The Administration of Abbot Bernard Locnikar, 1890-1894 


During the vacation months the few students whose privilege it was to remain at the institution were not allowed to indulge in the unprofitable amusement of doing nothing. But were set to work a few hours every day improving the “park” as the peninsula known as Boniface Point came to be called. The heavy undergrowth and shrubbery was cut out, roads made the bridge repaired and the old band-pavilion that stood in the rear of the Exhibition Hall removed to a prominent place at the Point. In this way the playgrounds were extended and a pleasant resort created for those who relished a walk in the shade of the summer foliage.

Students of the 1880’s will remember how they were not only roused from their slumbers by the brazen sound of a large hand-bell, but how that instrument was also employed to announce study time and give the signal for the opening of classes and other exercises. The electric age had dawned and to keep abreast of the times a set of electric call-bells were installed, which connected the Prefect’s desk with every part of the vast buildings.

History moved on smoothly and quietly; classes were organized, the literary societies went to work unusually early, several games of baseball were played, the strumming of a banjo and a mandolin were added to the varieties of music already at hand, and the chemistry class was so enthusiastic at its experiments that on one occasion “the entire building from turret to foundation stone was filled with the consequences.”

Upon the erection of the diocese of St. Cloud and after the resignation of the late Bishop Rupert Seidenbusch, who had presided over Northern Minnesota in the capacity of a Vicar Apostolic, Dr. Otto Zardetti was appointed as the first incumbent of the new see.  He received the episcopal consecration at the venerable Benedictine monastery of Einsiedeln, in Switzerland, on October 20, 1889.  Towards the end of November he arrived in St. Cloud and was the guest of St. John’s on Thanksgiving Day, the 28th of that month.   For this purpose the interior of the buildings had been profusely decorated and no pains bad been spared to offer the new prelate a reception worthy of his dignity.  At the ecclesiastical functions on Thanksgiving Day he occupied the throne in the sanctuary and at the conclusion of the services he delivered a brief but eloquent address. He also assisted at the musical and theatrical performances that had been prepared to grace the occasion.   The members of the St. Boniface Literary Association presented a five-act drama, entitled “Kronen und Palmen.” Bishop Zardetti never lost an opportunity during the four years of his administration of the see of St. Cloud to visit St. John’s on festival occasions and his eloquent addresses, which revealed a rare degree of scholarship, never failed to impress the student body.

Shortly before Thanksgiving Day, Father Chrysostom Schreiner had returned from a European trip and resumed the duties of the office of vice-president.In December came the news of the resignation of Abbot Alexius Edelbrock, who had administered a burdensome and responsible office fourteen years. About a month later, death removed from the scene one of the most familiar faces at the institution— Father Ulric Northman, the former vice-president, who, departed this life after a brief illness on Jan. 21, 1890. His demise was deeply regretted by a wide circle of friends, and many expressions of sympathy were received at the institution. For a little more than two decades he had without interruption been connected with the college as a, teacher of music and other branches and for ten years had been vice-president.

An attractive feature of the winter evenings was a series of lectures on Rome, Egypt and the Holy Land, illustrated by stereopticon views. A fine lantern was purchased and Father Chrysostom, who had just returned from a visit to these countries, spoke interestingly of those historic places.

Early in April, Father Bernard Locnikar, then pastor of the church of the Assumption in St., Paul, was elected vicar of the monastic chapter; on May 7 following he was, elected abbot, in which capacity he was also to be president of the University. In the evening of the day of his election, the students prepared an enthusiastic reception for him and greeted him with speeches and music. The new abbot had been vice-president of the college during the school year of 1873, after his ordination to the priesthood had been promoted to several monastic offices, including that of prior, but, owing to feeble health, had begged to be relieved and assigned work in the mission. Since 1879 he had been stationed in St. Paul, first as an assistant and since 1888 as pastor. The approval of his election was received from Rome on August 2nd and on the 27th of the same month he was solemnly installed as the third abbot of St. John’s Abbey.  Abbot Bernard was a holy priest and a scholarly gentleman, whose erudition won him the respect and admiration of the clergy in the Northwest.  In. the administration of his new duties his connection with student affairs was necessarily very slight; still the gentleness, of his character and his deep piety could not fail to impress more profoundly than eloquent words.

