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Encyclopedia Dubuque


"Encyclopedia Dubuque is the online authority for all things Dubuque, written by the people who know the city best.”
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Affiliated with the Local History Network of the State Historical Society of Iowa, and the Iowa Museum Association.


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Plaque commemorating the first site of the seminary in Dubuque.
1889 Wartburg Seminary lithograph

WARTBURG THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY. Among the largest Lutheran seminaries in the United States, Wartburg is one of the four theological seminaries owned and operated by the American Lutheran Church.

The history of Wartburg Theological Seminary begins in 1844. Frederick Wyneken, a missionary circuit rider in the Midwest, wrote to religious leaders in Bavaria asking for more pastors. The Rev. Johannes Konrad Loehe originated the idea of a "mission colony" and asked men and women to immigrate to the United States. In 1852 an institution was started in Saginaw, Michigan. (1) The name, Wartburg, came from a 908-year-old Saxony castle in which Martin Luther stayed when he was labeled an outlaws after the Diet of Worms in 1521.

A dispute between Wartburg and the Michigan Missouri Synod congregations concerning the roles of the Church and the ministry arose. (2) The college, it was not called a seminary until 1854, was moved to Dubuque in November 10, 1853. Rev. George Grossman who opened the school called it the Lutheran Theological Seminary. It was located along Garfield Avenue opposite the MILWAUKEE RAILROAD SHOPS. Approximately twelve students were taught by one or sometimes two professors.

In 1855 the college and seminary, which began with five students, was moved to the corner of 13th and White STREETS, the site of ST. JOHN'S LUTHERAN CHURCH. (3) Rev. Sigmund Fritschel, although only twenty years of age, served the school from that time until just before his death in 1899. In 1856 his brother, Gottfried, was installed as the professor of theology. Financial needs forced Sigmund to temporarily accept a pastorate in Detroit. This left his brother, then twenty years of age, with the responsibility for the school. (4)

In 1857 poor economic conditions in Dubuque forced Gottfried to relocate the college to St. Sebald in Clayton County, Iowa. It was here that the name "Wartburg" was first used. (5) The college and seminary functions were separated in 1868. The college moved to Galena, Illinois, while the seminary remained in St. Sebald. The two parts were reunited in 1874 in Mendota, Illinois. Continued growth required larger facilities. (6)

It was not until 1889 that the seminary moved back to Dubuque. On June 30, 1897, the annual graduating program of Wartburg Seminary were held for nine students at St. John's Lutheran Church. Reports of the occasion included that the program was given in German and that there was a large attendance. It had been a prosperous year for the school with an estimated total enrollment of fifty students. (7)

The Emerson estate with its ornate mansion became a home to Wartburg Theological Seminary.

It was through the efforts of Rev. J. Heinrich LUZ and the BOARD OF TRADE in Dubuque that an attractive offer was made to the seminary. The home of Wartburg Seminary became the thirty-acre Emerson estate with a large mansion that was renovated and enlarged. Two homes for faculty were constructed at 445 and 465 Wartburg Place. (8)

With room for expansion and the support of the community, Wartburg Seminary hired additional faculty. Among these were the second generation of Fritschels. Sigmund had returned to the school and he was joined by his son Max who served as president of the seminary in 1916. Gottfried was joined by his son, George, who like Max accepted seminary leadership and faculty positions. Both served the school for more than three generations. (9)

"The Arches." Image courtesy: Larry Friedman
Construction in 1915. Image courtesy: Larry Friedman
"The Arches." Image courtesy: Larry Friedman

The following years were times of ever-expanding curriculum and increased enrollment. Plans for new seminary buildings were drawn up in 1914, and construction was begun with stone quarried nearby along Fremont Avenue. The buildings, constructed of Galena limestone to resemble Wartburg Castle in Eisenach, Germany, and the furnishings costing $228,768, were dedicated on September 13-14, 1916 with services in German. (10)

Like the original Emerson estate, the construction site of the new buildings was purchased by the citizens of Dubuque and given to Wartburg in support of its efforts. (11) The renowned scholar J. Michael Reu, author of more than sixty books, joined the faculty at this time. Renowned for his nine volume Christian Education in Germany from 1530 to 1600, he remained in Dubuque for forty-three years.

