Historical Timeline of Blessed Seelos’ life
In his lifetime, Blessed Seelos built no great church. He wrote no great theological tract. He left us no great spiritual autobiography. Yet his spirit continues to speak to thousands today by the cheerfulness and gentleness that marked his life. The ordinariness of Seelos’ life gives hope and encouragement to all of us who struggle to live the gospel of love and forgiveness.
January 11, 1819: Seelos’ Birth & Baptism
1819-1828: A Sickly childhood
From infancy until his ninth year, Seelos was constantly sick and not expected to live beyond his childhood. During this time, his mother tried to prepare him for heaven by admonishing him to be patient and telling him beautiful stories of the saints. His sister Antonia said, “He was always so amiable and tranquil that we loved him most of all.” This thoroughly Catholic atmosphere implanted in the soul of young Xavier the seeds of an all-pervasive spiritual outlook on life. | Shown above, Fr. Seelos’s childhood home in Füssen where he and all of his siblings were born. A plaque denotes the significance of the building.
January 3, 1825: Seelos begins Primary School
Seelos begins primary school at age 5 in the Volksschule, a one-room school for boys nicknamed “the old Kornhaus” because the first floor was previously the marketplace for the sale of corn to the townsfolk. Along with the standard studies, singing was a large part of Seelos’ school life. He was taught hymns and folk songs, enthusiastically sang at the children’s Mass, and learned to play violin. He retained a love of singing all his life.
September 3, 1828: Seelos receives the Sacrament of Confirmation
Seelos receives the Sacrament of Confirmation at the age of nine from the ordinary of Augsburg, Bishop Augustine Ignatius Albert von Riegg.
April 2, 1830: Seelos receives First Communion
Seelos receives his first Holy Communion “with very great devotion,” notes his sister, Antonia. Throughout his childhood, Seelos had displayed many signs of his calling to the priesthood, one of them being to “play priest” with his friends around a small altar he built at home. He was also an altar boy and helped his father in the local church, where he was “wholly in his element,” according to Antonia.
April 11, 1831: Seelos graduates from primary school
12-year-old Seelos finishes his early schooling. His diploma states that he was gifted with “very great” innate ability, and received “excellent” marks in Diligence, Conduct, Religion, Reading and Handwriting.
June 20, 1832: The Redemptorists arrive in America
The first six Redemptorists arrive on U.S. soil from Vienna, Austria, to minister to the influx of German-Catholic immigrants who were without churches or German-speaking priests. They were the first to come to the United States and the first to undertake an overseas mission of the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer. For the first seven years, they suffered many hardships on the American frontier. | Shown above, illustration of New York City and the East River, 1848.
October 1832: Seelos attends High School
As a teenager, Seelos begins studies at the Royal Catholic Institute of Studies at St. Stephan (the Gymnasium) in Augsburg, a city 90 miles away from his home. It was his first experience being away from his closely knit family and also of living in a large city. His sister notes, “All the students liked him very much, and they called him ‘Banker Seelos,’ for as long as he had a penny he loaned it or gave it away, so that often he himself had to go hungry. Despite this, he was always in the best of humor and cheered up the others when they were lonesome.” | Shown above, an illustration of St. Stephan in Augsburg.
1837: Seelos Joins the Greater Latin Marian Confraternity
Seelos joins the Greater Latin Marian Confraternity, nourishing his devotion to Mary learned at home in his childhood. He is in good company, following in the footsteps of fellow members St. Alphonsus, St. Francis de Sales, St. Stanislaus, St. Peter Claver, St. Therese, St. Bernadette and many more.
April 8, 1839: The Redemptorists settle in Pittsburgh
Meanwhile in America, after struggling for several years to establish a community in the States, Redemptorist superior Joseph Prost nearly calls it quits, for by that point there was nothing else to do but chalk it up as a noble, but failed experiment. And then, a German-born immigrant told Fr. Prost of several thousand German-speaking Catholics in Pittsburgh who were without a priest. Fr. Prost immediately requested an invitation from the bishop of Philadelphia and received it on April 7, 1839. The next day, he packed up all his belongings in three small trunks and made his way to Pittsburgh to form what would become St. Philomenia Church, where in 6 short years Seelos would become assistant pastor. | Shown above, illustration of St. Philomena Church c. 1859.