In the course of the summer a number of improvements were made: new bathrooms were fitted up, extensive and substantial stabling built. During summer vacation the water tower, which contains a steel tank with a capacity of about 2800 bbls., was built and the steeple of Stella Maris chapel repaired.  While a force were busily at work making the island “a thing of beauty and an abode of delight” a very sad accident happened.  On the 3rd of July, at 10 o’clock in the forenoon, Frater Anselm Bartholmy, one of the prefects of the Junior department lost his life while carrying sod in a boat to the island. Owing either to the weight of the sod or to some unforeseen leak in the boat, it sank and Frater Anselm was drowned. The body was recovered the next day.

The closing exercises of the scholastic year were of the simplest character and consisted merely of the award of class honors and a brief address to the outgoing class.  Twelve medals were awarded and the degree of Master of Accounts conferred on 24 graduates.  The total enrollment of students was 172 (19 being seminarians, and 153 in all other departments).


The change of administration of the abbey caused practically no changes in the faculty of the University, except the reappointment of Father Norbert Hofbauer as principal of the Commercial Department. Father Jerome Heider, the late principal, was assigned missionary work.

For several years the lack of appropriate astronomical instruments had been severely felt. The faculty realized that now the time had come to provide the class with a suitable observatory and outfit. In the fall a small observatory was constructed on the top of the water tower and in February 1891, a telescope was installed. It was an equatorial, having a four-inch achromatic object glass of rare excellence. The mounting, made by Fauth & Co., Washington, D.C., was provided with right ascension and declination circles graduated into degrees and minutes, with verniers, with clamps and tangent screws for slow motion. A driving-clock was connected with the polar axis, by means of which any celestial object could be kept in the field of view for hours without any attention on the part of the observer. Four eyepieces of different magnifying powers completed the outfit.   Time proved that the location was unsuitable for such a delicate instrument; but for four years this lofty perch remained the conning tower of the local astronomers [until through the efforts of the present abbot ,Peter Engel, then professor of astronomy, the present commodious quarters were secured].

On Thanksgiving Day Bishop Zardetti honored the institution with his presence at the entertainment which was prepared by the dramatic and musical associations. The play performed was “The Proscribed Heir”; the music was unusually good and Mr. J.C. McCourt’s singing was highly appreciated. We may mention in passing, that Mr. McCourt subsequently entered the holy priesthood and went to his eternal reward in August, 1905.  In the evening Bishop Zardetti delivered a scholarly and eloquent address on “The Tokens of Providential Agency in the History of the United States.”

That was a comparatively snowless winter, for we read that on the 18th of January a game of baseball was played here between the Silver Crescents and the Black Diamonds, the score of which after eight innings stood even.

A few days later Father Chrysostom Schreiner, who had been vice president of the University since spring 1885, having recently resigned the office, left for the East to assume charge of the Bahama mission, which had been entrusted to the Fathers of St. John’s by the late Archbishop Corrigan of  New York. With all his wonted energy Father  Chrysostom took this difficult task in hand and despite countless discouragements bore the labors and hardships of this distant and humble mission with great patience. He was succeeded in the vice-presidency at St. John’s by Father Alexius Hoffmann. Father Chrysostom’s departure from the institution elicited many expressions of regret from his many friends. He did not forget them, however, but gave an interesting account of himself and of the conditions prevailing in his new field of labor through the columns of The Record.

On February 20, ruthless death took away in the flower of his youth Frater Felix Wolke, prefect of the Junior Department. He had been waging a hopeless battle against consumption for two months and expected to find some relief in a change of scene.  He had been permitted to visit his parent at Pierz, and there it was the final summons came.

Washington’s Birthday came and went; the celebration was not as brilliant as in former years. St. Patrick’s Day witnessed the time-honored parade around the “beat.”  On April 19, the cream of the home talent gave a musicale, the program of which displayed a charming variety of selections, including a sextet for citherns and violins. Among the visitors on this occasion was the Reverend Alexander Christie, since 1899 archbishop of Oregon City, who addressed the students on the importance of a thorough Christian elementary education.