In 1934 the Reverend Samuel F. Salzmann was asked to join the faculty of Wartburg Seminary as a professor of pastoral theology. His wife, Hedwig, became the first woman to be enrolled in a regular academic course at the school. She studied Greek with Professor E. A. Shick during the early 1940s. (12)

In 1945 with returning soldiers from WORLD WAR II using their G.I. Bill to enter college, Wartburg Theological Seminary chose to keep its pre-war standards for admittance. (13) Dr. Julius BODENSIECK, president of Wartburg Seminary since 1940, resigned in 1947 to serve as a liaison between the American military government and the churches of Germany. (14)

Married student housing on campus was originally provided by a thirty-six unit mobile home park near the center of campus and a twenty unit apartment building. This was followed by nine single family units constructed for student families with children and another mobile home park on the southern side of the campus. The mobile homes were intended to be replaced by Denver Court, a sixteen unit family housing complex. Increased enrollment of students with families, however, led to new trailers being leased to meet housing demands. (15)

In 1952 Rev. William STRENG of Wartburg served as a member of the American Lutheran Church committee preparing a new series of Sunday church school materials. The demand had been made for a "uniform Bible history centered series." The new materials were Bible-centered using a life situation approach in many of the lessons. (16) Carrying on the message of change, in 1969 Dr. Streng wrote In Search of Ultimates. The book's theme was that for the Christian faith to have relevance in the modern world there had to be a change in the structures of the church and a discarding of its "irrelevancies." (17)

Wartburg's construction made it one of the most beautiful sites in Dubuque. Photo courtesy: Bob Reding

Wartburg grew through merger with other seminaries. Trinity Theological Seminary (United Evangelical Lutheran Church) from Blair, Nebraska, was moved to Dubuque in 1956 and officially merged with Wartburg in 1960. Wartburg opened the Denver House of Studies in 1973 and an Hispanic Ministries program in Austin, Texas which required fluency in Spanish. During the 1970s, Wartburg established its international student program which brought church leaders and scholars to the campus for post-graduate theological education. At the time the program was adopted, Wartburg established a commitment to 10% of its on-campus students being from the international church. (18)

In 1988 the formation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America caused unintended problems with the methods of raising money and reorganizing the seminary's board of directors. The merged church conducted a major study of its theological educational needs to determine if some should be closed. The result of the study, however, indicated that every seminary was needed. In 1998 ECLA seminaries were not graduating enough pastors to meet the needs of the churches which typically chose pastors who had recently graduated. This increased the need for successful fundraising foundations like those directed by Rev. Roger FJELD (Reverend). (19)

In 2002 Wartburg offered one of the few seminary programs toward a two-year master's degree program in theology, development and evangelism. In Africa, for example, church workers were looked upon for many kinds of advice including representing the people before nongovernmental agencies, pursuing grants for village improvement, and improving village life both spiritually and physically. Scholarships for most students interested in the program were available through the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and Wartburg. (20)

Dubuque became one of the principal ecumenical centers in the United States during the 1960s. On February 2, 1962, dialogue began between the theologians from AQUINAS INSTITUTE OF THEOLOGY, Dubuque Theological Seminary and Wartburg Theological Seminary. Following this meeting, three other contacts were arranged from which Protestant and Catholic developed a greater relationship. On January 9, 1963, Archbishop James J. BYRNE addressed the combined students and faculty of Wartburg at their request after he had returned from the first session of Vatican II. Articles of incorporation of the Association of Theological Faculties of Iowa were signed on June 1, 1965, by representatives from Wartburg Theological Seminary, Dubuque Theological Seminary and the School of Religion at the University of Iowa. The articles established the groundwork for the consolidation of the facilities of Aquinas Institute and the Dubuque Theological Seminary. The first ecumenical summer school of combined faculty and students from the three Dubuque theological seminaries was held on June 27, 1966. (21) The spirit continued as exemplified by "In a Global Economy, Who Profits?," an ecumenical conference held at Wartburg in June, 2002.

Women were ordained for the first time by the seminary in the 1970s. In 1979 Professor Norma J. Cook joined the faculty and became the first woman given tenure on a seminary faculty in the church. The biographies of women at Wartburg have been told in books entitled And The Women Came, 100 And More, and Still The Women Came. In 1989 women accounted for 40 percent of the students and four of the seminary faculty. (22)

A doctoral degree in ministry was first offered by AQUINAS INSTITUTE OF THEOLOGY, UNIVERSITY OF DUBUQUE THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY, and Wartburg Theological Seminary in September of 1973. The first year only fifteen would be allowed to enter the program. Prerequisites for admission included at least three years of experience in some form of professional ministry and a basic professional theology degree or its equivalent. The degree was offered to increase the competency in ministry of its participants. (23)

Extensive remodeling was carried out in 1982 as a result of a successful church-wide Seminary Appeal. In April, 2000 ground was broken for a new wing to be constructed on the southwest side of the seminary dormitories. The new building housed offices, meeting rooms, a dining area, and maintenance and food service space. In addition, the entire single-student housing wing was renovated and the campus was provided with modern communications and made handicapped accessible. The seminary's main campus was retrofitted with geothermal exchange for heating and cooling. The total project cost $7.5 million. (24)

