The Holiness of the Church in the Nineteenth Century – Saint Clement Mary Hofbauer

detail of the bas-relief on the tomb of Saint Klemens Maria Hofbauer; date and artist unknown; Church of Maria am Gestade, Vienna, Austria; photographed on 30 October 2010 by Andreas Praefcke; swiped from Wikimedia CommonsThe religious state gives testimony to the Holiness of the Church by its extraordinary fruitfulness in holy lives during the nineteenth century. The first and, up to the present (1916), the only canonized saint of the last century is the Apostle of Vienna, Saint Clement Mary Hofbauer. We find in him the genuine type of the saint. He was a man enflamed with divine love, inspired by the ardent zeal of an apostle and endowed with an heroic constancy in the Faith. The source of his strength was his intercourse with God. All who came into contact with him were swayed by the power of his personality. But it was not the influence of natural gifts, it was the grace of God which he possessed in rich abundance. He had studied little, yet he spoke with great security and clearness on the profoundest truths of religion which in his time were much obscured by the so-called “Eclaircissement.” His sermons were simple, without rhetorical adornment and in defective German, still he attracted all and moved their hearts. Providence had sent him to show the world how Christianity must become a living fact in us.

The chief features of his eventful and highly interesting life will make clearly manifest to us his providential mission.

Hofbauer was born at Tasswitz, near Znaim, in Moravia, on 26 December 1751, the son of plain country folk. The family was numerous and of small means. The father died early and our saint was obliged to learn a trade, though it was his dearest wish to become a priest. He served his apprenticeship in a bakery at Znaim and then became a baker in the Premonstratensian chapter-house at Bruck. Here, at the age of twenty, he found some opportunity to learn a little Latin in his leisure moments. But he found the greatest delight in spiritual occupations, so he betook himself at the age of twenty-five to a hermitage near the place of pilgrimage called Muhlfrauen. On account of the unsettled state of the times, the hermitage was closed a year afterwards, and Hofbauer found himself thrust back into the midst of the world. In search of work he now turned his steps toward the capital, Vienna, which city was to become the principal scene of his apostolic labors. Here Providence brought him into companionship with a like-minded good young journeyman baker, Peter Kunzmann, a native of Unterfranken. The following year they made a pilgrimage together to the tomb of the Apostles.

After some years of work, they again recrossed the Alps, but with the intention of remaining in the Eternal City for the rest of their lives. On their way they came to the hermitage of Tivoli and resolved to remain there. The bishop of Tivoli, Barnabas Chiaramonti, afterward Pope Pius VII, gave them the habit of the Hermits. But, although Hofbauer felt much delight and consolation in this solitude, the desire to become a priest ever grew stronger. So six months later he returned to Vienna to prepare himself by study for the priesthood. He found friends who helped him.

In the following year he again went to Rome, this time in company with his friend Thaddeus Hubl, to continue his studies. On this occasion both became acquainted with the Redemptorists and applied for entrance into the novitiate. They were the first Germans who entered the Congregation. The saint did not forget his Fatherland. He asked his superiors to be permitted to practise there his apostolic vocation. His petition was granted. After their ordination in 1786, the two friends returned to Vienna. But here the dominant spirit of Josephinism placed the greatest obstacles in their way. They journeyed, therefore, to the north, seeking a free field for labor. They found a friendly reception in Warsaw and were given the German church of Saint Benno. The city soon learned what a treasure it had gained.

The amiable father at Saint Benno’s drew all hearts to him. His sermons were more eagerly attended day by day, his confessional was besieged. Besides this he went out to preach in the public squares and gathered the young around him for religious instruction. It is particularly noteworthy that the young applied to him for entrance into the Congregation that they might share his labors. A convent of the Redemptorists was established at Warsaw. In 1793, Hofbauer was made vicar-general of the Congregation north of the Alps. His renown spread far beyond the confines of Poland and accessions came even from Germany and France. With Warsaw as center, he undertook the foundation of new establishments of his Congregation in Germany and in Switzerland.

The year 1808 brought the labors of the saint in Warsaw to a sudden end. By command of Napoleon the convent was closed and the Redemptorists taken to the fortress of Kiistrin, which was then in possession of the French. After a confinement of four weeks they were individually sent to their native country, Father Hofbauer bent his footsteps toward Vienna. His residence at Vienna forms the glorious period of his apostolic activity. Although he was seized by the police immediately after his arrival in the city and imprisoned for three days as a suspect and was therefore under almost continual surveillance, against the power of a saint even the police are powerless. The modest room of the former baker’s apprentice became the focus of ecclesiastical life in Vienna. Rich and poor, learned men, artists, politicians, nobles, sons of princes, simple tradesmen and citizens, priests both secular and regular, and above all the young, went in and out getting instruction, advice, and consolation and receiving the spirit of genuine Christianity. Through the saint’s help innumerable persons found the happiness of faith. Many Protestants and Jews owed their conversion to him. It is enough to name only a few of those who came under his influence – Frederick August von Klinkowstrom, Zacharias Werner, John Frederic Schlosser, Frederick Schlegel and his wife Dorothea Mendelssohn, Emanuel Veit, Philipp Veit, Adam von Miiller, Josepf Othmar Rauscher and others. Frederic Leopold von Stolberg, Clement Brentano and Joseph von Eichendorff also had intercourse with Clement Hofbauer in Vienna.

The saint gained undying merit by “the promotion of a good press. In this his friends faithfully seconded him. Whoever really knows the Church must love her. It was therefore the saint’s endeavor to spread by means of books and periodicals a true enlightenment among the people, who had been getting only a caricature of the Christian religion from a rationalistic and irreligious literature. Joseph Anthony von Pilat, an editor, made a general confession of his life to Hofbauer and from that time forth his influential paper, “The Austrian Observer” (Der Osterreichische Beobachter), was consecrated to the service of the good cause. Especially at the time of the Vienna Congress this paper was a trenchant weapon in defense of the rights of the Church. That the plan of Wessenberg to establish a German national church failed, was chiefly due to Clement Hofbauer.

The saint was a true reformer. He made the world conscious of what it means to act and to think as a Catholic. His admirable life and the example of his heroic virtue was a tangible argument of the divine power of our Faith. He died on March 15, 1820, at midday, while the Angelus bells were ringing. His burial was like a triumphal march such as Vienna had rarely witnessed. By his solemn canonization on May 20, 1909, Pius X gave the great son of Saint Alphonsus to the world as an example of how all things are to be renewed in Christ.

– 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