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Wernimont Fund gives $275,000 for seminarian education

By JOANNE FOX, Globe editor
(Email Joanne)

The name “George Wernimont” may not resonate immediately with the laity.

However, there are a number of Sioux City diocesan priests who owe their post-graduate education to this Carroll County individual.

George Wernimont and his wife, Helen, were instrumental in establishing the George N. Wernimont Education Fund in 1976.

This year, the foundation’s board of directors committed to donating $275,000 to the diocesan Office of Vocations for the education of seminarians.

The fund is a nonprofit, 501(c)3 public foundation – separate from the Diocese of Sioux City – and its purpose, according to its Articles of Incorporation, is to “support and to assist the Roman Catholic Church in its education of students for the Roman Catholic priesthood by providing funding for poor, indigent and worthy students, as well as proving supplemental funding of any seminary programs, and by other assistance in achieving the education of students to the Roman Catholic priesthood.”

The corporation began with a donation of farmland from the Wernimonts and continues to serve as a depositor for gifts and bequests.

“We would like to emphasize the need for more people to get involved with providing funding to educate our seminarians,” explained Hubert Hagemann, secretary and manager of the foundation. His mother, Helen Hagemann, was one of George Wernimont’s sisters.

“Uncle George and Aunt Helen were older when they married and didn't have any children,” Hagemann continued. “They decided to establish the George N. Wernimont Educational Fund to have a place to will their assets after death so that the income from the assets could help educate men studying for the priesthood in the Sioux City Diocese.”

Initially, there were four farms, plus other investments, that started the fund.

“Another sister donated a farm to the fund also,” Hagemann said. “Since its inception, the education fund has given the Sioux City diocese almost $4 million for seminarian education.”

According to Father Brad Pelzel, diocesan vocations direction, the foundation monies are applied to the educational expenses of seminarians in major theology, post-graduate/college studies. A second foundation, the Duhigg Trust, provides money for the formation of college-level seminarians.

“When we speak of the educational costs for seminarians, people just assume that we are talking tuition, room and board,” Father Pelzel said. “But there are many more expenses related to a seminarian’s education; in particular, the costs of the summer programs that help form the men in the pastoral aspects of their future ministry.”

Those programs include the Institute for Priestly Formation; intensive language studies, such as, Spanish, Latin and Italian; the Rome Experience Summer program, Clinical Pastoral Experience, or CPE programs, and several others, Father Pelzel noted.

George Wernimont died in 1981; Helen Wernimont died in 1994. Their funerals were held at St. Lawrence Church, Carroll.

“During the many years after the death of her husband, Helen Wernimont, with the advice of the members of the board, faithfully adhered to the intent and purposes of the foundation,” said Bishop Lawrence D. Soens at the time of her death. “She took a personal interest and had a genuine love for each seminarian and priest who benefited from her kindness. The foundation was a labor of love, and an expression of her overall strong and vibrant Catholic faith. The ongoing efforts of the foundation will serve as her memorial.”

Hagemann praised the Wernimonts’ foresight in creating the fund.

“Their forethought to establish a legal entity that will continue to be able to generate income for seminarian education and be able to receive assets from other donors to add to their original gift is probably what I admire most about them,” he said.

Continuing this legacy helps the Diocese of Sioux City to educate the men that will be its priests, Hagemann added.

“Also, it serves as an example for other people to do some gift giving to help the diocese with seminarian education,” he said.

The greatest challenge facing the foundation, Hagemann felt, is managing the assets to be able to generate the maximum income for the education needs for the diocese.

“The more seminarians the diocese has, the more funds it will need,” he said. “The board is hoping that if people know about the foundation, that will encourage them to consider making long-term donations that can be used to maintain and increase the number of priests that are available to serve the needs of the Catholics in northwest Iowa and wherever they are needed.”

While a portion of the Wernimont Foundation’s assets are invested in stocks and bonds, the majority of its revenue is from the cash rent of its farmland, Father Pelzel clarified.

“Stocks can go up and down, but we’re always going to have the farmland and its income,” he said. “The board of directors for the foundation is very conscientious in making sure that the cash rent is set at an equitable amount so that the diocese receives the most money that can be raised while at the same time the farmers who rent the land are able to earn a fair return as well.”

Individuals, who would like more information on the foundation or wish to donate, may contact Father Pelzel at (712) 233-7522 or email bradp@scdiocese.org.

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