Shortly before the close of the school term Mr. F.E. Searle lectured to the commercial class on free coinage, treating his subject without reference to political views and offering throughout an impartial statement or facts and figures to show the disadvantages of free coinage of silver.

On commencement day, June 24, twelve medals were awarded, and the degree of Master of Accounts was conferred on 38 graduates. The total enrollment was l98 (18 in the seminary and 180 in all other departments).


Among the improvements made for the new school year was a renovation of the play hall in the basement. A new bowling alley was fitted up, also a pool table, horizontal bar, chest weights, striking bag, Indian clubs and dumb bells were provided. The quarters were close and gloomy, and oil lamps lit up the place in the evening. Still it was a step towards a gymnasium, an ideal that was realized ten years later.

Much regret and surprise was caused by the resignation of Father Xavier White from the staff during vacation. He had been a professor of the higher English and mathematical classes since 1876, but was now beginning to feel the advance of old age and the pressure of infirmities as the result of years of missionary labor both before he became a member of the Benedictine Order and since that time. In course of the summer he went East with the intention of giving such aid as he could in the establishment of a parish in New York City. “His spirits kept up for a very short time,” says The Record (IV, 215) “when illness compelled him to resort to St. Francis Hospital, New York. Here the physicians pronounced his ailment cancer of the stomach.” Feeling that he was doomed he resolved to hasten back to Minnesota, in order that he might die in the midst of his brethren at the monastery. It was while at Tonawanda, New York, where be paid a short visit to his sister, that death over took him on September 26. He was interred by the Benedictine Fathers of St. Mary’s Abbey at Newark, New Jersey.

On November 1, the death of Father Meinrad Rettenmaier occurred at Duluth.  He was connected with the University, as a professor for a short time in 1883 and 1884, and for several years was superintendent of the Industrial School, which was established at St. John’s for Chippewa Indian boys in 1885.

An eclipse of the moon in November attracted the attention of the class in astronomy.  A meager report of the phenomenon strayed into the columns of The Record and since it is the first report of its kind, we reprint it in its entirety: “The conditions for observing the lunar eclipse of November 15 were very unfavorable.   A heavy snowstorm prevailed during the whole day, to the great dismay of our local astronomers. During supper, however, the sky became clear, and for nearly an hour Luna showed her darkened countenance to the anxious observers, until it was again veiled by accumulating clouds.  Some interesting observations were made, which are, however, not of sufficient importance to the general reader to warrant their publication in these columns.” (IV. 238)

        The most notable event of the winter was the installment of a large pipe organ in the abbey church. The instrument was built by W. Schuelke, of Milwaukee, and cost about $3000.  Its outer case is made of polished oak with handsome panels and carving. The key action desk is located at some distance from the organ, allowing the organ to face the altar. It has two manuals of 58 keys each, and a pedal of 27 keys. The motive power of the bellows is furnished by a Tuerk water motor that may be regulated by a spindle operated at the key desk. The dedicatory services were held on December 15 and were attended by the Bishop of St. Cloud and a number of clergymen and prominent organists.

        On January 12, 1892, the students arranged a reception for the Most Rev. William H. Gross, archbishop of Oregon City, who visited the institution accompanied by his brother, the late Rev. Mark Gross, and Rev. Edward J. O’Dea, the bishop of Nesqually, Washington.  A few pleasant hours were spent in listening to choice music and the charming, genial eloquence of the archbishop.

In the way of entertainments the year was a busy one. Aside from the reception already mentioned, the newly organized Thespian Club produced “The Wags of Windsor” on December 22, 1891, “Falsely Accused” on Washington’s Birthday and March 8: “Waiting for the Train” on Decoration Day, and “The Dutch Recruit” on commencement day.  The St. Boniface Literary Association performed “The Strike” on May 9 and “Der dicke Bildschnitzer” on June 6.

This commencement was called the 25th annual commencement, as it was customary to count from the establishment of the college on its present site in 1867.  Hence the catalogue of that year was made especially attractive; it was printed on superior paper and embellished with several half-tone engravings. In addition to the usual information, there was a brief sketch of the history of the institution since 1867, together with a list of all the graduates and professors during those twenty-five years. The whole number of professors was 106; the degree of D.D. had been conferred on three candidates, that of Ph.D. on two, that of A.M. on four, that of Ph.B. on 24, that on A.B. on 24, and that of M.A. on 366. For the year 1892 the total enrollment was 251 (33 seminarians and 218 in all other departments).  Eleven medals were awarded; the degree of Ph.B. was conferred on five, that of A.B. on three and that of M.A. on 32 graduates.


