A brief biography of Blessed Seelos
Francis Xavier Seelos was born on January 11, 1819 in Füssen, Bavaria, Germany. He was baptized on the same day in the parish church of St. Mang. Having expressed a desire for the priesthood since childhood, he entered the diocesan seminary in 1842 after completing his studies in philosophy. Soon after meeting the missionaries of the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer (Redemptorists), founded for the evangelization of the most abandoned, he decided to enter the Congregation and to minister to German speaking immigrants in the United States.
Seelos makes his way to the United States
Seelos was accepted by the Congregation on November 22, 1842 and arrived in New York on April 20, 1843. On December 22, 1844, after having completed his novitiate and theological studies, he was ordained a priest in the Redemptorist Church of St. James in Baltimore, Maryland.
After being ordained, he worked for nine years in the parish of St. Philomena in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, first as assistant pastor with St. John Neumann, the superior of the Religious Community, later as Superior himself, and for the last three years as pastor. During this time, he was also the Redemptorist Novice Master.
A passion for missionary work
During his time spent with Neumann, Seelos dedicated himself to parish ministry and 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.”
Seelos’ availability and innate kindness in understanding and responding to the needs of the faithful quickly made him well known as an expert confessor and spiritual director, so much so that people came to him even from neighboring towns. Faithful to the Redemptorist charism, he practiced a simple lifestyle and a simple manner of expressing himself. The themes of his preaching, rich in biblical content, were always heard and understood by everyone, regardless of education, culture or background.
A constant endeavor in this pastoral activity was instructing little children in the faith. He not only favored this ministry, he held it as fundamental for the growth of the Christian community. In all he did, he maintained a deep devotion to Our Mother Mary.
Spreading the Redemptorist mission across the United States
In 1854 Seelos was transferred from Pittsburgh to Baltimore, then to Cumberland in 1857, and to Annapolis in 1862, all the while engaged in parish ministry and serving in the formation of future Redemptorists as Prefect of Students. Even in this post he was true to his character, remaining always the kind and happy pastor, prudently attentive to the needs of his students and conscientious of their doctrinal formation. During his years in Annapolis, Seelos met with President Abraham Lincoln in Washington to urge him to excuse his seminarian students from military service during the Civil War. They were not officially excused, but were never drafted. Above all, Seelos strove to instill in these future Redemptorist missionaries the enthusiasm, spirit of sacrifice and apostolic zeal for the spiritual and temporal welfare of the people.
In 1860 Seelos was proposed as a candidate for the office of Bishop of Pittsburgh. He was 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 throughout Connecticut, Illinois, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Wisconsin.
His final years
After a brief period of parish ministry in Detroit, Michigan, he was assigned in 1866 to the Redemptorist community in New Orleans, Louisiana. Here also, as pastor of St. Mary’s Assumption Church, he was always joyously available to his faithful and singularly concerned for the poorest and the most abandoned. In God’s plan, however, his ministry in New Orleans was destined to be brief. In the month of September, exhausted from visiting and caring for the victims of yellow fever, he contracted the dreaded disease. After several weeks of patiently enduring his illness, he passed on to eternal life on October 4, 1867, at the age of 48 years and 9 months.
His Holiness Pope John Paul II declared Father Seelos “Blessed” in St. Peter’s Square on April 9 of the Solemn Jubilee Year 2000. There is one official miracle attributed to his intercession and other cases are currently under investigation. If the Vatican approves a second miracle, Blessed Seelos will be proclaimed a saint. His Feast Day is October 5th.