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Hoffmann, Mathias Martin
(January 7, 1889–January 10, 1961)

–chaplain, historian, and author—was born in Dubuque, Iowa, the son of Mathias M. and Mary (Voelker) Hoffmann. He attended St. Joseph's Academy and graduated from St. Joseph College (now Loras) in 1909. He attended St. Paul Seminary in Minnesota and received his S.T.B. from Catholic University in 1913. He was ordained by Archbishop John Ireland of St. Paul on June 10, 1913. His first assignment was as an assistant pastor in Dyersville, Iowa, at St. Francis Xavier Church.

    He remained in that position until 1917, when he entered the U.S. Army as combat chaplain in Europe with the Texas Rangers First Division. He was sent to France, where he saw action in several key battles. He received a number of medals for his service during World War I, including the Victory Medal, the San Mihiel Medal, and a special regimental citation in the Battle of San Mihiel on December 12, 1918. Msgr. Hoffmann remained in Europe following the war with the American Army of Occupation, serving under General John Pershing, and received one of the few Pershing Medals distributed to Americans. He left the army with a rank of major and went to England to study at Oxford University.

    Hoffmann returned to the United States in 1919 and joined the faculty at Columbia (Loras) College, where he remained for 22 years. He chaired the Economics Department after receiving his M.A. from Catholic University in Washington, D.C., in 1924. He took several trips to Europe and Russia. He even registered as a member of the Communist Party so he could tour Russia. He spoke six languages and took a keen interest in European history. When World War II broke out, he was in Europe. He returned to Loras College, but resigned his faculty position to reenter the army as a chaplain. In 1945 he received the rank of colonel and held that rank in the U.S. Army Reserves. On November 24, 1945, he received a special letter of commendation from Army Brigadier General George B. Foster for his service record in two world wars.

    After leaving the army in 1945, he was appointed pastor of St. Francis Xavier parish in Dyersville, Iowa, where he remained until his death. While pastor, he built a new high school, a new gymnasium, and a parish auditorium. St. Francis Xavier parish was elevated to the rank of a basilica during his time there. In 1960 the Dyersville library was named the Mathias M. Hoffmann Public Library in his honor.

    Msgr. Hoffmann was a well-known Catholic historian, the author of numerous books and articles on church history in the Midwest, as well as the history of the Dubuque area and the state of Iowa. He contributed to a number of Catholic and secular scholarly journals and newspapers, including the Witness, American Catholic Studies, the journal of the American Catholic Historical Society, Columbia, America, and Commonweal. Among his more noted books are Antique Dubuque, 1673-1833 (1930), Church Founders of the Northwest (1937), Centennial History of the Archdiocese of Dubuque, 1837-1937 (1938), and The Story of Loras College (1939). In 1938 Hoffmann received an honorary Doctor of Letters from his alma mater, Loras College. Msgr. Hoffmann was made domestic prelate by Pope Pius XII in 1948.

    His service extended beyond the armed forces and his parish. He was chaplain general of the Civilian Conservation Corps during the 1930s; head of the Labor Forum in Dubuque in the 1940s; and took part in the John Deere strike arbitration in the early 1950s. He was active in the Knights of Columbus, was state of Iowa chaplain for the American Legion, was a member of the Last Men's Club of the Army's 90th Division, and was active in the Dyersville Commercial Club. At the age of 72, the Rt. Rev. Msgr. Mathias M. Hoffmann died in Dubuque and was buried in Dubuque's Mount Calvary Cemetery.
Sources include newspaper and vertical files at the Loras College Archives and the Archives of the Archdiocese of Dubuque; Sr. Mary Thomas Eulberg, The Rt. Rev. Msgr. Mathias M. Hoffmann, V.F., Whose World Was Others (1989); I. John Hargrafen, "The Historical Writing of the Rt. Rev. Msgr. M. M. Hoffmann"
Contributor: Michael D. Gibson