Peter – Angel # 2 in Disguise

Peter Van Lieshout is a seminarian studying for the Catholic priesthood from the diocese of Rochester, New York.  Peter started his theological studies at the North American College in Rome in 2009 and created a blog named the Rochesterian Seminarian.  He uses this blog to stay in touch with family and friends so that he and they can communicate with one another.

I discovered Peter’s blog searching the Internet because on Thursday, July 30, 2009 he posted a story about his connection with the SVD Seminary at Conesus.  Here are Peter’s own words describing his blog post that day.  You will see the pictures that Peter provided with this post at

“I originally intended to get this out before I ever left for Rome, but things got pretty busy during those last few days and this post kind of fell by the wayside. Still, I thought some of the Rochester readers would find this kind of interesting. 

In the town of Conesus, about a 45-minute drive south of Rochester, lie the mostly abandoned buildings of what once was a booming seminary for the Societas Verbi Divini (SVD).

The Divine Word Fathers, as they are called here in the US, were originally founded in the Netherlands in 1875 as a missionary order. When they arrived in the Rochester Diocese and started their seminary on the slopes of Hemlock Lake, the Conesus area already had some claim to fame among Rochester Catholics. Just down the road was the former “lake cottage” of Bishop McQuaid and the O-Neh-Da winery, which he founded to produce valid altar, wines for his parishes (the D&C recently ran a story on the history of this winery). By the time the seminary was up and running, Conesus must have been something of a “hidden niche” of Catholicism amidst a Diocese which was itself growing and expanding.

In addition to the pictures I’ve included below, the seminary had ball fields and other grounds across the street, some other type of workshop down the road (I forget exactly what for) and I’m pretty sure even an outdoor, wooded “rosary walk” with large statues depicting each mystery.

Unfortunately the seminary itself closed in 1965, though I think several SVD Fathers continued staffing the building (for retreats, etc) into the 80s. Today, I think some of the rooms might be used for apartments, though as far as I can tell, the buildings seem almost totally empty.

I actually have something of a personal connection to the Societas Verbi Divini. Two of my great-uncles (my grandmother’s brothers) entered the order in the Netherlands, where they grew up, and were ordained priests some time in the 1950s. Today, one serves in Papua, New Guinea, and how’s this for an interesting side-note: I heard that in recent history, he was working in a local seminary teaching young seminarians how to speak Dutch so that they could be sent over to the Netherlands to serve there. Imagine that, a missionary priest who starts his life as a missionary to New Guinea working amongst the natives, and then lives to see the day when his home country has become the “missionary territory” with the original mission territory supplying the vocations! Sad, but true. It’s a reminder that evangelization never stops. Each generation which receives the inestimable gift of the Faith is also entrusted with the obligation to pass it on to the next. (This is an important lesson we learn from the Old Testament. The nation of Israel frequently failed to teach their children about the True God and His mighty deeds. When this happened, things fall apart afterward.)

The other of my great-uncles in the SVDs did his work in Indonesia. He had been quite sick recently, and actually, we received news just a few days before I left home that earlier this month he died. If you are reading this, would you in your kindness say a Hail Mary or an Our Father for the repose of the soul of Fr. Marinus Krol, SVD?” 

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Doug, Peter and Joel – Angels in Disguise

Most likely Doug Morgan, Peter Van Lieshout and Joel Fiske don’t think of themselves as angels but each was helpful to me in their own unique way as I looked for contacts and information to write the short history of St. Michael’s.

I discovered Doug Morgan, Town Historian of Lima, New York by doing an Internet search on anything related to St. Michael’s Mission House and/or Divine Word Seminary at Conesus.  Although Doug and I share the same last name we could not find the same cousins going back several generations.  We will have to return to Wales and Ireland to find the exact connection someday.

Douglass had collected hundreds of photos showing Divine Word seminarians, brothers and priests exercising, working, praying and studying in a variety of locations on the Hemlock lake property.  He graciously shared these pictures, information and an interview he conducted with two surviving members of the Joseph Iten family.  These relatives are related to Br. Fridolin Iten the designer and builder of the grottos at St. Michael’s and other SVD seminaries in the United States.

Leo and Mary Iten, now in their 80s, actually resided on the seminary property when their father and mother lived and worked on the SVD farm in the 1930s.  There are photos of Joe Jr., Leo and Mary making their first communion at St. Michael’s as well as this photo showing Br. Fridolin with his extended family.

Doug Morgan also accompanied me on a visit I made back to the property in July 2011 and took the latest pictures of what was St. Michael’s Mission House and now is a training facility for the Humanitarian International Service Group under the auspices of the Vision of Nations Fellowship.  The plan is to post photos of the buildings including the O-Neh-Da winery that Doug and I took on this visit.  Please share your thoughts and let your friends know about this blog.

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26 Miramar Postulants Become First Year Novices on September 8, 1961

50 years ago on September 8, 1961 graduates from Divine Word Seminary College at Miramar, Massachusetts received the habit and cincture of the Divine Word Missionaries and started their two-year clerical novitiate at St. Michael’s Mission House, Conesus, New York.

