Thursday, 21 January 2010

Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos, C.SS.R. (1819-1867)

Blessed Francis Xavier was born at Füssen, Bavaria, Germany on January 11, 1819 and was baptized the same day in the parish church of St. Mang. According to his own testimony, he received the first impulses for virtue and piety from his truly Christian mother. The years of his studies, which he began in 1842 at Augsburg and Munich, he passed without the slightest blemish. His great love of God and ardent desire to promote His glory and the salvation of souls led him first into the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer into which he was received on 22 November, 1842, and then to apply for the American Mission. He left Europe via Le Havre, and arrived in New York, on 18 April, 1843 (some sources say 20 April). He completed his novitiate in Baltimore, was professed on 16 May, 1844, finished his studies, and was ordained on 22 December, of the same year in the Redemptorist Church of St. James in Baltimore, Maryland, U.S.A.

Until May, 1845, he was attached to the community of St. James, where he already gave proofs of truly apostolic zeal. In the confessional he was indefatigable, winning the hearts of sinners by his extraordinary affability and kindness. In the pulpit, and particularly when giving catechetical instructions, his language was so persuasive, so full of heavenly unction, that his hearers never failed to derive spiritual profit. Such was the effect of his public discourses all through life.

In May, 1845, he was transferred to Pittsburgh where his Superior was Saint John Nepomucene Neumann, afterward Bishop of Philadelphia. Besides F. Seelos, Rev. Joseph Mueller was then stationed at Pittsburghh. These three men were such, that the Bishop, Right Rev. M. O Connor, used to call them “The three saints of St. Philomena’s.” Later Bl. Francis Xavier would say of Saint John Nepomucene that he had introduced him to the active side of religious life and had been his spiritual father.

In 1847, Father Seelos was placed in charge of the novices. In 1851, he was made Rector of that community. During the nine years that Father Seelos laboured in Pittsburgh, he acquired the reputation of a saint, a reputation which rendered his name immortal, and with that of Father Neumann's left a kind of sacred prestige in that place. He became well known as an expert confessor and spiritual director, so much so that people came to him even from neighbouring towns. But his greatest joy was to instruct little children in the Faith.

From Pittsburgh, Father Seelos was transferred in 1854 as Rector to St. Alphonsus, Baltimore, where from over-exertion in 1857, he fell sick. After a short stay at Cumberland and then Annapolis he was appointed spiritual Prefect of the professed Students. The years of his prefecture may be considered the most important of his whole life. By word and example, he preached to the young men the spirit of self-denial and prayer, the love of study and true apostolic zeal. Most of his pupils imbibed under such a director that spirit which ever afterward made them staunch Redemptorists. During the Civil War, Blessed Seelos relocated his seminarians to Annapolis in 1862. He visited President Abraham Lincoln in an effort to exempt seminarians from the draft. Because only priests could be exempt, Blessed Seelos arranged for Archbishop Francis Patrick Kenrick to ordain all 20 seminarians. In 1860, Father Seelos’ name was proposed for the episcopal see of Pittsburgh, but his humility succeeded in averting a blow which seemed to him the greatest misfortune that could befall him through a dispensation conferred by Blessed Pius IX.

From 1862 he was to devote himself to the work of giving Missions and retreats. In that sphere he again won the reputation of sanctity wherever he appeared preaching in English and German in the states of Connecticut, Illinois, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Wisconsin. The Faithful, as well as the clergy in general admired his heroism, and proclaimed him the saint among the missionaries. No wonder that God’s blessing accompanied him wherever he went.

In 1866, after being attached for a short time to the Detroit monastery, he was transferred to New Orleans. He arrived there in September, 1866, and it was not long before his name became a household word among the Faithful of the three churches under the Redemptorists’ charge. From far and near, people of every class and condition, rich and poor, old and young, learned and unlearnd, men and women, came to make their confession, particularly general confessions, to that saintly priest. He was looked upon as a heaven-sent physician for the cure of every spiritual ill. But Fr. Seelos earthly career was soon to be terminated.

On 17 September, 1867, he took the yellow fever which he had contracted through his pastoral visits to those suffering from the disease and, notwithstanding the most tender care lavished upon him, and the numerous prayers and offerings made for him, his life was not spared.

Cheerful and contented as ever, he looked forward to his eternal reward. He died, while the brethren around his bed were singing, at his request, one of his favourite hymns to Our Blessed Lady on 4 October, 1867. He was 48 years old.

Father Francis Xavier Seelos was beatified on 9 April, 2000, and his Feast was established on 5 October. His precious relics repose in his shrine at St Mary’s Church, New Orleans. †

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