Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos was a German religious priest and a missionary to the United States. Francis was born in 1819 to Mang and Franziska Seelos, one of twelve children. The family lived at Füssen in the Kingdom of Bavaria, currently near the southern border of Germany. The family was faithfully Catholic, and Mang provided for them as a tailor and a textiles merchant. As a child, Francis was known to be devout and cheerful.
ON THE WAY TO THE PRIESTHOOD
After completing grammar school, he expressed an interest in becoming a priest, and his parish pastor encouraged him. He continued his education at St. Stephen’s at Augsburg. At age twenty, he went to Munich, where he earned his degree in philosophy, and entered the diocesan seminary in 1842.
CALLED TO BE A MISSIONARY
Later that year, Francis was moved by reading in a Catholic newspaper that Redemptorist missionaries serving in the United States were lamenting the large number of German-speaking immigrants who had no priests whom they could understand. He visited a German Redemptorist house, and was admitted to the order to train as a missionary. He arrived at New York in the spring of 1843 after having written a loving letter of farewell to his family. He finished his novitiate with the Redemptorists as well as his theology degree, and was ordained in Baltimore in December of 1844.
SAINTS ARE FRIENDS WITH SAINTS
Fr. Seelos’s first assignment was at St. Philomena parish in Pittsburgh, where he was the assistant, or curate, for [St.] Fr. John Neumann. This was a most beneficial assignment, for not only was Fr. Neumann the Redemptorist superior, he was a Czech-born missionary who spoke twelve languages. Fr. Neumann, who became the first male canonized saint of the United States, was a deeply holy man who set an excellent example as a pastor. He taught Fr. Seelos how to be a good confessor and how to preach a mission. He also helped him to master the English language. The nine years that Fr. Seelos spent in Pittsburgh were rich with learning experiences as well as trials. As was the case in many places in nineteenth century America, there was a strong current of anti-Catholicism, often at the instigation of the Know-Nothing movement. One day, Father was requested to come to the bedside of a gravely ill Catholic woman by her non-Catholic husband. The man beat Father severely upon his arrival. Not only did Father not tell anyone about this beating, he declined to press charges when the incident was discovered. This was the worst of several anti-Catholic incidences that were directed at him.
SUPERIOR AND NOVICE MASTER
When Fr. Neumann left St. Philomena to become a bishop, Fr. Seelos became the pastor, as well as the Redemptorist superior and novice master. In 1854, he was given a triple assignment: Pastor of St. Alphonsus parish in Baltimore, and Pastor/Prefect of two Catholic schools in Maryland. He was proposed to be the Bishop of Pittsburgh in 1860, but believing that he was completely unqualified, he requested to be excused from this obligation, which was granted. He then set out to be a traveling mission preacher, going as far west as Missouri, and as far north as Wisconsin, preaching in both English and German as needed. In 1863, when men were conscripted into the Union army, Father went to Washington D.C. and asked President Lincoln for an exemption for the Redemptorist seminarians from conscription, which was granted.
A CALL TO THE DEEP SOUTH
After a year-long assignment in Detroit, Father was assigned in 1866 as pastor to a parish with many German speaking people, St. Mary of the Assumption in new Orleans. True to his usual practice of serving the spiritual and temporal needs of his people there, Father aided victims during an outbreak of yellow fever in September of that same year. He caught the dreaded disease himself and died October 4, 1867 at forty eight years of age. Even when he was alive, Father’s prayers were believed to be remarkably effective, but soon after his death, numerous prayers invoking his intercession were favorably answered, not only in New Orleans, but in all the places where he had served.
THE CHEERFUL ASCETIC
Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos is remembered as “the cheerful ascetic”, a tribute to his life of self-denial and a sincere and likable disposition. He was troubled, as a young man, that many people had abandoned the Faith because they were rudely treated by a priest, and he resolved to live his priesthood in such a way to preach the truth with charity. He was especially welcoming to all, including hardened sinners, to bring their misery to his confessional and have a personal experience of the mercy of Jesus. His preaching was exceptional, drawing people from beyond the parishes where he spoke, and yet was understandable even to the uneducated.
The beautiful St. Mary of the Assumption Church in New Orleans’ Garden District houses a shrine, including many of his personal belongings and his relics for veneration.
The cause for his canonization was opened by the Redemptorist order in 1900, and he was beatified by Pope [St.] John Paul II in 2000. At least one medically unexplainable cure due to his intercession is currently being investigated as the possible proof needed for the successful conclusion of his cause.