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Continuing to Minister: Senger, Catholic Chaplain at Trinity Hospital, has been Priest for 50 Years

Johnson, Andrea. "Continuing to Minister." Minot Daily News, 1 May 2004.


Monsignor Joseph Senger, the Catholic chaplain at Trinity Hospital in Minot, has been a priest for 50 years. A celebration of his 50 years of service will be held May 6 at 6 p.m. in St. Cecilia's Catholic Church in Velva.

Monsignor Joseph Senger has been a Catholic priest for 50 years. Now, in his "middle age" at age 75, Senger has started a new post, as the Catholic chaplain at Minot's Trinity Hospital.

Since he's always loved ministering to people, Senger feels his new job is a good fit.

"I feel at ease with people," said Senger, who once turned down a post at the Vatican because he didn't want an office job. He wanted to be a parish priest. "... I relate well to people."

A celebration of Senger's 50 years as a priest will be held at his old parish of St. Cecilia's Catholic Church in Velva on May 6 at 6 p.m. A potluck dinner will follow. Another celebration Mass will be held in Senger's hometown of Orrin on June 19. That is where he celebrated his first Mass in 1954. He still has family members who live in Orrin.

Senger was priest at Velva and Karlsruhe for 15 years. Prior to that, he had served as the priest at St. Mary's Catholic Church in Grand Forks for 15 years. He also served at parishes in Milnor and Knox. He was secretary to the Vatican's Ambassador to Germany and was at the Vatican for one and one-half years as a young priest. He was chosen for that assignment in part because he speaks German.

He had also been a priest at Bottineau. Now officially retired, he still helps out at churches across North Dakota and in Minot and Velva. He enjoys driving across the state and seeing the work that people in small parishes put into their churches. He has been the chaplain at Trinity for the past month.

Senger, whose heritage is German from Russia, graduated from Richardton Assumption Abbey He said he feels comfortable with North Dakot and the ways of North Dakotans.

He's a farmer at heart and enjoys growing things in the small patch near his apartment. One year he had a huge sunflower, but said he faced competition last year from neighbors who grew sunflowers bigger than his. An outdoor geranium be brought indoors last year has grown to a large size in front of the large window in his residence.

He also has an interest in his heritage. Two years ago he went to the Ukraine, where his ancestors lived, and saw the town where many Germans from Russia are from. Strasburg, Ukraine, 50 miles from the Black Sea, still has churches and houses built by Germans from Russia. However, Senger said no Germans are left there. The large churches were turned into meeting halls, factories, or heavy equipment garages. The Soviet government knocked down church towers and anything of a religious nature, but reused the buildings. Ukrainians occupy the homes built by the Germans.

Many of the Germans from Russia who settled in North Dakota came from that Black Sea region, said Senger.

Tsarina Catherine the Great invited Germans to settle that region and promised them autonomy so they could maintain their language and their culture. German-Russians later emigrated in large numbers after the Russian government started requiring military service and limited their autonomy.

Senger said several of the towns settled by Germans from Russia in North Dakota were named after old towns in the Black Sea region. Strasburg, N.D., for instance, was named after Strasburg, Ukraine.

Senger said the visit was a great experience. He said he saw some similarities between Ukraine and North Dakota. Ukraine has a slightly warmer climate, but the region has rich farmland. Senger was surprised to see grapes grown beside sunflowers and corn in Strasburg, Ukraine.

During his years as a priest, Senger has also had the opportunity to get involved in other international efforts. This has made him appreciative of the universality of the Roman Catholic Church, he said. He served as director of the propagation of faith for the Fargo Diocese for 40 years. This is an organization that helps missionaries overseas. He said he developed a love for the poor and love for the worldwide church. He remembers a 1981 trip to Kenya as part of this organization. It helped him to understand the many tribes and cultures that can exist in one country, he said.

Now, as chaplain at Trinity, he still has the chance to minister to families. He says Mass in the hospital chapel, visits hospital patients, and stays with the families of very ill patients. He also performs the sacrament of the anointing of the sick. He said he enjoys the chance to be with people through all the stages of their lives.

Reprinted with permission of the Minot Daily News.

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