Joseph J. Himmel

Last updated

Joseph J. Himmel

Joseph J. Himmel portrait cropped.jpg
Himmel in 1910
35th President of Georgetown College
In office
Preceded by David Hillhouse Buel
Succeeded by Alphonsus J. Donlon
Personal details
Joseph J. Himmelheber

(1855-01-16)January 16, 1855
Annapolis, Maryland, U.S.
DiedNovember 3, 1924(1924-11-03) (aged 69)
Washington, D.C., U.S.
Resting place Jesuit Community Cemetery
Alma mater
OrdinationAugust 27, 1885
by  James Gibbons

Joseph J. Himmel SJ (born Joseph J. Himmelheber; January 16, 1855 – November 3, 1924) was an American Catholic priest and Jesuit. For much of his early life, he was a missionary throughout the northeast United States and retreat master. Later in life, he was president of Gonzaga College and Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.


Born in Annapolis, Maryland, to German-immigrant parents, Himmel was educated at private schools in Maryland, before entering the Redemptorist Order, of which his father had been especially fond. Early in his training, he was involved in some incident of mischief, and was expelled from the Redemptorist school he was attending, prompting him to immediately pursue admittance to the Society of Jesus, despite having no prior familiarity with the order. Upon being accepted, he began his formation in Frederick, Maryland, eventually being sent to Woodstock College. There, he began experiencing his first illnesses, which would plague him through life. During his studies, he also taught intermittently at Georgetown University and the College of the Holy Cross.

Following his ordination in 1885, Himmel became a missionary in New England and Philadelphia. Over the course of his twenty years of missionary work, he was successful in soliciting donations for the Jesuits' work. Eventually becoming superior of the Jesuit home missions, he was simultaneously named superior of the Jesuit retreat center on Keyser Island, a position be held discontinuously for seventeen years. In 1907, he was named president of Gonzaga College, holding the position for only a year, before being appointed president of Georgetown University in 1908. Due to his poor health, his term came to an end in 1912. He spent the remainder of his life at Keyser Island, as superior of the Jesuit novitiate of St. Andrew-on-Hudson in Poughkeepsie, New York, and as a recluse at Georgetown, due to his illness.

Early life

Joseph Himmelheber was born on January 16, 1855 in Annapolis, Maryland, [1] one of eight siblings, [2] to John and Mary Eva Himmelheber. His mother was born in 1819 in Aschaffenburg in Bavaria, Germany, and died in September 1897. [3] His father was also a German immigrant, who became an engineer for the Maryland State House, where he would remain for twenty years, [2] and moved his family to Annapolis alongside the first Redemptorist fathers in the city, purchasing the historic Brice B. Brewer, Sr. House. His father maintained an especially close connection with the Redemptorists, and when he died on March 3, 1895, he was interred in the crypt of the Redemptorists. [4]

Education and formation

Himmel's Catholic parents sent him to private school throughout his life. Beginning in 1862, he was educated in a private school for four years, before being privately tutored by a priest for three years. For one year in 1869, he enrolled at St. John's College in Annapolis on a Mason Scholarship, before transferring to Saint James School in Hagerstown, where he remained from 1870 to 1871. In light of his father's strong connection with the Redemptorist Order, Himmel then entered the Redemptorist training school in Ilchester, Maryland, with the intention of pursuing a life in the order. After some incident of mischief, Himmel was expelled from the school; though he had never encountered a Jesuit before, he hastily arranged to meet with the Jesuit provincial superior, Joseph Keller, who was at Loyola College, and applied to be admitted to the order. He sought his family's consent, as ordered by the provincial, only after being accepted. [5]

Himmel left for the Jesuit novitiate in Frederick, Maryland on November 24, 1873, and he made his vows on December 8, 1875. After spending only a year in Frederick to study the classics (because he had previous education in the subject), he was sent to Woodstock College to study philosophy. While there, he suffered poor health and was sent to Georgetown University to recover. He taught and privately studied there, before being transferred to the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts, a year later; he continued to teach and study there for four years. [6]

He finally returned to Woodstock in 1882 for his theological studies. [6] Himmel was ordained a subdeacon, deacon, and priest at Woodstock on August 27, 1885 by Archbishop James Gibbons, who was assisted by Robert Fulton, the provincial superior of the Society of Jesus. [7] He sang his first solemn high mass on September 4. [8] As late as 1889, Himmel continued to use his parents' surname of Himmelheber, rather than the shortened and anglicized Himmel. [9]

