of the American College and for the renewal of the long-standing cooperation among the USCCB, the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (KU Leuven) and the Université catholique de Louvain (UCLouvain).[8]

The agreement provides that the building in which the seminary functioned has been entrusted to the KU Leuven. This University will thoroughly renovate and update the building, as was done with other historical and University patrimony in the past. Besides serving as a residence for university students, the building will also house a significant new cooperative project, established jointly by the USCCB and KU Leuven, in close consultation with the bishops' conference of Belgium and the francophone sister University in Louvain-la-Neuve (UCLouvain). Through this project, students and researchers will be recruited from the worldwide Catholic community, especially from the United States. Its working language will be English. The students and scholars will be priests, deacons, members of religious institutes and new Catholic movements, and lay persons. The students and scholars will participate in research and/or educational activities at the KU Leuven and/or UCLouvain. In particular, the project will promote work at the faculties with programs in theology, canon law and philosophy. The "Peter Kindekens Fund," named after the first rector of the American College, was created in the name of the USCCB. The general goal of the Fund is to support educational and research activities which preserve and further the spiritual heritage of the College or ensure that the window to the worldwide Catholic community in general and to the Catholic Church in the USA in particular, as was formerly provided by the College, be maintained. This Fund can also grant scholarships in fulfillment of the goals of the project and will administer existing scholarship funds already associated with the College in order to continue to fulfill their intent to support the training of students and priests for service to the Church in the United States. The theological journal Louvain Studies was started by the students in 1966 and is now produced by the KU Leuven faculty.


The front foyer of the American College. The painting of Peter Kindekens, the college's founding rector, greets visitors to the seminary.

Episcopal alumniEdit

Over the years, a number of graduates of the American College have been appointed to the episcopacy. Bishop-alumni of the college include:

The reredos of the American College's chapel of the Immaculate Conception.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b "The American College: A Historical Perspective". The American College of Louvain. Archived from the original on 2006-10-20. Retrieved 2007-02-22.
  2. ^ Codd, Kevin, and Brian Dick: The American College of Louvain: America's Seminary in the Heart of Europe, page 47. Peeters, nv, 2007.
  3. ^ Kevin A. Codd, "The American College of Louvain", The Catholic Historical Review,XCIII, No. 1, (2007).
  4. ^ Dick, John. "The American College's contributions | National Catholic Reporter". Retrieved 2013-10-02.
  5. ^ a b "(Office of Media Relations) American College in Leuven, Belgium to Close in 2011". USCCB. 2010-11-22. Retrieved 2013-10-02.
  6. ^ "The American College Boards". The American College of Louvain. Archived from the original on 2006-10-19. Retrieved 2007-04-15.
  7. ^ "Residents of the College: Seminary". The American College of Louvain. Archived from the original on 2006-12-06. Retrieved 2007-04-15.
  8. ^ "USCCB News:Heritage of American College In Leuven, Belgium Preserved By USCCB And K.U.Leuven". 2011-08-22. Retrieved 2013-10-02.

External linksEdit

Coordinates: 50°52′23″N 4°41′58″E / 50.87306°N 4.69944°E / 50.87306; 4.69944