Fr. Ignatius Lissner
First Provincial Superior of the American Province
Fr. Ignatius Lissner is often called the “founder of SMA’s American Province” and he represents the earliest SMA presence in the United States. Born in France in 1867, he was ordained to the SMA priesthood at age 24. After serving a period in Africa, he made a fundraising visit to North America and saw a need for ministry to blacks in the United States.
He and fellow SMAs began mission work in America, struggling against both racism and anti-Catholic bias. Fr. Lissner earned the respect and support of those who shared his vision, among them the nun who today is known as St. Katherine Drexel. The heiress-turned-nun Mother Drexel remained a lifelong friend of Fr. Lissner.
Fr. Lissner and his other SMAs started numerous churches and schools, particularly in the American South. He was determined to train African-Americans to become priests and nuns, following the SMA tradition set out by the society’s Founder, Bishop Melchior de Marion Bresillac. Fr. Lissner helped establish a black order of nuns, the Handmaids of Mary, and he also built SMA’s first seminary in the United States in 1921.
Located in Tenafly, New Jersey, it was the only integrated seminary in the country at its time. When SMA decided to officially designate an American Province in 1941, Fr. Lissner became its first Provincial Superior. He proved to be a strong administrator despite many hardships and challenges during his time of service. Due to poor health, he retired in 1948 and died two years later on August 7, 1948. He is buried in Tenafly, New Jersey.