The vacation crew took up the work of beautifying the surroundings. A canal was dug between Boniface Bay and Caesar’s Lake, the road around the “beat” was extended southward to the lakeshore and then around the lake to the chapel island. Two rustic bridges were built over the swamps on the other side and made the chapel accessible afoot.

The attendance during the first mouth was 150, a very encouraging figure for the Columbian year, and by all accounts it was a live attendance at both work and play.

In The Record (V, 191) we read: “Through the efforts of our professor of physics, Father Peter Engel, a Voluntary Meteorological Station in connection with the U.S. Signal Service will be located here. Most of the necessary instruments, such as the barometer, anemometer with electrical recording attachment, exposure, maximum and minimum thermometer, hygrometer, rain gauge etc., have already arrived and will be placed in the cupola of the main building where daily observations will be recorded and forwarded to the Weather Bureau at Minneapolis. Arrangements will be completed in the early part of October.” Just four hundred years after the discovery of America, on October 12, 1892, the Station was opened and has kept a faithful record of the weather ever since.

Both of the Columbian days, the 12th and the 21st were appropriately observed.  Bishop Zardetti had directed that the religious services on the 21st “consist of High Mass of Thanksgiving in honor of the Holy Trinity, with the Te Deum and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament.” Accordingly the Right Rev. Abbot officiated at pontifical High Mass in the forenoon, while the afternoon was devoted to an entertainment at which the members of the St. Boniface Literary Association presented a historical drama in five acts, entitled “Columbus.”

Among the visitors in November was Bishop McGolrick of Duluth, who was accorded a unique reception. An amateur campaign marching club, which had played a noisy but unimportant part in the presidential campaign just closed, rallied some 80 strong and held a torchlight procession in honor of the distinguished guest. After the parade the Bishop addressed the student in the Exhibition Hall.

Stray notes from the local reporter’s scrapbook are to the effect that in course of the scholastic year five new Remington typewriting machines were purchased to meet the increasing popularity of that branch of study; also that a class in civics was organized and that the museum was slowly but surely growing.

On March 28, Abbot Bernard Locnikar departed for Rome to attend the laying of the cornerstone for the new Benedictine college of San Anselmo. In view of the fact that he would have an audience with the Holy Father, the students prepared an album containing congratulatory addresses in nine languages (Latin, Italian, French, English, German, Polish, Bohemian, Slovenian and Chippewa). Attached were the signatures of all the students and of the faculty. A modest reception was arranged for the Right Rev. Abbot on the eve of his departure when the album was handed to him. He did not return until the latter part of July.

Needless to say the literary and dramatic societies contributed their share toward keeping up the spirits throughout the year. The Thespians presented programs on October 12th, Thanksgiving Day, and Washington’s birthday, while the St. Boniface Literary Association held the boards on October 21 in the play already mentioned, and on March 7 produced that grand and impressive drama, “Sir Thomas More,” echoes of which have come down to our day. An unusual degree of interest was displayed in music, both vocal and instrumental. Besides the orchestra of 18 pieces there was a brass band of 24 pieces and a new orchestra club under the leadership of John Rodenkirchen, who has for several years past been prominent in musical circles in our State. There was also a vocal club called the “Liederkranz.”

On commencement day eleven medals were awarded; the degree of Ph.B. was conferred on one graduate and that of M.A. on 24. The total enrollment this year was 272 (34 seminarians and 238 in all other departments).


During the months of July and August a force of painters were engaged to paint and grain the wood work in the college buildings, and to decorate the Exhibition Hall. At the same time the old Stone House, which was the only building that constituted St. John’s College in 1867, was torn down, owing to the defective condition of its walls. It was never replaced by any other structure, but a large flowerbed marks its site at the south end of the present house. “In a few years,” says The Record at this time, “the pioneer student who recollects the day when the brass band played ‘Home, Sweet Home’ on the cupola of the edifice, will return to find not the slightest trace of St. John’s as it then was, save the majestic forest, the silvery lake whose gentle waves lap the sandy shores, and, above all, the cordial welcome and hospitality it ever extends, which forms the ground work of an edifice against which the tooth of time is powerless.”