August 26, 1839: Seelos Graduates from High School
Seelos graduates from the Gymnasium of St. Stephan, with a recommendation for entrance into a university. In a class of 69 students, he ranked 9th in general excellence and 1st in effort and progress. Oddly enough, he ranked 30th in German.
November 5, 1839: Seelos begins University studies in Munich
Seelos begins attendance at Ludwig-Maximilian University at Munich, where he studies philosophy and, briefly, theology. In addition to singing and playing his violin, he also learns to fence and to dance, as is considered fitting for the formation of a well-educated young man of university status. His fellow student and friend, Anton Schirsner, said, “He liked to sing, and during the sung Mass he let his voice have full sway. Sometimes I said to him, ‘Seelos, don’t shout so loud,’ but to no avail. He didn’t pay any attention to me; he was completely carried away by the enthusiasm of his soul.” | Shown above, line engraving of Ludwig-Maximilian University at Munich by Gustav Seebergerafter. c 1840.
July 26, 1840: The Redemptorists reach Baltimore
In Baltimore, Maryland, the Redemptorists undertake the care of the German-speaking St. John the Evangelist and St. James the Less parishes, which would eventually combine to become St. Alphonsus Parish, named after the founder of the Redemptorists. In a few short years, Seelos would begin his priestly life here.
1842: Seelos decides to become a Redemptorist
After finishing his philosophy studies at the University of Munich, Seelos attends their School of Theology for only one year. It was during this time that he decides to ask for admission into the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer, wanting to become a missionary in the United States. It was taken for granted among his family that Seelos would become a priest, but they were not expecting that he would move across the ocean! During a vacation at home he reveals his decision to his father, who approves of his desire to pursue his calling in America but wisely promises not to say anything to his mother until necessary.
September 5, 1842: Seelos enters the Seminary
Seelos enters the Augsburg diocesan seminary at Dillingen as a first year student. He awaits word from the United States regarding his request to become a candidate for the American Redemptorists.
November 22, 1842: Seelos is accepted as a Novice in America
On the feast day of St. Cecilia, patron saint of musicians, Seelos receives notification of his acceptance as a novice from Fr. Alexander Czvitkovicz, the superior of the Redemptorist mission in America. That feast day was ever afterward memorable to him, and he writes several poems in St. Cecilia’s honor.
December 9, 1842: Seelos leaves the seminary in Augsburg
Seelos leaves the seminary in Augsburg with his sights set on Baltimore. It is a sad time for Xavier, as he knows this would be the last time he would see his family and the friends he had made in the seminary. He writes in a letter to his sister, “Love has united us, love does not mean parting, love will always remain, love will unite us again in the beyond.”
March 17, 1843: Seelos sets sail for the United States
After dashing off a short letter of farewell to his family 15 minutes before boarding the St. Nicholas, Seelos sets sail from Le Havre, France, bound for missionary life in the United States.
April 20, 1843: Seelos arrives in New York City
Seelos arrives in New York City on Easter Thursday after five weeks of prayer and study, teaching catechism lessons, and visiting the sick on the St. Nicholas.
May 16, 1843: Seelos begins his Novice Year
Seelos begins his year as a novice at St. James the Less. During a ceremony of investiture, he puts aside his secular clothing and begins wearing the distinctive Redemptorist habit. In a response to the celebrant’s question of what Seelos desires, he responds, “…I most humbly and earnestly beg Your Reverence that, despite my unworthiness of so great a favor you will, out of love for Jesus Christ, receive me as the least and most unworthy of all the brothers in this Congregation in which I hope with the aid of divine grace to persevere unto the end of my life.” | Shown above, a sketch of St. James the Less.
May 16, 1844: Seelos becomes a Redemptorist
Exactly a year to the day from his entrance into the novitiate, Seelos professes the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience as a Redemptorist. Throughout the ceremony he repeatedly prays to Mary, thanking her for her help and asking for her intercession. He says to the Blessed Mother, “I promise not only to love, to serve, and to venerate you myself, but to do all in my power to cause others to love and venerate you,” a promise he faithfully kept his entire life. | Shown above, the Redemptorist crest. The motto “Copiosa Apud Eum Redemptio” means “With Him is Plentiful Redemption.”