Receiving and welcoming this group into the Society of the Divine Word were left to right – Fr. Donald Strike, Fr. Provincial Leo Hotze, and Fr. John Donaghey.

Row 1 (zigzags)
Jim McGovern, Tom Streveler, Dave Streit, Arcade Laroche, Carl Seewald, Mike Manning, Ron Lange, Ed Delaney, Brian Wagner, Florian Wisniewski, Glen Coming, Steve Scalese, Noel Borck, Norbert Walliczek, Paul Gosselin, Pat Pichon.

Row 2
Mike Whitcraft, Paul Matura, Melvin Parquet, David Mishur, John Morgan, George Mullaley, Ted Smyczek, Frank Breslin and John Gerding.

Row 3 Acolytes were 2nd Year Novices
Larry LePlante, Jim Demarco, Bob Burke, Emmett? and Bob Gamble.

Location of the photo is the landing in front of the clerical scholastics quarters with the novitiate quarters and chapter to the upper right.  St. Michael’s Church (chapel) is to the left but NOT visible.

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Drama & Intrigue in Upstate New York between 1924-1936

One notion about religious orders of women and men is that in “retiring from the world” the member is still involved with worldly things.  St Benedict gave us “Ora et Labora” – one of monasticism early taglines.

Examples abound — Trappists in Dubuque make caskets to keep the lights on so that they can give retreats, Maryknollers started ORBIS a successful publishing company that disseminates ideas and supports clean water projects in Peru, Jesuits run hundreds of schools to educate and inform as well as to support their work with immigrants.

In short you find commerce or commercial undertakings supporting the charisms of all religious groups and societies. Life demands that seminaries, convents and monasteries be self-sufficient or self-sustaining.  Management expects that each location should at least pay for itself without being a continuing drain on the larger organization.

Brandewie says that “one of the reasons for selecting Riverside, California as an SVD seminary in 1956 was that the Riverside location was an orange grove estate, but as with the vineyard in Conesus, expectations that the orange grove would produce great income for the province were never fulfilled.”  (In the Light of the Word, p. 97)

The Divine Word Missionaries embraced this reality at Conesus where the society wanted to locate a seminary on property that contained an existing vineyard, winery and a working farm and orchards.  When you read the history of St. Michael’s Mission House you will begin to understand some of the difficulties the SVDs faced here that led to a dissolution of the community in 1928 after 4 years onsite and a return to Conesus only in 1936 after issues related to the winery and the Catholic Diocese of Rochester were resolved.

Keep checking back at this blog to find out when the SVD Community History Project histories will be published digitally so you can learn about the drama and intrigued that the Society was part of in upstate New York between 1924-1936.

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I originally created this blog to give colleagues and those related to members a chance to share their thoughts and insights about their experiences of living as members and members in training of the Divine Word Missionaries at St. Michael’s Mission House, Conesus, New York.

I’m most appreciative of the many thoughtful comments that “socii” or companions of the Divine Word have shared.  I’m also thankful of the interest and comment of a daughter of a “socius” who wanted to fill in some of the missing pieces in her father’s memoirs.

With that in mind I want to let anyone who comes to this site know that I have finished a 49-page short history of the SVD community at Conesus and would be delighted to share a pre-publication version of that history if you would agree to provide your constructive criticism and thoughts about making this history better and more inclusive.

The History of St. Michael’s Mission House is part of a larger effort to document many but NOT all SVD locations and seminaries in the USA.  I’m already working on a revision to this history of St. Michael’s Mission House and would value you as a collaborator.  Let me know your thoughts.  

Please share this blog with other socii or companions of the Divine Word and visit it often since I will frequently post new information about St. Michael’s and the SVD community history project. Also send me any Conesus stories and photos you have.  I would be happy to share with others and acknowledge your contribution.  Peace and blessings,  John M. Morgan

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Word Cloud Portrays the Mission of St. Michael’s

Word Cloud Based on 2500 most used words in the History of St. Michael's Mission House

Wikipedia describes a word cloud as a visual representation for textual information.  In a word cloud the importance of each tag is shown with font size or color. The word cloud format is useful for quickly perceiving the most prominent terms in a document.

I used a Wordle, a popular word cloud application, on the 15,813 words in the History of St. Michael’s Mission House and further specified that the graphical results should only include the 2500 most frequent words in the history.  The outcome is above at the left.

Mark 1:17 quoting Christ says best what was going on at St. Michael’s Mission House. Jesus said to them, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.”

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Brother James M. Djadoo of Togo returns to Africa as a missionary

In looking through a variety of sources while piecing together this history I was amazed at the rich variety of materials available.  In the history of St. Michael’s I relate the story of Maurice Djadoo who came to Conesus from Lome, Togo because he and his family had been touched by the sacrifice and dedication of SVD missionaries who arrived in his  country when his grandparents were children in 1892.

In October 1959 I was a first year collegian at Divine Word Seminary near Plymouth Massachusetts.  Several hundred miles to the west at St. Michael’s Mission House at Conesus Br. James Djadoo had recently completed his training, novitiate and received his Mission Cross after being assigned to Ghana in West Africa.