Missionary and retreat master

Manresa House on Keyser Island, circa 1896 Manresa Institute, Keyser Island.png
Manresa House on Keyser Island, circa 1896

Immediately after his ordination, Himmel was sent for a year as a missionary to the outskirts of Frederick, due to his poor health. Once deemed strong enough, he was sent for three years as a member of the missionary band to New England, where his mission was stationed out of St. Mary's Church in Boston. [6] The Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul in Philadelphia was in need of priests, and Himmel was sent there at the request of the mission superior, despite the provincial superior's doubts about his health. There, he garnered a reputation as a capable preacher, being especially popular with the children. [10] During his time on the mission band, he was very successful in soliciting donations; over the course of his eventual twenty years as a missionary, he secured more than $400,000. [11]

In 1889, he returned to Frederick, where he completed the tertianship stage of his Jesuit formation the following year. [6] The following year, he was appointed superior of the Jesuit home missions, holding this position until 1907. [1] His health once again weakened in May 1898, prompting him to spend three months at St. Thomas Manor in Port Tobacco, Maryland. [6]

Keyser Island

In Philadelphia, Himmel's superiors recognized his aptitude for administration, [12] and he was appointed the superior of the Manresa Institute at Keyser Island in September 1898, [6] which was a retreat center in South Norwalk, Connecticut. [13] Himmel resumed his post as superior of the missionary band in 1903. [6] During his leadership of the island, the center became a popular place of retreat among the Jesuits and the Catholic clergy of Hartford, and Himmel oversaw construction of a chapel and several large houses. [14] He remained as superior of the island until 1907. [1]

Gonzaga College

Gonzaga College (right) and St. Aloysius Church (left) in the early twentieth century St. Aloysius Church npcc.18800 cropped.jpg.png
Gonzaga College (right) and St. Aloysius Church (left) in the early twentieth century

On April 26, 1907, Himmel was named the twentieth president and rector of Gonzaga College in Washington, D.C., succeeding Edward X. Fink. [15] During the first summer of his term, he oversaw the refurbishment of the school building, which was falling into disrepair, and involved remodeling its interior. [16] In the spring of 1908, Himmel received Bishop Thomas Augustine Hendrick, the Bishop of Cebu, and Cardinal James Gibbons, the Bishop of Baltimore, who together administered the sacrament of confirmation to 621 people. They were joined by Monsignor Denis J. O'Connell, the rector of the Catholic University of America; William Morgan Shuster, a member of the Philippine Commission, Major Frank McIntyre of the U.S. Army; and Congressmen William Bourke Cockran, Michael E. Driscoll, and Joseph A. Goulden, as honored guests. During the commencement exercises of that year, he also received Diomede Falconio, the Apostolic Delegate to the United States. [17]

His short-lived presidency came to an end on August 27, 1908, [18] when he was named president of Georgetown University. [19] He was replaced by Eugene DeL McDonnell, who became vice (acting) rector, until Charles W. Lyons was named the permanent successor. [19]

Georgetown University

Due to widespread unpopularity of David Hillhouse Buel among the students and faculty, the Jesuit Superior General sought to find a replacement as president of Georgetown University. The provincial sent three recommendations to the general, who selected Himmel in August 1908. [20]

On November 13, 1909, the Georgetown Hoyas football team played the University of Virginia Cavaliers in Washington. During the game, one of the Cavaliers, Archer Christian, was severely injured on the field, and fell into a coma on the sidelines, only to die of a brain hemorrhage at the Georgetown University Hospital the next day. [21] Himmel immediately suspended Georgetown's football program for the rest of the season; the president of the University of Virginia, Edwin Alderman, followed suit, as did the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. On November 17, the faculty of Georgetown decided to permanently abolish football at the university, and Himmel met with the leaders of other Jesuit universities the following month to discuss the complete elimination of football at their institutions and to reduce the prominence of football at colleges. [22]

While his administration of the university was successful, his worsening arterial sclerosis soon prevented him from fulfilling the office, and he wrote to the superior general in summer 1910 that the institution would be better served by a younger president. [11] The Jesuit superiors ordered him to take a leave of absence from the university in 1911, but upon resuming his office, his symptoms worsened. [11] Himmel resigned the presidency, after spending January to May 1912 in the hospital. He was replaced by Alphonsus J. Donlon. [23]

