William Feiner

William Feiner
Bust-length portrait of William Feiner
Portrait of William Feiner
Personal details
Birth nameWilhelm Feiner
Born(1792-12-27)December 27, 1792
Münster, Prince-Bishopric of Münster
DiedJune 9, 1829(1829-06-09) (aged 36)
Georgetown, District of Columbia, U.S.[a]
BuriedJesuit Community Cemetery
DenominationCatholic Church

William Feiner (born Wilhelm Feiner; December 27, 1792 –  June 9, 1829) was a German Catholic priest and Jesuit who became a missionary to the United States and eventually the President of Georgetown College. Born in Münster, he taught in Jesuit schools in the Holy Roman Empire and Galicia as a young member of the Society of Jesus. He then emigrated to the United States following the restoration of the Society, and took up pastoral work and teaching of theology in Conewago, Pennsylvania before becoming a full-time professor at Georgetown College. There, he also became the second dedicated librarian of Georgetown's library, and ministered to the congregation at Holy Trinity Church. Eventually, Feiner became president of the university in 1826. Despite becoming the leader of an American university, he never mastered the English language. Long plagued by poor health due to tuberculosis, his short-lived presidency came to an end after three years, just weeks before his death.

Early life

Wilhelm Feiner[2] was born on December 27, 1792, in the city of Münster.[3] He entered the Society of Jesus on July 12, 1808, in White Russia[4] (i.e. Belarus),[5] officially becoming a member on August 7 of that year.[6] Before emigrating to the United States, he taught in Jesuit schools in the Holy Roman Empire and Galicia.[3][7] For this reason, he was sometimes erroneously identified as being Polish, rather than German.[3]

American missionary

He was sent to the United States in 1822,[8] in order to assist the American Jesuits re-establish their work following the worldwide restoration of the Society of Jesus in 1814.[9] After his move, he anglicized his name as William Feiner.[3] From 1823 to 1826, he was assigned to the parish at Conewago in Adams County, Pennsylvania,[10] as an assistant to Fr. Matthew Lekue.[11] This was likely due to his fluency in the German language and the large German-speaking population in Conewago.[12] In addition to his pastoral work, Feiner also taught theology in Conewago in 1824.[13] Peter Kenney, the Jesuit visitor to the United States, returned to Europe, and appointed Feiner to the position in his stead; by this time, Feiner was already in very poor health.[14]

He was made the prefect of studies at Georgetown College from 1825 to 1826,[15] as well as a professor of theology and German.[16] James A. Neill took over as prefect of studies at the end of his term.[17] In 1825, he became the second official librarian of the Georgetown University Library, after Fr. Thomas C. Levins, who had filled the position since 1824, was dismissed from the Society of Jesus and left for New York City. When Feiner relinquished the office the following year, James Van de Velde succeeded him.[18]

Georgetown College

Campus of Georgetown University in 1828
Georgetown College campus in 1828

When the President of Georgetown College, Stephen L. Dubuisson, was permitted to resign the office, and he eagerly set sail for Europe,[19] Feiner was appointed president May 4, 1826,[4] by the Jesuit provincial superior, Francis Dzierozynski. He assumed the office on July 8, 1826,[20] despite suffering from advanced tuberculosis and unable to speak even basic English;[21] indeed, Feiner never mastered the English language.[22] When Feiner learned of the provincial's order, he is said to have entered Dubuisson's room sobbing and declaring that he was neither competent to hold the office nor desired it.[21] While president, he simultaneously ministered to the congregation at Holy Trinity Church in Georgetown.[8]

While president, Feiner was also a professor of moral theology in 1828 and of dogmatic and moral theology in 1829.[23] Given Feiner's failing health, John W. Beschter left for the college in anticipation of having to succeed Feiner as president.[24] Overall, his administration of the college was deemed lackluster.[25] He resigned the presidency on March 30, 1829,[26] and on June 9 of that year, he died at Georgetown College. There, he was buried in the Jesuit Community Cemetery.[3]


  1. ^ Georgetown was a separately chartered city within the District of Columbia until the consolidation of the district's governments into a single entity, Washington, D.C., with the Organic Act of 1871.[1]


  1. ^ Dodd 1909, p. 40
  2. ^ Burson & Wright 2015, p. 205
  3. ^ a b c d e Buckley 2013, p. 130
  4. ^ a b Kenrick 1916, p. 36
  5. ^ Kruszka 1905, p. 21
  6. ^ Schmid 2012, p. 135
  7. ^ Burson & Wright 2015, p. 209
  8. ^ a b Curran 1993, p. 99
  9. ^ Easby-Smith 1907, pp. 64–65
  10. ^ Kenrick 1916, pp. 35–36
  11. ^ Woodstock Letters 1886, p. 24
  12. ^ Reily 1885, p. 33
  13. ^ Woodstock Letters 1886, p. 10
  14. ^ Curran 2019, pp. 201–202
  15. ^ Curran 1993, p. 404
  16. ^ Shea 1891, p. 70
  17. ^ Easby-Smith 1907, p. 63
  18. ^ Drake 2003, p. 1141
  19. ^ Shea 1891, p. 71
  20. ^ Shea 1891, p. 73
  21. ^ a b Buckley 2013, p. 122
  22. ^ Burson & Wright 2015, p. 212
  23. ^ Ryan 1904, p. 5
  24. ^ Shea 1891, p. 79
  25. ^ Curran 1993, p. 101
  26. ^ Jackson 1878, p. 224


External links

Academic offices
Preceded by
Stephen L. Dubuisson, S.J.
13th President of Georgetown College
Succeeded by
John W. Beschter, S.J.

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