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Interpreting the Promise of America

Book CoverBernt Julius Muus: Founder of St. Olaf College
Joseph M. Shaw

ISBN 0-87732-088-8
393 pp. Copyright © 1999, The Norwegian-American Historical Association

On November 6, 1999, St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota, celebrated the 125th anniversary of its founding in 1874. On that occassion, the Association was pleased to publish volume four in its Biographical Series, Bernt Julius Muus: Founder of St. Olaf College, by Joseph M. Shaw. The Reverend Muus (1832-1900) arrived in Goodhue county, Minnesota, from his native Snåsa, Norway, in 1859, the same year that he had been ordained as a Lutheran minister in the Church of Norway, and became, as a commentator stated, "the dominant man in Goodhue county" until his return to Norway in 1899, where he died the following year. Muus's entire ministerial career was thus devoted to work among emigrated Norwegians.

The first book-length biography of Bernt Julius Muus, founder of St. Olaf College, is a welcome, long overdue summary of the achievements of this significant leader among Norwegian immigrants. His work in founding St. Olaf College in itself would justify a biography, but Muus also left his mark on the wider circles of the Synod for the Norwegian Evangelical Lutheran Church. During a forty-year ministry centered in Goodhue county, Muus served Holden and nearby churches, traveled indefatigably to establish and minister to congregations in southern Minnesota, filled the office of bishop of the Minnesota District of the Norwegian Synod, took an active part in theological disputes, and ceaselessly urged the church to do more in the field of education. "The schools, the schools, that is the future," he wrote.

The career of Bernt Julius Muus is that of a fascinating, capable, but flawed leader. In achieving his goals, Muus gained the support he needed, but also infuriated his opponenets. He was too brusque and uncompromising to win widespread popularity. Eventually, he was expelled from his own church body for his stubborn nonconformity. Nevertheless, at that dark moment he graciously thanked his colleagues for earlier years of cooperation.

When Muus wrote an associate, "I concern myself with his actions, not with his disposition," he revealed his conviction that dedication to a worthy cause took precedence over personal attitudes. Ever mindful of his failings, he directed his energies toward improving the spiritual and temporal well-being of his fellow immigrants, their children and grandchildren. His primary concern was not his personal reputation but what he could do to serve God and future generations.


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