Later life

St. Andrew-on-Hudson in Poughkeepsie, New York, circa 1920 St. Andrew-on-Hudson 10.jpg
St. Andrew-on-Hudson in Poughkeepsie, New York, circa 1920

Superior of Jesuit training institutions

Following his discharge from the hospital, Himmel was sent to Keyser Island to recuperate. In October 1912, he was again made superior of the island, and held the post until 1918. In 1913, he simultaneously resumed his position as superior of the missionary band, which he held until 1918; [23] in total, he served as superior of the missionaries for seventeen years. [6]

Himmel became rector of St. Andrew-on-Hudson in Poughkeepsie, New York, a Jesuit scholasticate on October 31, 1915. [24] He remained in this position until, October 11, 1921, when he was succeeded by Fr. William F. Clark. [25] During this time, the Jesuits sought to relocate their novitiate from Yonkers, New York to their newly created New England vice-province. [26] Himmel was tasked with investigating the suitability and price of various estates in Connecticut for the construction of the novitiate. [27] On December 24, 1921, Himmel returned to Keyser Island to again focus on his worsened health. [23]

Return to Georgetown

In his later life, Himmel suffered a stroke, which impaired his speech. This caused him to refrain from speaking in public, and he spoke only rarely in private. Given his debilitated state, he was placed in charge of the Georgetown University archives, where he led a largely reclusive life. [28] He died on November 3, 1924 at Georgetown, attending dinner in apparently sound health earlier in the evening. [29] His sole surviving sister, Agnes, was one of the few non-student attendees of the funeral. Himmel was buried in the Jesuit Community Cemetery at Georgetown. [28]

Related Research Articles

Anthony Kohlmann Alsatian Jesuit educator and missionary

Anthony Kohlmann, was an Alsatian Catholic priest, missionary, and Jesuit educator. He played a decisive role in the early formation of the Diocese of New York, where he was the subject of a lawsuit that for the first time recognized the confessional privilege in the United States, and served as the president of Georgetown College from 1817 to 1820.

Robert Molyneux English-American Jesuit

Robert P. Molyneux was an English-American Catholic priest and Jesuit missionary to the United States. Born to a prominent English family, he entered the Society of Jesus and studied at the College of St Omer in France. When the school moved to Bruges, Belgium, he followed, becoming a master. In 1771, he emigrated to the United States as a missionary, where he took up pastoral work in Philadelphia.

Giovanni Antonio Grassi Italian Jesuit missionary, educator, and superior

Giovanni Antonio Grassi was an Italian Catholic priest and Jesuit who led many academic and religious institutions in Europe and the United States, including Georgetown College in Washington, D.C. and the Pontificio Collegio Urbano de Propaganda Fide in Rome.

Alphonsus J. Donlon American Jesuit priest

Alphonsus J. Donlon was an American Catholic priest and Jesuit who spent his career in priestly ministry and academia, including as president of Georgetown University from 1912 to 1918. Born in Albany, New York, he garnered a reputation as a good student and an exceptional collegiate athlete. As a professor, he went on to lead Georgetown University's sports program, which enjoyed great success. As a result, he became known as the "father of Georgetown athletics." He served as a professor of various sciences at Georgetown University and at Woodstock College, and as president of the former, he oversaw the removal of Georgetown Preparatory School from the university to a separate campus, and proposed the creation of the School of Foreign Service. For a significant portion of his career, he also served as a chaplain to Georgetown Visitation Monastery. In his later years, he engaged in pastoral work at St. Francis Xavier Church in New York City and taught at Fordham University.

Charles W. Lyons American Jesuit priest and academic administrator

Charles William Lyons was an American Catholic priest who became the only Jesuit and likely the only educator in the United States to have served as the president of four colleges. Born in Boston, Massachusetts, he attended the local public schools before entering the wool industry. He abandoned his career in industry to enter the Society of Jesus. While a novice in Maryland, he suffered a nervous breakdown and was sent to Georgetown University as prefect. He then resumed his studies at Woodstock College, teaching intermittently at Gonzaga College in Washington, D.C. and Loyola College in Baltimore. After his ordination, he became a professor at St. Francis Xavier College in New York City and at Boston College.

James A. Doonan American Jesuit educator

James Aloysius Doonan was an American Catholic priest and Jesuit, who was the president of Georgetown University from 1882 to 1888. During that time he oversaw the naming of Gaston Hall and the construction of a new building for the School of Medicine. Doonan also acquired two historic cannons that were placed in front of Healy Hall. He was a financially successful president, reducing the university's burdensome debt that had accrued during the construction of Healy Hall.