In compliance with the wish of Pope Leo XIII, that the new college of San Anselmo be a central university for the entire Benedictine Order and that its students should be recruited from all the Benedictine monasteries, Frater Michael Ott was selected to represent St. John’s.  He left for Rome in the fall and entered upon an advanced course in philosophy, from which he graduated two years later. About the same time, Frater Otto Weisser was sent to Ratisbon for a higher course in music.

After presiding over the diocese of St. Cloud for four and one-half years, Bishop Zardetti was created Archbishop of Bucharest in Romania. He paid his farewell visit to St. John’s on April 24, 1894; on which occasion a reception was tendered him. Although he expressed the fervent hope that he might find an opportunity to revisit the West within no very distant period of time, it was not to be. He resigned the see of Bucharest about three years later and retired to Rome, where he died May 10, 1902.

Among the improvements of this year may be mentioned the installment of a private telephone line in the buildings, and of a telegraph office, concerning which The Record says: “The line runs from the University to Collegeville, thence along the railroad track and on the telegraph company’s poles to the St. Joseph depot. A set of new instruments has been installed in an office on the first floor of the University.  Father Agatho Gehret is in charge of the office. The first message was sent over the new line on June 6.” This line did service for many years, but at present is almost entirely superseded by the long-distance telephone.

Commencement day, June 21st, was made memorable by the presence of the Governor of the State, the Hon. Knute, Nelson, now U.S. Senator. It was the first time the institution was able to chronicle such an event, and neither faculty nor students spared any efforts to make his stay as pleasant as possible. At the closing exercises he conferred the medals and diplomas and delivered a brief and forcible address.

On the rolls were the names of 234 students (37 seminarians and 197 in all other departments).  Nine medals were awarded, the degree of Ph.B. was conferred on 5 and that of M. A. on 35 graduates.

Scarcely had the echoes of the school year died away when the institution was visited by a catastrophe, the traces of which will remain visible for a number of years.

“The heat had been oppressive for several days. A storm was expected on the evening of the 26th of June, but it did not come. On the 27th the barometer stood at an unusually low point. Towards evening heavy clouds drew up and at 7:30 a strong rainstorm came on. It lasted for about 15 minutes and was followed by hail, though only for a minute.  Then came a sullen calm for a few minutes, the current of air from the northwest met that from the southeast at some point south from here, and a funnel shaped cloud was observed moving toward us. Suddenly at 8:30 it grew dark, the winds began to howl and the fatal whirlwind was upon us. A few seconds sufficed to create a desolation this community never saw on its grounds. The air was filled with flying timbers, furniture, limbs of trees and everything the wind could pick up; windows crashed, doors closed violently or were pressed open, and through the flashes of lightning could be seen the wreck outside.” The track of the cyclone [tornado], lay over the lake; it first unroofed the laundry and wrecked the adjoining engine room and smokestack. The main buildings were attacked on the southeast end, which was occupied by the Industrial School. The pupils were on the point of retiring for the night, when the cyclone [tornado] set in. They were hurried out of their dormitory and not a second too soon, for just as the last pupil stepped into the middle building, the upper floors of the building, which they had left, were carried away.  The roof of the main building was slightly damaged, all the chimneys blown down, the weather station was wrecked and the turret-cap moved out of position. The engine-house which contains the heating plant was also wrecked, but fortunately the boilers did not sustain any serious damage; the roofs were blown from all the out-buildings, of which, there were about ten. The new brick barn, one of the largest and finest in the State, was a total wreck, with exception of the stone stabling in the lower floor.

However serious the disaster appeared to be, it was a source of great satisfaction that not a single human life had been lost.

Soon masons and carpenters were at work repairing the damage and before vacation was past, the authorities were able to announce that schoolwork would be resumed in September. Few scars of the cyclone [tornado] are visible on the buildings, but many and many a year will pass before the forest trees that were blown down that evening and left the surrounding country a bleak desert, can be replaced. God spare us from another such a visitation.