BL. FRANCIS XAVIER SEELOS
Bl. Francis Xavier Seelos, a Redemptorist priest, zealously served immigrants in the United States
Bl. Francis Xavier Seelos, one of 12 children born to Mang and Frances Schwarzenbach Seelos, entered the world on 11 January 1819 in Füssen (Bavaria, Germany). He was baptized in the parish church of St Mang where his father, after having been a textile merchant, would become the sacristan.
After completing his primary education, he expressed a desire to become a priest and attended St Stephen's Institute in Augsburg. Receiving his diploma in 1839, he went on to the University in Munich, where he completed his studies in philosophy and then began to study theology in preparation for entering the seminary.
It was at this time that, through his acquaintance with Redemptorist missionaries, he came to know the institute's charism and apostolic work, especially among immigrants in the United States of America.
Moved by apostolic zeal and deeply touched by the letters published in the Catholic newspaper Sion describing the lack of spiritual care for German-speaking immigrants, Seelos decided to enter the congregation, asking to work as a missionary in the United States. Receiving the necessary approval, he arrived in New York on 20 April 1843.
On 22 December 1844, after having completed his theological studies and novitiate, Seelos was ordained a priest in the Redemptorist Church of St James in Baltimore, USA. A few months after ordination, he was transferred to St Philomena's Parish in Pittsburgh, wherehe remained nine years. His first six years there were spent as an assistant to St John Neumann, who was also the superior of the Redemptorist community. The remaining three years, Francis Seelos served as superior of that same community. It was during these years that he was appointed novice master.
His availability and his kindness in understanding and responding to the needs of the faithful quickly made him known as a confessor and spiritual director, so much so that people came to him even from neighbouring towns. The faithful described him as the missionary with a constant smile and a generous heart, especially towards the needy.
Faithful to the Redemptorist charism, he practised a simple lifestyle and a simple manner of expressing himself. The themes of his richly biblical preaching could always be understood even by the simplest people. A constant pastoral endeavour was instructing little children in the faith. He not only favoured this ministry, but considered it essential for the growth of the Christian community.
In 1854 he was transferred from Pittsburgh to a number of cities in the state of Maryland: Baltimore, then Cumberland (1857) and Annapolis (1862), all the while engaged in parish ministry. In Cumberland and Annapolis he also served in the formation of future Redemptorists as prefect of students. He was always prudently attentive to the needs of his students and conscientious of their doctrinal formation. Above all, he strove to instill in these future missionaries enthusiasm, a spirit of sacrifice and apostolic zeal for the spiritual and temporal welfare of the people.
In 1860 Bishop Michael O'Connor of Pittsburgh recommended Fr Seelos as the priest most qualified to succeed him. Francis Seelos wrote Pope Pius IX, explaining his inadequacy for such a responsibility and asking "to be liberated from this calamity". He was overjoyed when another priest was named Bishop of Pittsburgh.
With the outbreak of the U.S. Civil War, new laws were enacted in 1863 requiring every able-bodied male to make himself available for military duty. Seelos, as superior of the Redemptorist seminary, went to Washington and asked President Abraham Lincoln to exempt Redemptorist seminarians from military service. Lincoln, according to Seelos himself, was not only extremely receptive to the petition, but promised to do everything in his power to bring it about. In fact, the students were exempted from going off to war.
Relieved from his office as prefect of students because, according to a zealous confrère, he was too obliging and not severe enough with the seminarians, he dedicated himself to itinerant missionary preaching in English and German in Connecticut, Illinois, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Wisconsin.
After a brief period of parish ministry in Detroit, Michigan, he was assigned in 1866 to the Redemptorist communityin New Orleans. Serving as parish priest of St Mary of the Assumption Church, he was known to be joyously available to his faithful and concerned for the poorest and the most abandoned. His prayers were considered very powerful in obtaining favours from God.
In God's plan, however, his ministry in New Orleans was destined to be brief. Exhausted from caring for yellow fever victims, he contracted the disease and, after several weeks of patiently enduring his illness, died on 4 October 1867 at the age of 48.
He was beatified by Pope John Paul II on 9 April 2000.
Weekly Edition in English
12 April 2000, page 2
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