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Catholic Heroes… Blessed Peter Friedhofen

December 19, 2017 saints No Comments

By CAROLE BRESLIN

Feeling sick, suffering from prolonged and terminal illness, not being able to eat, a Catholic cannot use any of these reasons for not doing God’s work. The Church has many saints who suffered such conditions. Teresa of Avila had severe digestive troubles; Saint Therese of Lisieux suffered from tuberculosis; and Saint Catherine of Siena could not eat anything except Holy Communion. Blessed Peter Friedhofen also suffered from bad lungs for many years before they finally caused his death.
The sixth of seven children, Peter Friedhofen was born to Peter Friedhofen and Anna Maria Klug on February 5, 1819 in Weitersburg, Koblenz, in the Kingdom of Bavaria. He lost both of his parents at a young age. His father died in 1820 and when Peter was only nine years, his mother died, leaving all seven children orphans.
There were no near relatives who could care for the youngsters, so they all became wards of the state. One woman took in Peter, his brother, Jacob, and two of his other siblings, but the situation was still desperate with too little money to send the children to school.
Peter did not receive his First Holy Communion until he was thirteen years old and then two years later he began working with his older brother as a chimney sweep. For three years they worked side by side, cleaning the soot-filled stacks, with Peter proving his integrity and industriousness. Even though the work was difficult and unpleasant, Peter remained cheerful and charitable. The city of Vallendar learned of his good work ethic and offered him a job as master chimney sweep in 1842.
In that position, he spent much time walking the streets of Vallendar and noticing the number of children wandering through the city with such aimlessness. He reflected on this, which him to a deep conversion to following Christ more sincerely. Thus he embarked on a ministry of serving the street children of Vallendar.
Like a scene from a musical, the chimney sweep would attract the children by singing from the rooftops of the city. Not wishing them to experience the sorrow and poverty that he suffered as a child, he hoped one day to start a ministry directed to serving youth.
In 1845 Peter entered the Redemptorists, also known as the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer, founded by St. Alphonsus Liguori in 1732 to provide spiritual nourishment. He fell in love with their prayer life, their communal life, and their mission to serve others.
Although he wanted to stay, his brother, with whom he had worked as a chimney sweep, had died leaving an expecting wife and ten children. Peter left the order and went to the aid of his brother’s family. He labored lovingly to care for them until he himself fell ill with a debilitating lung condition, forcing him to stop working.
After a small improvement in his health, the town of Ahrweiler hired him as their chimney sweep to replace his brother.
Once again he began working with the children, encouraging them to receive the sacraments regularly and to study their catechism. Since St. Aloysius Gonzaga is the patron saint for children, Peter considered founding an organization under his patronage.
He wrote down his vision and the rules for the foundation and presented them to William Arnoldi, the bishop of Trier, on July 2, 1847. During this time of preparation, Peter became friends with the bishop’s secretary, Fr. Antonio Liehs. Father became Peter’s spiritual director and his liaison with the bishop and soon the rules were approved.
When Peter received some land in Weitersburg as a gift, Fr. Liehs helped him win Bishop Arnoldi’s approval to build his first house to help the sick and the children. Once again the bishop accepted the request and took time to think carefully about his answer. The bishop then suggested that Peter resurrect the Order of Celli. This order was an order of nurses and men known as the Brothers of Mercy dedicated to serving the sick. It was a floundering order, however.
Nevertheless, Peter and Charles Marchand, a friend, spent nearly a year with the order in Aachen learning the order’s way of life. Peter was not satisfied with their ways and outreach and explained to the bishop that he sought “new fire, new spirit, new momentum. . . . I want to help the sick and that I must serve to join more closely to Jesus Christ and convert sinners more stubborn.”
Bishop Arnoldi finally agreed and allowed Peter to open his monastery in Weitersburg. Now he could officially begin his “Order of the Brothers of Mercy of Mary, Help of Christians.” Sadly, Marchand believed that Peter lacked the education to teach and form the men and arranged for another brother to come from Aachen to replace Peter.
Removed from there, Peter founded new headquarters on February 15, 1851 in Koblenz. Although the first few weeks were grueling, his leadership and perseverance helped his foundation take shape. His generosity, virtuous living, and his spiritual and economic assistance encouraged many of the members.
As the rules and formation continued to develop, Peter received the habit on March 25, 1851. One year later, on February 28, 1852, Bishop Arnoldi formally granted canonical approval of the “Brothers of Mercy of Mary, Help of Christians.”
With a habit to wear and rules to follow the new order found a faithful priest, Fr. Filippo De Lorenzi, who served as their top cleric. Under his direction, the number of brothers increased quickly. In addition, laymen also joined their ranks to help with the sick both at home and in the hospital. Soon homes were opened in Koblenz, Trier, Kyllburg, Luxembourg, and then in America, Asia, and Africa.
Peter Friedhofen led the order from March 14, 1852, until his death even though his health had not been good for many years. His lungs which had caused him to take bedrest before, now left him very weak. Since 1853 they were so bad that he could not travel outside Koblenz in the winter. Thus he began to write his seven circular letters which were sent to the various houses. These letters primarily focused on the contemplative part of the brothers’ life, since all apostolic endeavors must be founded on the rock of holiness.
In June 1860, Peter’s conditioned forced him to complete bedrest. His tuberculosis progressed rapidly and he died in Koblenz on December 21, 1860. He was buried in the mother house in Trier, Germany.
His cause for canonization was opened on March 26, 1926 under Pope Pius XI. Pope St. John Paul II declared him venerable on September 24, 1983, and blessed on June 23, 1985.
Dear Lord, through the intercession of Blessed Peter, show us how to help the youth and the sick of our time who are so vulnerable to the forces of evil and selfishness. There is such great need for people to care for those in need of God’s love. Lead us to those most in need. Amen.

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