The Zumbrunnen Go to College

The church at the Collège Saint-Michel, built 1606-1613

The church at the Collège Saint-Michel, built 1606-1613, was the heart of the college.
via Wikimedia Commons/(CC BY-SA 3.0)

Many of our ancestors were active in political offices, especially as leaders, clerks and secretaries in the Canton of Uri. By the 1500s in Switzerland, people with such aspirations often pursued some sort of formal education. So, the boys of the Zumbrunnen family began to go to college.

Their alma mater was the Jesuit Collège Saint-Michel[1], or the College of St. Michael, in Fribourg, Switzerland. The school was founded by Father Peter Canisius, S.J., in 1582. Amazingly, the school has some alumni records dating back to its founding. Nine different Zumbrunnen boys, all from Uri, enrolled in these early decades.

Obviously this “college” was much different than the modern American or European university experience. Boys enrolled between the ages of 10 and 21. Many of the pupils were local and lived at home, but the boys from far away places like Uri would board with private hosts or sometimes with clergy. In addition to religion, the curriculum included courses in the humanities, rhetoric, dialectic and logic.

While much of Switzerland was becoming Protestant at this time, Uri and Fribourg were holdouts of the Catholic faith, explaining the link between the two far-flung areas. Another advantage was that Uri was German-speaking, but Fribourg was in the French-speaking part of Switzerland, so attendance was also a French immersion program.

The information is not extensive. In most cases, the records only say the year of enrollment, the boy’s name, age, parents and hosts. In some cases, the history journal cited below added information about their subsequent careers. Here are the nine Zumbrunnen men who are alums of Collège Saint-Michel:

  1. Enrolling in 1610: Johann Zumbrunnen, age 15, son of Heinrich, who became a captain in the French service during the Thirty Years War.
  2. In 1612: Erasmus Zumbrunnen, age 12, son of Josue
  3. In 1613: Jacob Zumbrunnen, age 12, son of Josue. Host: Burgknecht.
  4. In 1613, Fridolin Zumbrunnen, age 12, son of Henry. Host: Haberkorn. He later became a priest in the Order of St. Benedict, and a professor of theology.
  5. In 1620, Franz Zumbrunnen, age 11, son of Josue. He became a Capuchin priest and assumed the name Paschal. Host: Lutenschlager.
  6. In 1624, Andreas Zumbrunnen, age 11, son of Martin.
  7. In 1624, Conrad Zumbrunnen, age 11, son of Josue. Host: Burgknecht.[2]
  8. In 1660, Franciscus Zumbrunnen, age 18, son of Burkhard and Ana Catharina Behsler. He became a Marian priest.
  9. In 1661, Johann Anton Zumbrunnen, age 14, son of Burkhard and Ana Catharina Behsler. He became a Capuchin priest and assumed the name Primus.

I’m not sure if Johann Anton was the last member of the family to attend because the records I found end in 1663. The Zumbrunnen family was dying off in Uri by this point. A number of the men perished in the Thirty Years War, while others emigrated away from Uri and converted to Protestantism.

1) Yours truly also has a Jesuit education!
2) A peculiar story explains the 36-year gap between Conrad’s enrollment in 1624 and Franciscus in 1660. In 1628, the plague struck Fribourg, and over 30 of the college students died. Classes were suspended for six months, and most students returned home. Conrad, apparently after four years at the school (the records contain no indication of how long students typically enrolled), was prevented from leaving by his hostess, Ursula Burgknecht, because of unpaid debts to her. Apparently, the dean of the school intervened to negotiate the boy’s release. Conrad’s father later filed some sort of grievance with the city over the incident with the hostess. The story is recorded as this combination of pestilence and the bad hostess kept the Zumbrunnen and many other boys from Uri away from the school for several decades.


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