Holiness of the Church in the 19th Century – Venerable Franz Joseph Rudigier

Venerable Franz Joseph RudigierThe neighboring little district of Vorarlberg rivals Tyrol in the hope of seeing a son of its mountains raised to the honor of the altar. To see the Venerable Franz Joseph Rudigier, the devoted, undaunted, and sorely-tried warrior for the liberty of the Church, numbered among the ranks of the blessed would bring joy not only to every native Austrian but to all whose hearts beat warmly for the welfare of the Church. This servant of God came from a poor peasant family of Parthenen, in the valley of Montafon in Vorarlberg. He was born on 7 April 1811, and was the youngest of eight children. When twelve years old he was sent to study the Latin elements under his brother Joseph, who had just been ordained priest and whose duty it then was to say early Mass in Schruns.

Thence he went to the gymnasium and to the University at Innsbruck and then to the theological semi nary in Brixen. In all these schools he easily surpassed his fellow-students, but he was chiefly distinguished for his noble character and his earnest endeavor after virtue. Ordained to the priesthood on 12 April 1834, he was engaged for a short time in the care of souls at Vandans and Bürs, but in 1838 he went to the Frintaneum in Vienna to pursue special studies. After a year and a half we find him in the seminary of Brixen a professor of both Church History and Ecclesiastical Law and afterward of Moral Theology. Here he lived in most intimate friendship with two of his colleagues, Vincent Gasser and Joseph Fessler, who had been well known to him during his student days. Both of these likewise became distinguished ornaments of the Austrian episcopate – the first, prince-bishop of Brixen; the second, bishop of Saint Poelten. In Vienna the excellent qualities of Rudigier had been long remarked and in 1845 he was appointed court chaplain and spiritual director of the Frintaneum. The disturbances in 1848 gave Rudigier a favorable opportunity of freeing himself from his position at court. He was named Provost of Innichen in Tyrol, but in 1850 he became prebendary and the regent of the seminary of Brixen. His position at last became fixed with his appointment as bishop of Linz in Austria.

The office of an Austrian bishop in the middle of the last century was certainly full of difficulties. The destructive spirit of Josephinism had become incarnate among the officials of the State. To protect the inalienable rights of the Church against them was a gigantic task. A concordat was finally concluded, but the entire liberal and Jewish press made a tremendous outcry and aroused a most venomous agitation against the government and the Church. In consequence of this ceaseless baiting it was impossible to carry out the concordat. Austria’s ill success in the war with Prussia was also used against the Church. The emperor consented to the appointment of a liberal ministry, which enacted several laws impeding the necessary freedom of the Church, and in 1870 this ministry, for its part, annulled the concordat. The Catholic press was controlled in the severest manner, whereas the liberals were allowed to profane with impunity every thing sacred and to spread broadcast the most infamous calumnies against the Church.

One of the most heroic defenders of the Church in those sad times was the bishop of Linz. His sermons, admonitions to the clergy, pastoral letters, and his speeches in the Austrian Diet always struck fire in the hearts of the right-minded to the great anger of the liberals. Finally, the latter, using as a pretext a pastoral letter on the questions of schools and of marriage, succeeded in having him taken by the police and dragged before the General Court of Justice on 5 July 1869. He was condemned to fourteen days’ imprisonment on 12 July. But this only steeled his courage. From all parts of the Catholic world addresses of congratulation poured in upon the unyielding confessor of Christ. In later years Bishop Rudigier always considered it a day of special honor on which he was permitted to suffer contumely for the name of Jesus. His firmness impressed even his bitterest opponents. One of them said: “With this bishop every fundamental principle is set as fast as the stones in the walls of his cathedral.” Rudigier once wrote to Cardinal Rauscher: “Our dignity and future depend on our loyalty to our principles. If we depart but a needle’s breadth from those that are fundamental, we shall find and deserve our destruction.”

During his whole life he remained to the Church-baiting press the standing object of its jeers. His influence toward the restoration of religious life was too conspicuous. He did very much for the promotion of pious associations and a good press, for the training of an efficient clergy, and for missions to the people; and he proved himself a great protector of the regular Orders, especially of the Jesuits and the Redemptorists. An eminently notable trait of his character was his zeal for the veneration of the Mother of God. His biographer gives him the title of “Mariophilus.” He sought to introduce May devotions and the daily recital of the Rosary in all parts of his diocese. At half-past eight every evening he himself summoned all the members of his household to his private chapel and led in the recitation of the Rosary. On his Confirmation trips he always recited it with his servant even if the hour was late. In his old age he gloried in the fact that he was a member of the Sodality of the Blessed Virgin at Brixen and an honorary member of the Sodality at the Stella Matutina in Feldkirch. He celebrated the proclamation of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception as solemnly as possible. On this occasion he formed the noble design of commemorating the high prerogative of his heavenly Mother by the erection of a magnificent cathedral. When the question of undertaking the building was brought up at the provincial Diet, he particularly specified that the chief purpose of the new cathedral was that it should stand as a memorial of the Eighth of December, 1854, and he never rested nor shirked any sacrifice until the plan was executed. He did not, it is true, see the completion of the work in this world. He died a loyal servant of Mary on 29 November 1884, on a Saturday, the first day of the novena in honor of the Immaculate Conception. His last words were the concluding verses of the Stabat Mater:

“Christe, cum sit hinc exire,
Da per Matrem me venire
Ad palmam victoriae.
Quando corpus morietur,
Fac, ut animae donetur
Paradisi gloria.”

*Lord, through her who brought Thee hither,
Let me, hence departing whither
Thou the way hast found,
Come, through death’s opposing portal
To the victors’ palm immortal
With thy glory crowned.”

(translated by Father Tabb)

Then his breathing ceased; he did not pronounce the Amen; it was spoken by the Eternal Judge. Immediately after the death of the bishop the word passed from mouth to mouth: “The diocese of Linz has one more intercessor in heaven.” Soon followed extraordinary answers to prayers. The apostolic process of his beatification was begun in 1905 and we are now permitted to call the servant of God “venerable.”

– text from Holiness of the Church in the 19th Century by Father Constantine Kempf, SJ and Father Francis Breymann, SJ, 1916; it has the Imprimatur of Cardinal John Farley, Archbishop of New York