Audio Book

Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos CSsR (Religious, Priest & Missionary)

Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos CSsR (Religious, Priest & Missionary)

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In the eyes of the secular world, Father Seelos’ life was of little consequence. In the ecclesiastical world he held no place of eminence in the American Church, nor did he leave a mark on the theological community. His legacy was more important than these. Father Seelos worked directly with individual people–men and women, young and old, sinners and saints–who were making their way to eternal life via the troubles, difficulties, and temptations of this world. His fame, known fully to God alone, lies in the manner in which he brought Jesus to the people and the people to Jesus–on the ordinary, everyday level of life.
GOD calls each of us, in every walk of life, to holiness. Father Seelos responded to this call to holiness by faithfully serving his Redemptorist confreres and the Catholic community as a priest of God. He performed his duties and accepted his daily crosses with humility and joy. His example clearly shows that holiness is attained not in doing what the world considers heroic but in being true to the responsibilities of one’s state in life as God ordains them. The life of this remarkable man proves beyond doubt that joy and holiness come to those who serve God and neighbor with a full and devoted heart.

Francis Xavier Seelos, (January 11, 1819 – October 4, 1867) was a German Redemptorist who worked as a missionary in the United States frontier. Towards the end of his life, he went to New Orleans to minister to victims of yellow fever. He then died after contracting the disease.
After being ordained, Seelos worked for nine years in the Parish of St. Philomena in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania—first as curate to St. John Neumann, who was the superior of the Redemptorist community, later as Superior himself, and for three years as pastor. During this time, he was also the Redemptorist Novice master. With Neumann, he also dedicated himself to preaching missions. Regarding their relationship, Seelos said: “He has introduced me to the active life” and “he has guided me as a spiritual director and confessor.”[2]

Seelos is described as, “…a tall, slender, dignified man, with a kind, open, innocent face.”[3] Although born in Bavaria, he spoke English elegantly and fluently.[3]

Seelos’s availability and innate kindness in understanding and responding to the faithful’s needs quickly made him well known as an expert confessor and spiritual director, so much so that people came to him even from neighboring towns. His confessional was open to all: “I hear confessions in German, English, French, of Whites, and of Blacks.” [1] He practiced a simple lifestyle and a simple manner of expressing himself. His preaching themes, rich in Biblical content, were always understood even by the simplest people.[2] Seelos was described as a man with a constant smile and a generous heart, especially towards the needy and the marginalized.
A constant endeavor in this pastoral activity was instructing the little children in the faith. Seelos favored this ministry, but he also held it as fundamental for the growth of the Christian community in the parish. In 1854, he was appointed Pastor of St. Alphonsus Parish simultaneously in Baltimore; Pastor and Prefect of Students at Sts. Peter and Paul Church in Cumberland, Maryland, in 1857; and Pastor and Prefect of Students at St. Mary’s Parish in Annapolis (1862). As Prefect of Students, he always remained the kind and happy pastor, always prudently attentive to his students’ needs and conscientious of their doctrinal formation. Above all, he strove to instill in these future Redemptorist missionaries the enthusiasm, spirit of sacrifice, and apostolic zeal for the people’s spiritual and temporal welfare.[4]

In 1860 Seelos was proposed as a candidate for the office of Bishop of Pittsburgh. Having been excused from this responsibility by Pope Pius IX, from 1863 until 1866, he dedicated himself to the life of an itinerant missionary preaching in English and German in the states of Connecticut, Illinois, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Wisconsin.[4]

Seelos notably preached a two-week parish mission at St. Mary of Victories Church in St. Louis, Missouri in October 1865. The Church has a small shrine to his honor, a first-class relic, and one of the five known death masks made of Seelos.[5]

After a year as Curate of St. Mary’s Parish in Detroit, Michigan, Seelos was assigned in 1866 as Pastor of the Church of St. Mary of the Assumption, New Orleans. However, his ministry in New Orleans was destined to be brief. In September of that year, exhausted from visiting and caring for victims of yellow fever, he contracted the disease. After several weeks, he died on October 4, 1867, at the age of 48 years and 9 months.

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