On this date in 1954, the Bismarck Tribune announced that abbots and bishops from across the United States and Canada were arriving in Richardton to attend the blessing and installation of Father Ignatius Hunkler as abbot of Assumption Abbey. Catholic dignitaries arrived from as far away as Pennsylvania, Saskatchewan, Washington, and Alabama. Father Hunkler was not only the first North Dakota native to become the abbot of Assumption Abbey, but the youngest abbot in the United States, at the age of 35.
Assumption Abbey was founded in 1899 in Richardton by the Swiss monk Vincent Wehrle. Originally a monastery, the community officially became an abbey in 1903 and Father Wehrle was named its first abbot.
Father Hunkler was born in 1919 in Napoleon. His parents were ranchers and he was one of nine children. The family wasn’t originally Catholic. However, a local school teacher boarding with the family inspired one of the children to convert. Eventually the entire family became Catholic in 1922. Hunkler graduated from the Assumption Abbey Prep School in 1938 and became a priest in 1946. He taught at the Abbey Seminary before being elected as abbot.
Father Hunkler valued education highly. He established Assumption College, a two-year liberal arts school open to women and men of all faiths. He oversaw the building of a new high school, a college dorm, and a student union. Unfortunately, the seminary, high school, and college would eventually close.
Father Hunkler’s largest legacy is in Bogota, Colombia. In 1960 the Archbishop of Bogota invited Hunkler to found a boys school in the city. Hunkler accepted, and sent four monks to Puerto Rico to learn Spanish. In 1961 the monks opened Colegio San Carlos in Bogota. This all-boys school is considered one of the best in Colombia. A priory was also founded, and Assumption Abbey still has a strong connection to the priory and school.
Father Hunkler resigned from the Abbey in 1966 and worked as a hospital chaplain in Boston and Los Angeles. He died in California in 1987, and is buried at Assumption Abbey.
Dakota Datebook by Trista Raezer-Stursa
“9 Bishops to Attend Abbot’s Installation,” The Bismarck Tribune. September 15, 1954, pg. 15.
“Ignatius Hunkler,” The Bismarck Tribune. September 9, 1987, pg. 11.
Assumption Abbey History https://assumptionabbey.com/abbey-history