Posted below is a condensed version of part of the autobiography of Pastor Johannes Jacob Strieter, who was ordained in 1852 in the LCMS (at that time called Die Deutsche Evangelish-Lutherische Synode von Missouri, Ohio und Anderen Staaten). This excerpt describes his time at the "Practical Seminary" in Fort Wayne, Indiana, beginning in 1850. The Fort Wayne Seminary was started by Wilhelm Löhe in 1846 as a sort of emergency training outpost, designed to prepare pastors for the field rather quickly, a practice which eventually was discontinued. Dr. Wilhelm Sihler was the head of the Seminary at the time. As you might imagine, the contrast between today's seminary experience and that of yesteryear is quite dramatic. I haven't seen too many of our seminarians go for a swim in the river after class, along with the head of the Seminary!
LIFE IN THE “PRACTICAL SEMINARY”
I took the canal boat to Fort Wayne. I went straight to the seminary. Steinbach told me later when they saw me coming, they imagined I was a tramp. The students told me where to find Dr. Sihler. He sat in the kitchen and was making a pony for his son, Christian, by tying his colored handkerchief on a chair leg. He told him who I was, where I came from and what I intended to do. He inquired about Craemer but I could give him no information. October 10, 1850 I arrived in Fort Wayne and Craemer arrived October 24th. Dr. Sihler called up the stairway, “R!” Above his small study the Doctor had a room which served as a lecture room. Two students were sitting there: R. and W. They also boarded with the doctor. R. came and Sihler said, “You take Mr. S to Mrs. Bornemann.” She was a widow and she boarded me for some time. The doctor asked whether I had money. I told him no, and he said, “Good, every quarter year is payday. Then you go to Mr. Griebel and he will give you money.” So it was. Every quarter cost $5.00 which I received from Mr. Griebel. The farmers brought us many things, even half of a hog and fine sausage.
Soon I moved into the seminary. When Professor Craemer arrived, studying certainly began. There were 20 students and the professor gave us such long lessons to study and prepare that I sometimes only got two hours' sleep. We soon had bad headaches. Lessons began at 8 o'clock. At 10 o'clock we got a slice of bread but no butter. At noon, continuously beans. At one, lessons began again until four. Then we often went to the river behind the milldam for a swim. Sometimes Doctor went with us.
After I was in college 6 weeks I had to catechize on the Seventh Commandment. Weekly, we were obliged to go to the doctor's house. On the second floor in R's and W's room these lectures were held. The Catechist got six or seven scholars from teacher Wolf. These school children sat on a bench. The college students stood and leaned against the walls of the rooms. The doctor sat in a chair and the Catechist before the children. Fear, we had plenty. I started. I had some practical experience with violation of the seventh commandment. I showed that all humans are thieves. After I was finished the Doctor asked every student in rotation what he had to criticize. Soon after, I delivered a paper on the false doctrines concerning Holy Communion. At another time I attended to a child's burial out in the woods. While we were singing two men stood behind me and sang loud over my shoulder but in the middle they sang differently and upset me. In the second verse just so, but by the third I turned my face somewhat towards them and sang louder and this time I held the melody. I also gave religious instruction in the neighborhood. Once I delivered a funeral sermon from Sihler's pulpit.
Professor Craemer accepted a preaching place and appointed me his Vicar. The place was called Nothstein after a man who resided there. Others lived in the woods about there. It was twelve miles from Fort Wayne. Every two weeks I had to preach. I started in the morning afoot, preached, and held religious instruction with the children, and then walked back in the afternoon. Twice others relieved me; otherwise I always attended it myself.
In 1852, at the end of June and the beginning of July, a synodical meeting was held in Fort Wayne. A certain Pastor B. from Ohio, was present and joined the synod. B. came to Craemer and asked for a pastor which he needed for a congregation that he had in Ohio. Craemer called me and told me I must be examined and then go to Ohio with Mr. B. to serve as pastor. In reality, R. and I had been appointed to become Indian missionaries. We both were enthusiastic! Craemer had St. Matthew's Gospel translated into the Chippewa language. Roeder and I would open our testament, Craemer would read it in the Indian language and we would repeat it. Then we copied the terrible jawbreakers to memorize them. The Chippewa language had many difficult words, because the language had few words and consequently everything had to be elucidated by description. Miessler, later a doctor in Chicago, who became Baierlein's successor in Bethany told us before he left that the Chippewa language is rooted in the Hebrew.
I pleaded with Professor Craemer not to send me because I wished to study longer, but to no avail. At 8 o'clock I seated myself before Professor Craemer and Dr. Sihler. The students sat behind me. Craemer examined me until 10 o'clock; then after a short pause Dr. Sihler tackled me. His first question was, “What do we read - Matthew 13?” Luckily I knew. But now I also should explain what those parables teach us. How this turned out, I do not remember anymore, but I received my diploma. On July 4, 1852, we took the canal boat to Toledo. Then on a steamer we went to Sandusky, to Monroe, Detroit, and Cleveland.
photo credit: curtis4x5