The Holiness of the Church in the Nineteenth Century – Anastasius Hartmann

Venerable Anastasius HartmannIn the footsteps of Xavier walked the Swiss Capuchin, Anastasius Hartmann. And it was Xavier’s spirit, too, that breathed in the soul of this far-sighted, self-denying, and bitterly tried missionary bishop. If the missionary life in itself is beset with privations, it was doubly so for Bishop Hartmann, since he had not only to contend against the blind specter of heathenism but also with the fanatical passions of a schism that threatened to rend his flock. But the desire to spread God’s kingdom was too deep-rooted in the servant of God to permit him to grow disheartened and feeble in this harassing strife or to be moved to unjust concessions.

Anastasius Hartmann was born on 24 February 1803, at Altwis, in the parish of Hitzkirch in the canton of Lucerne, studied at Solothurn and when eighteen years old joined the Capuchins at Baden in Aargau. Though still a young religious he filled with gteat success the offices of professor, novice-master, and missionary in his own country. His superiors would not gratify his desire for the heathen missions chiefly because the Swiss province of the Capuchins had no mission-field of its own. But in 1841 Father Anastasius presented a petition so eloquent and so inspired with burning zeal that his superiors no longer made objection to this clearly declared vocation.

After two years spent in Rome preparing for mission life Father Hartmann was sent to the vicariate-apostolic of Agra, in British India. He so fully met the expectations of his superiors that before two years had passed he was made titular bishop of Derbe and was appointed the first vicar-apostolic of Patna on the Ganges in West Bengal.

The heathen population of this new mission-district was not less than thirty-seven millions, with about four thousand Christians who had remained loyal. Formerly there had been a flourishing Christian community in Patna, but it gradually fell away. “I began to weep like a child,” writes Bishop Hartmann when he beheld upon his arrival the horror of desolation. But he was a man of deeds and did not despair, although, having but four missionaries under him, he was almost without assistance. Exerting all his powers, he organized his extensive diocese, studied the conditions on the spot and obtained money and new auxiliaries from Europe. The unwearying shepherd was almost continuously engaged in pastoral journeys which, being in the Tropics and with poor means of intercommunication, were extremely painful. The bishop had hardly begun to reap the first fruits of his activity when the confidence of the Apostolic See called him to another field of labor. In spite of the papal Bulls, the archbishop of Goa claimed jurisdiction over the whole of India. The schism arising from these pretensions found most of its adherents in the Presidency of Bombay – principally a portion of the clergy who stirred up disobedience to Rome by word and evample. In the year 1850 Bishop Hartmann was given charge of the vicariate of Bombay that he might try to reconcile the schismatics with the Church. But at his arrival, party hatred broke forth with violence. The schismatical priests, for the greater part uneducated men who had been hurriedly ordained in Goa, left no means untried to pervert the people. They succeeded in stirring up even the Irish colonists against the bishop. The press incessantly declaimed against the legitimate pastor. He found it necessary to start a newspaper of his own to defend the cause of the Church – “The Bombay Catholic Examiner,” which remains to this day one of the best advocates of the good cause in India. For a while Bishop Hartmann was himself obliged to assume the editorship. Three Goanese priests, who had treacherously deceived the bishop, were the soul of the schismatical movement. Once he was on the point of martyrdom. The schismatics had held him prisoner in a tightly closed church for eight days and nights during a time of extreme heat in order to make him surrender. He was almost dead of hunger and thirst when help arrived from Bombay. But by his tenacious constancy, prudent management, and charitable patience he broke the storm of schism. He had, of course, to pay the price in all the insults and injuries of which the hatred of apostates alone is capable. But the courage of the confessor was on this account all the more admired by the Christian nations of the West.

He had much also to endure from the British-Indian government in the defense of the rights of his flock. Protestant proselytism among Catholics was favored by the government in every way possible, especially by grants of money. So, too, was the schismatical movement much encouraged by the official body. At all times the undaunted confessor paid special attention to the foundation and improvement of schools and educational institutions. For this purpose he called the Jesuits to Bombay in 1851, to begin there an establishment for higher education. Much weakened by incessant suffering and hardship, the bishop in 1856 made a journey to Europe. After protracted negotiations with the Propaganda, an entire transfer of the Bombay mission to the Jesuits was effected. The physicians forbade Bishop Hartmann’s return to the Indies, so he resigned his vicariate and assumed charge of the mission college of his Order in Rome. As soon as his health was restored, however, he was obliged again to take up the apostle’s staff and for the second time to govern the vicariate of Patna. This had been frightfully devastated during the Sepoy rebellion (1857) and it was believed that the surest remedy for the evils done lay in the well-known efficiency and prudence of Hartmann. The venerable bishop set to work among the ruins of his vicariate with the enthusiastic zeal of a young missionary. For nearly six years, undeterred by any sacrifice or by any labor, he consecrated his remaining strength to the work. His love of immortal souls gave him no time for rest. In the midst of his labors and during a toilsome journey, the dreadful visitor of the Indies, cholera, came and bore him away on 26 April 1866.

A great life had come to an end. In spite of his love for exterior labors, the servant of God did not forget to work for the perfection of his interior life. The inner life of faith was the renewing source of his never failing courage. A heartfelt confidence in God, devout prayer, sincere humility and mortification, and his remarkable mildness were the weapons of his success. All who were well acquainted with him saw in him the type of a perfect missionary.

Bishop Hartmann was also unwearyingly active with his pen in the cause of Christ. Besides publishing many articles in the “Bombay Catholic Examiner” he was the author of a whole series of ascetical, philosophical, and theological treatises, of many translations into the Hindu language and of a grammar of the same.

– 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

MLA Citation

  • Father Constantine Kempf, SJ. “Anastasius Hartmann”. The Holiness of the Church in the Nineteenth Century, 1916. CatholicSaints.Info. 22 February 2018. Web. 19 October 2020. <>