Perhaps unique in the field of theological seminaries, Wartburg Theological Seminary's entire faculty undertook in 2002 to write a book. Entitled The Difficult But Indispensable Church had twenty-one chapters, each written by one of the school's faculty, telling the struggles and triumphs of the Christian community. (25) In 2004 L. Shannon Jung, professor of rural ministry and director of the Center for Theology and Land, wrote Food for Life: The Spirituality and Ethics of Eating. The thesis of the book was that Christianity was more about food than most people realized. (26)

Old and new seminary. Image courtesy: Larry Friedman

Wartburg has prided itself in community outreach. In 2003 Gwen Sayler, an associate professor of Hebrew Bible, taught an interim class entitled "Issues of Transition and Violence Against Women and Children." Students in the class visited Genesis House, a ministry to prostitutes in Chicago as part of a two-day visit to agencies on Chicago's South Side. A workshop entitled "The Criminal Justice System," a workshop on restorative justice was scheduled in February. (27) In 2004 Wartburg offered a Youth and Family Ministry Leadership School and a Center for Theology and Land, in partnership with the University of Dubuque Theological Seminary. (28) Workshops focusing on racial identity were sponsored in 2017 by INCLUSIVE DUBUQUE, Downtown Dubuque Christian Outreach, SISTERS OF CHARITY OF THE BLESSED VIRGIN MARY (BVM), SISTERS OF THE THIRD ORDER OF ST. FRANCIS OF THE HOLY FAMILY (OSF), and Loras College's Archbishop Kucera Center, and Wartburg Theological Seminary. (29) In the same year, Samuel Giere, a teacher at Wartburg, led a campaign to re-examine what it meant to be a "Dubuquer." The "I'm a Dubuquer" campaign led to newspaper articles and advertising on the sides of KEYLINE buses. (30)



1. Voight, Sandye. "Wartburg at 150," Telegraph Herald, May 8, 2004, p. 16

2. Cueva, Ivonne, "Wartburg's Move Through Dubuque," Telegraph Herald, October 2, 1977, p. 14

3. "New Wartburg Seminary Building Dedicated," Telegraph-Herald, September 13, 1916, p. 1

4. "Wartburg Seminary: A Short Story," Telegraph Herald Wartburg Section, September 16, 1989, p. 17

5. Ibid.

6. "Heritage," Wartburg Theological Seminary, Online: https://www.wartburgseminary.edu/heritage/

7. "Closing Exercises," The Dubuque Herald, July 1, 1897, p. 4

8. "Wartburg Seminary..."

9. Ibid.

10. "Wartburg Seminary Dedicated," Telegraph-Herald, September 13, 1916, p. 1

11. "Wartburg Seminary..."

12. "Hedwig Salzmann," Obituaries. Telegraph Herald, February 14, 1994, p. 6

13. "Standards Up for Veterans," Telegraph-Herald, March 24, 1946, p. 12

14. "Dr. Bodensieck Resigns Post," Telegraph-Herald, May 29, 1947, p. 1

15. "Wartburg Seminary..."

16. "ALC Revamps Teaching Plans," Telegraph Herald, May 14, 1952, p. 5

17. "Streng Book Backs Church Change," Telegraph Herald, February 16, 1969, p. 17

18. "Wartburg Seminary..."

19. Jerde, Lyn, "Wartburg Theological Seminary President to Retire, Telegraph Herald, March 18, 1998, p. 2

20. Voight, Sandye. "For God and Country," Telegraph Herald, February 9, 2002, p. 23

21. "Ecumenism," Telegraph Herald, April 12, 1970, p. 50

22. "Wartburg Seminary...

23. "New Degree Program," Telegraph Herald, May 20, 1973, p. 6

24. Nevans-Pederson, Mary. "Big Day in Wartburg Seminary," Telegraph Herald, April 29, 2000, p. 7

25. Voight, Sandye. "Indispensable Collegiality," Telegraph Herald, September 28, 2002, p. 1

26. Voight, Sandye. "Eating--Spiritually," Telegraph Herald, June 19, 2004, p. 1

27. Voight, Sandye. "Battling the Violence," Telegraph Herald, January 18, 2003, p. 24

28. Voight, Sandye."Wartburg at 150...", p. 16

29. Barton, Thomas J. "Series of Dubuque Presentations to Focus on Racial Identity," Telegraph Herald, April 27, 2017, p. 5

30. Barton, Thomas J. "Professor Aims to Redefine Who Dubuque Residents 'r," Telegraph Herald, April 26, 2017, p. 5