The Holiness of the Church in the Nineteenth Century – Francis Xavier Seelos

Blessed Francis Xavier SeelosThe Servant of God, Francis Xavier Seelos, a Bavarian Redemptorist, did great work for German-American Catholics. He was born at Fiissen on 11 January 1819, made his classical studies at Augsburg, and then went to the University of Munich. Shortly after his entrance into the seminary of Dillingen, 3 November 1842, he asked to be received into the Congregation of the Redemptorists. The career of his patron saint presented to him his ideal and he was to have abundant opportunity to put this ideal into practice. In March of the following year he was sent to the United States to found the first North American novitiate of the Redemptorists. On 22 December 1844, he was ordained by the archbishop of Baltimore. A gigantic task awaited the ardent zeal of the young priest; for the country was so extensive, and there were so many immigrants and so few priests. Father Seelos spent the first year of his priestly labor in parish work and in the direction of religious communities. Afterward he traveled through the wide country as a missionary among the people. Everywhere an unmistakable blessing followed his labor. Men observed that in himself, as in all he said and did, there was an expression of most intimate conviction with which his external conduct was in complete accord. And so it came to pass that he soon had everywhere the reputation of a saint. He alone was much astonished at this and called himself a hypocrite who would have to undergo the severest judgment before God for having so deceived men by his conduct. But when we read what his brethren tell of his prayerfulness, his zeal for penance, his spirit of faith, and his profound humility, we can not wonder that God bestowed so many graces upon his labors and worked through him a multitude of miraculous cures. Father Seelos was an apostle who entirely forgot himself and his own interests and whose heart was wholly filled with the Redeemer’s compassionate love of souls. If such men accomplish great things in the vineyard of the Lord, it is because they have in themselves something of that attractive power which the Son of God Himself exercised when He was upon this earth.

Like his life, the death of Father Seelos was heroic The yellow fever had broken out in New Orleans. Contemning death, he visited the dying to give them the last consolations of religion. He was soon a victim of the epidemic and with cheerful resignation he died, aged forty-eight, on 4 October 1867. This noble death attracted the notice of the world to the sanctity of the servant of God.

The “Baltimore Volks Zeitung” wrote: “The Order of the Redemptorists has lost in him a precious jewel, Catholics one of their most zealous missionaries, and the Church a most exemplary priest; but heaven has gained a saint and a martyr. Charity, gentleness, and piety spoke from his countenance and his exhortations in the confessional compelled obedience through love and goodness. He was indeed a man who by his goodness of heart, by his sincere sympathy for all in distress and by his simplicity and affability won all hearts. Father Seelos died of yellow fever, a victim of his divine vocation, a martyr of charity to suffering humanity.”

The “Catholic Mirror” said on the occasion of his death: “It is not ours to speak of the interior life, of the mortification and self-denial of Father Seelos, which gave him a singular power over men whether in the pulpit or in the confessional. It is sufficient for us to say that in his congregation, which is not wanting in admirable examples of virtue, none has been more highly revered than Father Seelos.”

A New Orleans paper gives him this praise: “No one could see him especially at the altar or in the pulpit without being convinced that the man belonged rather to heaven than to earth.” May the authority of the Church soon declare the sanctity of this son of Bavaria!

– 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