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Franz Friedrich Wilhelm von Furstenberg

Statesman and educator, b .August 7, 1729 at Herdringen in Westphalia; d. September 16, 1810

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Furstenberg, FRANZ FRIEDRICH WILHELM VON, statesman and educator, b .August 7, 1729, at Herdringen in Westphalia; d. September 16, 1810, at Munster. After receiving his early education from private tutors, and from the Jesuits at Cologne, he attended the university there, and at Salzburg, for the study of jurisprudence, which he completed at the Sapienza in Rome in 1753.

In 1748 he had become canon at the cathedral of Munster and, later, also at Paderborn, and received minor orders and subdeaconship, though he had no intention of entering the priesthood. During the Seven Years War (1756-1763) he rendered signal services to his country as intermediary between the opposing camps, and through his influence warded off many a calamity from the city and principality of Munster.

After the death of Clemens August, Elector of Cologne and Prince-Bishop of Munster, on February 6, 1761, it was chiefly through the influence of Furstenberg that Maximilian Friedrich von Konigseck-Rothenfels, who had succeeded Clemens August at Cologne (April 6, 1761), was also elected Prince-Bishop of Munster in September, 1762. In recognition for these services the new prince-bishop entrusted Furstenberg with the temporal and spiritual administration of the Prince-Bishopric of Munster. In 1762 he appointed him privy councillor and minister and, in 1770, vicar-general and curator of educational institutions. No better man could have been found to manage the temporal and spiritual affairs of the Prince-Bishopric of Munster which had suffered severely during the Seven Years War. Everybody was deep in debt and all trade and commerce was at a standstill. To restore prosperity to the people he improved agricultural conditions by dividing the land into marks, draining marshes and reclaiming much soil which hitherto had lain idle or in pasturage. He ameliorated the condition of the serfs and gave an impulse to the entire abolition of serfdom. In order to liquidate the public debt he placed a duty on such imported goods as could be easily dispensed with, and for a space of six years levied a moderate capitation tax from which the privileged estates were not exempted. He improved the military and the sanitary system, the former by founding a military academy at Munster and by introducing the “Landwehr”, the latter by founding a college of medicine (1773) and inducing its director, the learned Christopher Ludwig Hoffmann, to draw up a code of medicinal regulations which was justly admired throughout Germany as a model of its kind.

The greatest achievement of Furstenberg was his reform of the educational system. During the latter half of the eighteenth century the higher educational institutions of Germany had become veritable hotbeds of rationalism and irreligion, and not infrequently pronounced freethinkers were engaged to instruct the candidates for the priesthood. These conditions were not only permitted but often directly favored by a few unworthy but influential prelates, among whom must be numbered Furstenberg’s superior, Max Friedrich, the Elector of Cologne and Prince-Bishop of Munster. To counteract this state of affairs, Furstenberg planned a reform of the educational institutions in the Diocese of Munster. Luckily he was not hampered in this by his superior, the prince-bishop. He began his reform with the gymnasium, as the basis of the education of the future Catholic priest, whom he considered the chief leader and teacher of the people. After consulting with acknowledged educators, especially the Jesuits who then directed the gymnasium of Munster, he drew up a tentative plan for the gymnasium in 1770, which, after a few changes, was enforced by his famous school ordinance of 1776. According to the new plan great stress was laid on a thorough training in theoretical and practical Christianity, and a course in Catholic philosophy was added to the curriculum. In: the same year he turned the recently suppressed convent of Ueberwasser at Munster into a seminary where the hitherto neglected candidates for the priesthood could receive the requisite moral training. Furstenberg then directed his attention towards the completion of the new University of Munster (approved in 1773) where, as an effectual safeguard against rationalistic tendencies, he appointed to professorial duties only men who had been educated at the schools of his diocese and whom he knew to be firmly grounded in their Faith. To the most talented of these he offered every opportunity to prepare for professorial positions and even gave them the means to pursue special courses at foreign universities.

Furstenberg’s political activity came to a close in 1780, when Maximilian Franz, the brother of Emperor Joseph II of Austria, was elected coadjutor to Maximilian Friedrich as Archbishop of Cologne and Prince Bishop of Munster. Furstenberg himself had aspired to this position and undoubtedly would have been elected if it had not been for the great influence of the Court of Vienna which favored the election of Maximilian Franz. Furstenberg was obliged to resign the ministry but was allowed to retain the office of vicar-general and curator of education. He now turned his entire attention towards the remodeling of elementary education. Through his ordinances for elementary schools in 1782, 1788, and 1801, he freed the system of elementary education of at least the most striking abuses. In order to obtain zealous and competent teachers he founded a normal school in 1783, which he put in charge of the famous educator, Bernard Overberg. After Prussia had taken possession of Munster in 1803, Furstenberg’s influence over the educational system began to decline, and when in 1805 he protested against the appointment of a professor of Protestant theology at the Catholic University of Munster, he was honorably dismissed as curator of education on the plea of old age. In 1807 he also resigned the position of vicar-general. Furstenberg’s renown as an educator had drawn some of the greatest minds of Europe to Munster, among them the Princess Amelia von Gallitzin, in whose return to the Catholic Faith from which she had become estranged in her youth, he was greatly instrumental.


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