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Father Seelos in Action: His Kindly Approach

From SPIRITUS PATRIS, vol.XXVI, Number 1 — March 2000
Editor: Carl Hoegerl, C.Ss.R.

[Editor’s note: The following is an excerpt from a letter that Father Seelos wrote to his family from Cumberland, Maryland, September 24 — October 2, 1859, where he was superior of the community, prefect of students, and pastor of the parish of Saints Peter and Paul. The entire English translation of the original German letter can be found in the Positio super Virtutibus, II/2: 819 — 827, which was prepared for the process of canonization of Father Seelos.]

About the converts I have had since I am in America, I must tell all of you about an unusual case. Last spring, a Catholic came to me with the request to come to his house because there was a Protestant man there who wanted to have both of his children baptized by a Catholic priest. I went there and a young father went with me. When we were near the house, a man came towards us who from his whole exterior looked very much like a worn-out, ever thirsty, drunken soldier. At least, this was the impression he made on me and really, I was not mistaken in my judgment. He had been in the military in Germany, but left his native place, Darmstadt, Hessen, while still a young man and settled here in America in the State of Virginia, not very far from Cumberland; and from then on, his whole occupation was hunting.

Although these Allegheny Mountains are not very high, they are still very wooded; and there are, even at the present time, many varieties of wild animal; especially, bears, mountain lions, wolves, and snakes. Almost every time they go walking, our students kill one or the other snake, even rattlesnakes; and are not at all afraid, even though these last are very poisonous, and a person would die in an hour if he were bitten by one of them. Just a short time ago, they brought home to me a rattle, which is at the tail of the snake; or rather is the tail itself, after they had killed the snake.

But to get back to our hunter. He lived as a wild man in these hills and had to face a hundred dangers to his life every day. Once he had a desperate fight with a she-bear, which he finally killed, through the special help of God, after a long fight, and took both her cubs home with him. This feat made our German hunter very famous with the Americans, and the leading gentleman visited him, and even had the whole story printed in the papers together with woodcuts.

He married an American who, although she was of German descent, had not received baptism nor any other religious instruction. Our hero wanted to marry his heathen, brought her to the preacher right before the marriage, who then and there, before the wedding, had to baptize her without any instructions, something which he was practically forced to do with the explanation that this could take place at a later date.

In passing, let me say that most of the preachers in this country no longer have any faith at all, and see an action like baptism, at most, as a superfluous ceremony. They are already married eight years, and yet he only speaks German with his wife and she answers him only in English. Yet, as it seems, they understand each other very well. He wanted to have his two children, a boy and a girl, baptized by three different preachers, but none of them showed any interest about our poor Germans. Finally, a neighbor, by hook or by crook, cheated him of his house and his few possessions, so that he shot the one young bear that he still had in the house and came here with wife and children.

The first desire of his heart was to have the two little ones baptized. And so it happened that he turned to a Catholic priest. He gave me his hand in a friendly way, and then we both went into the house. He quickly came out with his request: I should baptize both his children on the spot, because he had picked this day and if it doesn’t take place today, then it won’t take place at all, because he was sick and tired of always being sent away without receiving satisfaction

“That’s all very fine, my dear man,” I answered in as friendly and polite a way I could, “but look here, if these children are baptized by a Catholic priest, they must also be brought up in the Catholic faith. Who’s going to take this job upon himself?” At this, he was somewhat perplexed and said, turning to his wife: “Well, this here woman still doesn’t have any religion, she ought to become a Catholic.”

Whoever has ever gotten to know a child of nature, as this American is, in her coldness and indifference to everything religious; how they are, nonetheless, prepared to accept everything because they do not care about anything and do not let themselves be seriously obligated by anything; only whoever knows such a child of nature easily understands the worthlessness of such an offer and the impossibility, humanly speaking, of such a conversion. But in order not to embarrass the good man, I turned to his wife and asked her if she would agree to such a step. “Oh, yes, Oh yes,” was her answer. “Well,” I said, “then we will immediately go over the main points together.” I had the man, his wife, and whoever else was present — all of them — sit down and the instruction began. The wife was to become a Catholic, and I was glad that her husband was also there, so that he would be convinced how this was not such a little affair. And actually, he always answered whenever his wife knew nothing, and could not even grasp anything, so that, because of increasing difficulty, I finally came out with the question: “Why don’t you want to become a Catholic? It would go much easier with you.” “I don’t think that would work, I’m already too old.”

And yet, although I was able to dispose of this objection for him, he absolutely did not want to return to our holy faith. All this took us quite a bit of time. I got him to the point, but with great difficulty, of coming to our church with the children and two sponsors who promised to do everything for the children and then to have both the children baptized solemnly; more especially, since for that day I had planned nothing else. There we could talk more in detail about his family circumstances, etc., etc.

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