J. Havens Richards American Jesuit educator

Joseph Havens Richards was an American Catholic priest and Jesuit who became a prominent president of Georgetown University, where he instituted major reforms and significantly increased the quality and stature of the university. Born to a prominent Ohio family, his father was an Episcopal priest who controversially converted to Catholicism, and had the infant Richards secretly baptized as a Catholic. Richards eventually entered the Society of Jesus.

Charles H. Stonestreet 19th-century American Jesuit priest

Charles Henry Stonestreet was an American Catholic priest and Jesuit who served in prominent religious and academic positions, including as provincial superior of the Jesuit Maryland Province and president of Georgetown University. He was born in Maryland and attended Georgetown University, where he co-founded the Philodemic Society. After entering the Society of Jesus and becoming a professor at Georgetown, he led St. John's Literary Institution and St. John the Evangelist Church in Frederick, Maryland. He was appointed president of Georgetown University in 1851, holding the office for two years, during which time he oversaw expansion of the university's library. The First Plenary Council of Baltimore was held at Georgetown during his tenure.

William McSherry 19th-century American Jesuit priest

William McSherry was an American Catholic priest who became the president of Georgetown College and a prominent 19th-century leader of the Jesuits in the United States. The son of Irish immigrants, McSherry was educated at Georgetown College, where he entered the Society of Jesus. As one of the first Americans to complete the traditional Jesuit course of training, he was sent to Rome to be educated for the priesthood. There, he made several discoveries of significant, forgotten holdings in the Jesuit archives, which improved historians' knowledge of the early European settling of Maryland and of the language of Indian tribes there.

John W. Beschter Luxembourg Jesuit missionary

John William Beschter was a Catholic priest and Jesuit from the Duchy of Luxembourg in the Austrian Netherlands. He emigrated to the United States as a missionary in 1807, where he ministered in rural Pennsylvania and Maryland. Beschter was the last Jesuit pastor of St. Mary's Church in Lancaster, as well as the pastor of St. John the Evangelist Church in Baltimore, Maryland. He was also a priest at several other German-speaking churches in Pennsylvania.

Samuel Mulledy 19th-century American Jesuit priest

Samuel A. Mulledy was an American Catholic priest and Jesuit who served as president of Georgetown College in 1845. Born in Virginia, he was the brother of Thomas F. Mulledy, who was a prominent 19th-century Jesuit in the United States and a president of Georgetown. As a student at Georgetown, Samuel was one of the founding members of the Philodemic Society, and proved to be a distinguished student, which resulted in his being sent to Rome to complete his higher education and be ordained to the priesthood. Upon his return to the United States, he became the master of novices at the Jesuit novitiate in Maryland, before being named president of Georgetown. He sought to be relieved of the position after only a few months, and returned to teaching and ministry.

Jerome Daugherty American Jesuit educator

Jerome Daugherty was an American Catholic priest and Jesuit who served in many different capacities at Jesuit institutions throughout the northeast United States, eventually becoming president of Georgetown University in 1901. Born in Baltimore, he was educated at Loyola College in Maryland, before entering the Society of Jesus and becoming a member of the first class at Woodstock College. He then taught various subjects, including mathematics, Latin, Ancient Greek, rhetoric, and the humanities in Massachusetts, New York City, and Washington, D.C., and served as minister at many of the institutions there.

Francis Xavier Brady was an American Catholic priest and Jesuit. Born near Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, he studied at Woodstock College, and held positions in various Jesuit institutions before becoming President of Loyola College in Maryland in 1908. He held the office until his death in 1911.

James A. Ward was an American Catholic priest and Jesuit. He taught for many years at Georgetown and at the novitiate in Frederick, Maryland, of which he twice served as rector. He then became the vice president of Georgetown and was influential in the early years of Loyola College in Maryland. From 1857 to 1860, he was the President of Saint Joseph's College. He spent his later years as socius (assistant) to the Jesuit provincial superior in New York City, and teaching.

William J. Devlin American Jesuit and academic administrator

William J. Devlin, S.J. was an American Catholic priest and Jesuit. Born in New York City, he spent many of his early years in Europe, where he was educated at Stonyhurst College in England. Devlin entered the Society of Jesus in Maryland in 1893, and studied at Woodstock College. He became a professor at Boston College in 1910, and eventually became the dean.