December 22, 1844: Seelos is ordained
Seelos is ordained a priest at the Redemptorist Church of St. James in Baltimore, MD. He celebrates his first Mass as a priest three days later, on Christmas Day. In a letter home, he tells his family of his prayers during that Mass, “I certainly did include all of you in them and recommended you to him whom I had so closely before me and touched with my own hands… Holy Guardian Angels, tell it to them, so that they can share in the joy, share in my prayers, that I may not have the misfortune to be rejected as an unworthy dispenser of the mysteries of God.”
January 12, 1845: Seelos performs his first Baptism
Seelos performs his first baptism – a day BEFORE he had officially been granted the faculties of the archdiocese to do this. Lest we think less of our Blessed Seelos, it is believed that he had received verbal permission from the archbishop to do so.
March 29, 1845: Seelos hears his first Confessions
Seelos finally hears his first confessions. Although he had faculties to do so for more than two months, he does not think he is ready because of his imperfect knowledge of the English language. Moreover, in a letter home he says that he is not inclined to learn English! However, out of necessity he heard confessions in German, English and French, and of whites and blacks. He notes that his first time “turned out well… It was clearly a grace of God.” Indeed it must have turned out well; Seelos becomes a much-sought-after confessor for the rest of his life.
April 13, 1845: Seelos delivers his first sermon
Seelos delivers his first sermon on the feast of St. Joseph. He quickly becomes a popular preacher, speaking to the everyday spiritual needs of the people in a plain manner. This is not as popular with some members of the Congregation, one of whom calles him a “blockhead.” In true Seelos fashion he takes this reproof “very quietly and patiently,” says fellow Redemptorist Thaddeus Anwander. There was no denying, his sermons had an unusual power of bringing people to church and sinners to repentance.
August, 1845: Seelos becomes Assistant Pastor at St. Philomena
Seelos is assigned to St. Philomena parish in Pittsburgh as assistant pastor, under the guidance of Fr. John Neumann, who would eventually become St. John Neumann. Seelos says of Neumann, “He loved me as his own son. Above all, the example of his virtuous life is always before my eyes – his constant modesty, his great humility, and his all-conquering long-suffering.” | Shown above, a photo of St. John Neumann.
1846: Seelos is introduced to Mission Work
Fr. Neumann introduces Seelos to mission preaching at St. Vincent’s Church in Youngstown, Pennsylvania. In Seelos’ later years, mission preaching would become his full-time ministry.
September, 1847: Seelos is appointed Novice Master at St. Philomena’s
At twenty-eight years old and just three years after taking his own vows, Seelos is appointed novice master at St. Philomena’s. His appointment was short-lived – a mere 16 months – because the Superior of the American Mission decided that the novices should be under his watchful eye in Baltimore. But even though his stint as novice master was brief, Seelos had a lifelong effect on the novices entrusted to him, leading them by example and with gentle compassion.
October 4-13, 1848: Seelos commits to achieving holiness
According to rule, Redemptorists are required to make a ten-day retreat each year. Seelos makes his annual retreat in total silence and seclusion, in which he writes daily summaries of his prayers, meditations and examinations of conscience. His notes speak loudly about his burning desire to become holy. During this time, Seelos makes a radical commitment to achieve the holiness he desires. But for all his efforts, even Blessed Seelos could not completely overcome “the repugnance of nature,” as he calls it. On the fourth day of his retreat, he writes, “O help! O help! O holy Mother of God, let me become so inflamed and sanctified that I am not always thinking of breakfast.”
April 1, 1851: The first organized english mission in the U.S. sparks a movement
Twelve Redemptorists arrive in New York after a tempestuous sixty-two day trip trip across the Atlantic. They begin to preach a parish mission at St. Joseph’s Church, where they hear an estimated 6,000 confessions and give first holy Communion to 60 adults and 400 children. This is the first organized English mission in the country; it sparks a parish-mission movement that spreads across America, including St. Philomena parish where Seelos stood at the helm.
1851: Seelos becomes Pastor and Rector of St. Philomena’s
No one is more surprised than Seelos when he is chosen as pastor and rector of St. Philomena’s Parish. At thirty-two, he was years younger than the fathers and brothers he was asked to lead. But this disparity of age doesn’t seem to intimidate him in being faithful to his duties as a rector. His simple acts of kindness and love for the poor and sick of the area have been handed down among parishioners for many years after his departure. They consider his prayers as very powerful with God, due to several cures of the sick. | Shown above, Redemptorist community bell and altar stone from St. Philomena’s Church, on display at the Seelos Shrine in New Orleans.
