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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 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 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.

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.

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.



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The American College from Naamsestraat

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