William Francis Clarke 19th-century American Jesuit educator

William Francis Clarke was an American Catholic priest and Jesuit who held several senior positions at Jesuit institutions in Maryland and Washington, D.C. Born in Washington, he descended from several early colonial families of Maryland. He was educated at Gonzaga College and its successor institutions during the suppression of the Society of Jesus, followed by Georgetown College. After his entrance into the Jesuit order, he taught for several years at Georgetown, and became the pastor of St. Joseph's Church in Baltimore, where he took uncommon measures to integrate black Catholics and Italian immigrants into parish life.

Joseph A. Canning American Jesuit missionary and educator

Joseph A. Canning was an American Catholic priest and Jesuit. Hailing from New York City, he studied at St. Francis Xavier High School, before entering the Society of Jesus in 1898. He continued his studies at St. Andrew-on-Hudson and Woodstock College. He was ordained a priest in 1915, and spent the next eight years as a missionary in Jamaica.

Francis Dzierozynski was a Polish Catholic priest and Jesuit who became a prominent missionary to the United States. Born in the town of Orsha, in the Russian Empire, he entered the Society of Jesus and was ordained a priest in 1806. He taught and studied in Polotsk and Mogilev until leading students in an escape from the French invasion of Russia in 1812. He returned to Polotsk, where he taught until the expulsion of the Jesuits from the Russian Empire in 1820. Thereafter, he took up teaching in Bologna, Italy.

Edward I. Devitt Canadian American Jesuit and historian

Edward Ignatius Devitt was a Canadian American priest, Jesuit, and historian of the American Catholic Church. Born in Saint John, New Brunswick, he moved with his family to Boston, Massachusetts, at a young age. He studied in public schools in the city before enrolling at the College of the Holy Cross. Devitt spent two years there, and then entered the Society of Jesus in 1859. He studied at the novitiate in Frederick, Maryland, and at the newly opened Woodstock College. He briefly taught at the Washington Seminary during his studies, and after graduating, was a professor for the next thirty years at Holy Cross, Woodstock, and Georgetown University.

Peter Verhaegen 19th-century Belgian Jesuit

Peter Joseph Verhaegen, S.J. was a Belgian Catholic priest, Jesuit, and missionary to the Midwestern United States who became the first president of Saint Louis University and St. Joseph's College in Bardstown, Kentucky.



  1. 1 2 3 Marquis 1915 , p. 545
  2. 1 2 Wright 1982 , no. 8, p. 5
  3. Wright 1982 , no. 8, p. 4
  4. A Redemptorist Father 1904 , p. 117
  5. Woodstock Letters 1925 , p. 89
  6. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Woodstock Letters 1925 , p. 90
  7. "Candidates for Ordination" . The New York Times . August 20, 1885. Archived from the original on February 2, 2019. Retrieved February 2, 2019.
  8. A Redemptorist Father 1904 , p. 110
  9. Province of Maryland-New York 1889 , p. 63
  10. Woodstock Letters 1925 , p. 92
  11. 1 2 3 Curran 2010 , p. 48
  12. Woodstock Letters 1925 , pp. 92–93
  13. The Sacred Heart Review 1896 , p. 30
  14. Woodstock Letters 1925 , p. 93
  15. Hill 1922 , p. 201
  16. Hill 1922 , p. 206
  17. Hill 1922 , p. 207
  18. Hill 1922 , p. 205
  19. 1 2 Hill 1922 , p. 208
  20. Curran 2010 , p. 47
  21. Watterson 2000 , p. 112
  22. Watterson 2000 , p. 113
  23. 1 2 3 Woodstock Letters 1925 , p. 91
  24. Burke 1976 , p. 41
  25. Burke 1976 , p. 42
  26. Burke 1976 , p. 64
  27. Burke 1976 , p. 65
  28. 1 2 Woodstock Letters 1925 , p. 88
  29. Woodstock Letters 1925 , p. 87


Academic offices
Preceded by
Superior of the Manresa Institute
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Edward X. Fink
20th President of Gonzaga College
Succeeded by
Charles W. Lyons
Preceded by
David Hillhouse Buel
35th President of Georgetown University
Succeeded by
Alphonsus J. Donlon
Preceded by
Superior of the Manresa Institute
Succeeded by
William F. Clark
Preceded by
Rector of St. Andrew-on-Hudson