January 30, 1854: Seelos is appointed pastor and rector of St. Alphonsus
Seelos is appointed pastor and rector of St. Alphonsus Parish in Baltimore, Maryland. Moving from St. Philomena to St. Alphonsus was like going from a peaceful village to a bustling metropolis. His appointment includes not only St. Alphonsus, but two parish centers, two smaller parishes on the outskirts of Baltimore, and four mission stations outside the city. In addition, Seelos saw to the spiritual needs of 1,300 children in schools and 500 black Catholics. Despite the exponential increase in workload, he always took upon himself more than his weak constitution could carry and never succumbed. | Shown above, St. Alphonsus Church.
March 7, 1857: Seelos suffers a violent hemorrhage
Coming out of the confessional just before supper, as he stretches himself to get rid of the stiffness in his arms and legs, blood suddenly begins pouring out of Seelos’ mouth. He has suffered a violent hemorrhage and is hospitalized for 4 weeks. In true Seelos fashion, he says in a letter to his sister, Sr. Damiana, “You can see from this how fortunate I feel in this sickness, and how I truly consider it as one of the greatest gifts of grace from the Lord.”
April 12, 1857: Seelos becomes superior, pastor and novice master at St. Mary’s
Indeed Seelos might have viewed his hemorrhage as a blessing, as his weakened constitution lead to assignment as superior, pastor and novice master of St. Mary’s in Annapolis, Maryland. The community is large, but the pressure of work is minimal compared to that of St. Alphonsus parish. He says in a letter to his friend, Fr. Joseph Wissel, “What luck and grace! O happy sickness that needed and obtained such a cure!”
May 19, 1857: Seelos is transferred to Cumberland
Seelos’ joy of being appointed to St. Mary’s is short-lived. Only a month after arriving he is transferred to Cumberland, Maryland to become the superior and prefect of students at the Redemptorist seminary. This sudden change is due to multiple student criticisms about the current prefect, Fr. Michael Mueller, and his rigid, melancholy personality which has created an “unhealthy situation” at the seminary. The man responsible for Seelos’ reassignment, Fr. Augustine Hewit, says, “The one whom I think best fitted for it is Fr. Seelos. He is a saint in spirituality, and an angel in sweetness.” Naturally, Seelos wins the hearts of everyone there almost immediately. Within a few months, the number of seminary students doubles. Fr. Mueller does not take this news very well. | Shown above, a sketch of the monastery and church at Cumberland by Fr. Louis Dold, the church’s second pastor (1851-1853).
1862: Seelos returns to St. Mary’s as pastor, rector and prefect
Because of the harsh weather in Cumberland, the Redemptorists decide to move the students to the milder climate of Annapolis, and their beloved prefect Seelos with them. He was delighted at this move, stating in a letter to his sister Antonia, “Annapolis is now so wonderful that it really is too beautiful for me.” He again takes on the role of rector and pastor of St. Mary’s, as he did five years earlier.
August 30, 1862: Seelos is removed as prefect
Seelos is removed as prefect of students due to a series of negative and grossly inaccurate letters written to the Redemptorist superior general in Rome, chiefly by Fr. Mueller, who Seelos replaced as prefect in 1857. Seelos’ appointment apparently did not sit well with Mueller, who’s letters betrayed a smoldering vindictiveness toward his replacement. He states, “The only thing I have against Fr. Seelos is that he has not the judgement, wisdom, and reflection, the manner and method to direct the students in the spirit of the Congregation.” Seelos is devastated by his removal from office, but continues as rector and pastor of St. Mary’s parish. | Shown above, a photo of Fr. Michael Mueller.
March 19, 1863: Avoiding the Civil War draft
As the Civil War rages on, it becomes Seelos’ duty as Redemptorist rector to keep the students (and himself) out of military service, which is against Redemptorist rules. In an effort to avoid the draft, Seelos consults with the provincial and the community, who decide to quickly ordain twenty of the twenty-three students. However, Seelos is not entirely assured of his and the newly-ordained priests’ exemption from the draft, so he travels to Washington where he meets with President Lincoln and other officials. They received their order for exemption, “and the storm passed over thanks to God and the intercession of Mary,” Seelos writes in a letter to his sister.
