John Joseph Jessing and the Pontifical College Josephinum

Pontifical College Josephinum campus preliminary sketch
Preliminary sketch of the new Pontifical College Josephinum campus, created by Flemish architect Frank A. Ludewig in 1927. Most of the design was accomplished with the exception of the landscaping. Courtesy of Pontifical College Josephinum via Ohio Memory.

John Joseph Jessing (1836-1899) immigrated to the United States from Germany in 1867. After settling in Ohio, he studied to join the Roman Catholic priesthood and was ordained at Columbus’s St. Patrick Pro Cathedral in 1870. His first parish was the Sacred Heart Church in Pomeroy,  where he witnessed the hardships experienced by orphaned boys of his community. To help them, he established St. Joseph’s Orphanage and a German-language newspaper called Ohio (later called Ohio Waisenfreund or “Ohio Orphan’s Friend”). 

John Joseph Jessing with two orphans photograph
1880 photograph of John Joseph Jessing and two unidentified orphans. Courtesy of Pontifical College Josephinum via Ohio Memory.

Jessing moved his orphanage and newspaper to Columbus in 1877, hoping to build support and circulation by publishing in a larger city with more access to railroad lines. Subscriptions did increase–to 40,000 by the end of the 1880s–and, with national distribution, it was considered a strong and important voice of the German-American Catholic community in Ohio and beyond. Alongside the orphanage, Jessing started a trade school for older children to learn printing, furniture building, farming and other skills. Again responding to the needs of his community, on September 2, 1888, he founded the Collegium Josephinum, which allowed interested orphans attending the trade school to join the priesthood. The college was transferred to the Holy See and granted pontifical status in 1892, becoming known as Pontifical College Josephinum. Jessing continued to serve as rector of the college until his death in 1899, just months after he saw the college’s first class ordained in June of that year.

Ohio Waisenfreund, April 29, 1874, p. 1
Front page of Ohio Waisenfreund, April 29, 1874. Via Chronicling America.

Pontifical College Josephinum became the leading educational center for German-American priests in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and today is the only pontifical college in the Western Hemisphere. Initially focused on preparing its students to minister to German-speaking Americans, today Josephinum’s students mostly serve those in rural and missionary dioceses across the world, remaining true to Jessing’s original mission of educating and supporting those in financial need. Its current campus was established just north of Columbus in 1931. The Waisenfreund was published under the auspices of the Josephinum until 1953, providing religious instruction, reports from the Holy See in Rome, and news about the Josephinum community. 

Interested in learning more about Ohio’s German Catholic community and the Pontifical College Josephinum? Visit Chronicling America to browse and search by keyword through recently-digitized issues of Ohio and Ohio Waisenfreund (covering 1873-1875 and 1940-1953), visit the Josephinum’s website or view some of their historic collections on Ohio Memory.

Thanks to Jenni Salamon, Unit Manager, Digitization, for this week’s post!

Chronicling America is the collaborative project of the National Endowment for the HumanitiesLibrary of Congress and state partners, like the Ohio History Connection, to preserve and provide increased access to America’s historic newspapers through the National Digital Newspaper Program. By the end of 2018, the Ohio History Connection will have contributed over 400,000 pages of Ohio’s historic newspapers, including over 100,000 of foreign language content. For more information, visit the National Digital Newspaper Program in Ohio Project Website.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.