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From Allgäu to America

From Allgäu to America

It is not for me to criticize the Pope. But when John Paul II called the "Swabian homeland" of Father Seelos the "mother soil of his faith", the compatriots probably did not agree. After all, Allgäuers and not Swabians live in Füssen. The former will have forgiven the Pope. In the year 2000, he beatified one of them: the Redemptorist Father Francis Xavier Seelos.


His path of life began in 1819 in the city on the river Lech. The gifted son of a poor weaver wanted to become a priest. He studied theology in Munich and decided to work with the Redemptorists as pastoral workers for immigrants in the USA. In 1843, he crossed the big pond and never saw his hometown again.

One year later, he was ordained priest in Baltimore. He became a spiritual counsellor for ordinary people. He knew what it meant to be poor and he took care of these people. He worked as a vicar in Pittsburgh, and later in various places as pastor, superior, missionary and novice master. In 1866 he was transferred to New Orleans. When yellow fever broke out in the city, he tirelessly visited the sick, got infected himself and died on October 4, 1867.

His grave was quickly turned into a sanctuary for the local people. Now, 150 years after his death, I'm going to Füssen, to visit his birthplace. How much does the Blessed One influence the consciousness of Christians? I'm meeting the deacon Alfred Hofmann. In the city, dominated by the castle where the bishops of Augsburg resided, next to the former Benedictine abbey, many things are still the same as they were when Franz Xaver Seelos was a child. Deacon Hofmann walks the streets with me. He shows me the house where he was born, walks with me along the boy's way to school.

Pilgrims in front of the birthplace of the Blessed Father

Francis Xavier Seelos in Füssen

The father of Francis Xavier worked in the baroque church of St. Mang from 1830 onwards as a sacristan, his son was an altarboy there. As we enter the sacristy, the deacon points out a processional cross to me. In the middle of the staff is a relic of the Blessed One. Deacon Hofmann is completely committed to the person of Father Seelos. "He was a great Redemptorist," he says. He calls him the "cheerful ascetic" because, in spite of all his austerity towards himself, he radiated joy and confidence. At the beatification ceremony of Francis Xavier Seelos in Rome, the deacon was present along with the delegation from Füssen. He also visited New Orleans, where the relics of the Blessed Man are venerated. He saw the memorial shrine, the exhibition and admired the pictorials. What impressed him most was a bench on which a life-size figure of the blessed was sitting. He was able to sit next to it and spoke with it in his Allgäu dialect, which Father Seelos understands to this day. In the parish church St. Mang, the former Benedictine monastery church, Alfred Hofmann shows me the memorial shrine. In former times, it was situated at the side altar right next to the entrance. But there was too much commotion there. Now it has been moved to the back of the church. Blue and yellow glass plates exude a calm atmosphere. In the middle a portrait of the Blessed One, candles burning beside it. People sit in front of it, write down their intentions and throw them into a box. Deacon Hofmann explains: "Once a year we empty the box. On the slips of paper, everything that weighs on people is mentioned: illness, abandonment, drug addiction and death. From the slips of paper, the deacon then prepares intercessory prayers, which are included in the holy Mass.

Memorial to the Blessed man in the parish church of St. Mang. Here, people come to find peace of mind.

He himself is the most zealous admirer and patron of the Blessed. He has compiled a lecture with pictures. With this, he travels to the parishes around Füssen. He has also made his famous compatriot known in Tyrol. From time to time people from New Orleans visit the birthplace of their Blessed One. They want to see the surroundings where he grew up.

The people of Füssen themselves venerate him "in silence", as Deacon Hofmann says. "People come, stay and leave again." Only on the anniversary of his death, October 4th, is there a special mass each year.

© Photo Paul Schwartz

On the left side of the reliquary in New Orleans is depicted how Franz Xaver Seelos leaves his home country (in the background St. Mang Church) to wait for the ship to America together with the emigrants.

Author: Father Joseph Steinle, Redemptorist

Taken from: Briefe an unsere Freunde, August 2017