September 22, 1863: Seelos begins a mission across 10 states
Seelos is appointed as superior of the parish mission band and departs from his beloved Annapolis, bound for missions across 10 states in 2 years. No matter where he goes, he is always sought out by clergy and the people alike. It is said that people seemed to think that they had not made a “good confession” if they did not confess to him. Fr. Benedict Neithart, who attended many missions with Seelos, said, “Everybody flocked to him for confession, instruction, and consolation. Indeed, he became all unto all.” Fr. Thaddeus Anwander, another fellow missionary, relays this humorous anecdote: “He could not very plainly preach in English and one day trying his very best, an Irish lady remarked, though she understood very little what he said, ‘It does me good to see that holy priest struggle so hard.’” It seems everyone could relate to Blessed Seelos!
August, 1865: Seelos is stationed at St. Mary’s in Detroit
Seelos is stationed, in his words, “only as a simple father” at St. Mary’s parish in Detroit, Michigan. His new superior, Fr. Francis van Emstede, says, “Fr. Seelos did everything willingly and cheerfully; that at all times he showed such a childlike and pious joyfulness and knew how to entertain everyone in his presence in a kindly way. His look was piety, his glance was comfort, his expression love; charity glistened in his eyes, and benevolence played around his venerable aspect.” He continued to make lasting impressions on everyone he met. Even those he encountered only briefly were destined to remember him. Franciscan Fr. Innocentius Wapelhorst recounts his experience with Seelos during a retreat for priests: “Unforgettable to me is good and holy Fr. Seelos. Although now seventeen years have already gone by since I saw him… still his amiable image, his noble and kindly personality, remain still fresh and vivid in my mind. The remembrance of him is and was always a source of encouragement to me.” | Shown above, photos of St. Mary’s in Detroit, Michigan.
September 28, 1866: Seelos is transferred to St. Mary of the Assumption in New Orleans
After serving less than a year in Detroit, Seelos is transferred to St. Mary of the Assumption parish in New Orleans, Louisiana. A prophetic moment happens on the way to New Orleans. A Sister of Notre Dame who is on the same train asks him if he is going to stay long in the city. He replies, “For a year and then I will die of yellow fever,” which is exactly what will happen. Though this assignment is known to fellow Redemptorists as the most difficult and dangerous post in America, all the fathers and brothers who had known Seelos in the North often remark that he seems much happier than ever before. He declares, “Here I’ll rest my bones in the grave; for I think I have wandered enough.” | Shown above, St. Mary’s Assumption Church.
September 3, 1867: Yellow Fever hits New Orleans
September 17, 1867: Seelos falls ill with Yellow Fever
Fr. Neithart recounts, “On the 17th of September, while the community was at table, it was noticed that Fr. Seelos looked unusually depressed, jaded, and pale. All perceived the clearest marks of the yellow fever about his eyes.” Innumerable prayers and Private Masses are said by thousands. After a few days, the fever breaks and no one doubts that he would be up again soon. However, nine days later Seelos is still severely weak, exhausted and listless. Toward the third week, his mind begins to wander and deliriousness sets in, though he doesn’t suffer from fever. Through it all and in true Seelos fashion, he retains “a kind tone and a smiling face,” states Fr. Neithart. He continues, “Many a time did his heroic cheerfulness draw tears from our eyes.”
October 4, 1867: Seelos Succumbs to Yellow Fever
Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos succumbs to yellow fever. Fr. Neithart writes of his passing moments, “Our dear dying Father remained conscious to his last breath. His lips continually moved in prayer. His eyes were fixed on the crucifix until they could see no more. A supernatural brightness appeared to illuminate his dying countenance. His joy, as the moment of dissolution approached, communicated itself to all present.” On the day after his passing, a house chronicle of St. Alphonsus church, New Orleans, describes Seelos thusly, “He was beautiful in death, wearing the same smile of sanctity as when alive.” | Shown above: At the Shrine in New Orleans, relics of Bl. Seelos are on display, such as his reliquary, coffin, a lock of hair and a piece of backbone.