The Holiness of the Church in the Nineteenth Century – Brother Johannes Baptist Stöger

Brother Johannes Baptist StögerNot alone the missionaries in foreign lands, but also the lay-brothers who pray and work at home, obtain the grace of perfect holiness. The simple and humble Brother John Baptist Stoeger is a recent example. The foundation of his future sanctity was the exemplary Christian training he received from his parents. His father was an ideal of the man who is thoroughly Catholic and shows his deep conviction in his deeds, and the family was a true example of Catholic life. Once the children wished to go to the capital on Corpus Christi to see the procession at Saint Stephen’s, but the father would not permit it because it was more for the sake of looking at the show than of devotion.

The only son John, born on 4 October 1810, showed himself worthy of such a father. In early boyhood he manifested great pleasure in religious exercises. He was also a great lover of books. His father, with true watchfulness, took care that these inclinations of his soul should bring him only profit. John was not wanting in talent and a desire for study. But his father thought it too costly and dangerous. So at fifteen the boy had to take care of the horses, often driving into the city and in other ways helping in the ordinary work. Nature had given him a cheerful and lively temperament. Still the years which are usually so full of moral peril to others served only to fix deeper in his soul a zeal and love for the Faith and to foster that most beautiful of all the virtues, purity. He knew that angelic life required angelic nourishment and so he often sought the table of the Lord. And since it was hard to attend to this matter in Enzersfeld, he often rose at two o’clock in the morning without acquainting the others of it and went to Vienna to receive Holy Communion.

John was to be the heir of his father’s property. But he had long found his treasure in the acre of which the Gospel speaks and his father was much too religious a man to refuse to God the sacrifice of his only son. When twenty-five years old Stoeger asked to be admitted among the Redemptorists at Vienna. After he had spent almost a year as a postulant he was sent to Eggenburg in lower Austria to make the regular noviceship.

Thenceforth John Stoeger was dead to the world. He performed no prominent apostolic work for the weal of his fellow-man save by his life of prayer and labor, but remained hidden from the world for more than forty years, always in the same place – the quiet cloister of Eggenburg, attending to his duties as gardener. Brother Stoeger entered into his vocation with all the fervor and love of which his pure and uncorrupted spirit was capable. Nothing was too difficult or too mean for him if it helped to perfect him as much as possible in his vocation. His fervent devotion in prayer was known to all. But the whole of his day’s work was really one unbroken prayer. “This brother,” said a missionary, “saves more souls by his prayer than all our fathers by their preaching.” Brother Stoeger was quite as zealous in his work as in prayer. He once said: “One must work as if he had always to live and he must pray as if the day was his last.” Thus he observed his “Work and Pray.”

God always and by preference makes the saints bearers of the cross – sometimes to try them, sometimes to glorify them the more. And Brother Stoeger was not spared the cross. With oncoming age he endured spiritual desolation and abandonment, being especially tormented by a temptation against faith. Should we consider him as doing penance for the weak faith of our days or as giving it an example of steadfastness? To these spiritual afflictions which, however, were often interrupted by hours of consolation, were added great bodily sufferings until the Lord called His faithful servant to Himself, on 3 November 1883. In 1900, after the process of beatification was begun, his remains were transferred from the common graveyard to the chapel of the Redemptorists in Eggenburg.

– this text is taken from The Holiness of the Church in the Nineteenth Century: Saintly Men and Women of Our Own Times, by Father Constantine Kempf, SJ; translated from the German by Father Francis Breymann, SJ; Impimatur by + Cardinal John Farley, Archbishop of New York, 25 September 1916