Msgr. Joseph Senger: 50 Years a Priest

Johnson, Andrea. "Msgr. Joseph Senger: 50 Years a Priest." Minot Daily News, 2003.

Monsignor Senger at Saints Peter and Paul Catholic Church, Karlsruhe, North Dakota, August 2001.

Monsignor Joseph Senger has been a Catholic priest for 50 years.

Now, in his “middle age” at 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 was held at his old parish of St. Cecilia’s Catholic Church in Velva on May 6. Another celebration Mass was 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, Cardinal Aloisius Muench, former bishop of Fargo, and was at the Vatican for 1 ½ years as a young priest. He was chosen for the 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 state and seeing work that people in small parishes put into their churches. He has also been the chaplain at Trinity for the past three months.

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

He’s a farmer at heart and enjoys growing things in the small patch near his apartment.

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 the Black Sea region, said Senger.
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, ND, for instance, was named after 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 the 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 of 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 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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