The source of the Brother James M. Djadoo story was the local newspaper, the October 1, 1959 issue of the Livonia Gazette.  I found that the local newspapers closely followed happenings at the seminary and were a rich source of stories some of which I relate in the History of St. Michael’s Mission House.  When you read about Br. James you will find out what happened after he returned to Africa and what he is doing today.

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Working with the St. Michael’s Mission House Numbers

SVD Members at St. Michael's Mission House (1925-1955)

The History of St. Michael’s Mission House contains an appendix showing the distribution of members by departments from 1924 through 1984.  Year 1957 saw the largest number of residents at Conesus.  These 214 members represented 15 priests, 15 brothers, 59 scholastics in two college classes, 60 clerical novices in two classes, 27 brother novices or brother postulants and 38 high school brother candidates.  The information in the appendix chart is derived and summarized from SVD Catalogus data over the same time period.

I developed this chart for the Conesus History to indicate what missionary training was going on at St. Michael’s Mission House during selected timeperiods.

Purpose and/or Function of St. Michael’s Mission House

Time Period

Years in Existence

Winery & Farm



Belated Vocations School



Novitiate for Brothers



Brother Candidates’ School



Novitiate for Clerics



Junior or Senior College for Clerics



SVD Members at St. Michael's Mission House (1956-1984)

The summarized SVD Catalogus data in the appendix also shows that after 1969 none of the traditional training of SVD missionaries took place at Conesus.  The priests and brothers in residence at Conesus continued their missionary work in apostolates that were no longer directed primarily at the training of younger candidates for SVD missionary careers.  This freedom gave the community opportunities to focus on creative ways to use their talents and charisms along with the buildings and location to provide a place for new ministries.

Finally if you look carefully at the appendix chart you will notice that it does not contain personnel information for the years between 1929-1935 and 1942-1946.  During the years 1929-1935 there were no SVDs living at Conesus.  Fr. Provincial Aldoph Burgmer dissolved the SVD community and reassigned the remaining 3 members (1 priest and 2 brothers) in July 1928.  He and his council decided it was simply beyond the Society’s means at that time to make a success of the O-Neh-Da wine label.

The data missing from my chart and from the SVD Catalogus for the time period 1942-1946 is due, I am told, because during WWII information was not systematically collected by many of the SVD communities and/or was not consolidated and distributed up and down the line.

However, you can read about all the exciting events during these two time slices as well as other happenings during the 60+ years of the SVDs at Conesus in the History of St. Michael’s Mission House.  This particular history along with the histories of other Divine Word locations is planned for publication in a digital format in the near future.  I will post a notice when the complete histories are available so please frequently check back here at this blog from time to time.

If you have any information, stories or photos to share about your time at Conesus please contact me John M. Morgan at or by cell at 404-392-8075.

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Buildings Announce the Arrival of the Word

The 1936-1937 Conesus House Journal briefly provides details on the arrival of the first students and their living arrangements, list of seminary faculty, brothers and number of students.  Here are a few selected items.

“First students entered October 1936.  They went to school at the white house (one-fourth mile south of present building) and slept at the Bishop’s House (below the winery and Goering’s residence).   In November 1937 students move into new Community Building.  Members of the faculty are:  Fathers Deppe, Thunich, Hafner (prefect of boys), Sieber and Rabe. Brothers are Fridolin, Francis Ganger, Willibrord, Herman, Corsinus, Joachim, Ignatius, Conrad and Xavier.”

1944 saw the erection of the modern farm buildings.  Construction of the Seminary Chapel started in 1946 and so by that year, St. Michael’s had acquired over half of its present structures.  During these years the winery had also been modernized with up-to-date machinery.  Keeping pace with the construction of the various buildings the Society repurposed the mission and functions many times during its sixty-year history at St. Michael’s.

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Brothers, Priests and Sisters Exemplify the Missionary Ideal

Exemplifying The Missionary Life

In 1957 Fr. Casimir Murawski, Rector at St. Michael’s Mission House, provided this assessment of the state of St. Michael’s Mission House.

“This report is a story of spiritual, material achievement and moral encouragement.  God has blessed the humble efforts of superiors and subjects alike beyond the expectations of even the most optimistic.  We have at Conesus the following members and departments:  15 Fathers, 15 Brothers, 59 Juniors, 60 Clerical Novices, 14 Brother Novices, 9 Brother Postulants and 25 Candidates. Together with 8 nuns who staff our kitchen and laundry, the community numbers 205 members.

The Fathers – Great credit for the high spiritual and intellectual atmosphere at Conesus must be given to the devoted and hard-working priests.  They are an inspiration and a source of genuine joy to the younger members and the aspirants of the Society.  To me personally they are faithful cooperators in the manifold tasks of our variegated institution.

The Brothers – The professed Brothers no less contribute generously and effectively to the high pitch of religious and missionary fervor as well as to the material prosperity of the Seminary. Under the superb guidance and leadership of the veteran Father Augustine Loechte they go about their daily duties with excellent supernatural motivation.”

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