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Catholic Heroes… St. Clement Mary Hofbauer

March 13, 2018 saints No Comments

By CAROLE BRESLIN

It has been said that the four characteristics of good prayer are that it must be sincere, it must be humble, it must be confident, and it must be persevering. This can also be said of the Christian life and a person’s approach to seeking to do the will of God: humble, sincere, confident, and persevering. St. Monica was certainly all of these: she prayed for the conversion of one of the greatest theologians in the history of the Catholic Church for 33 years.
Examining the life of St. Clement Mary Hofbauer reveals another soul who was humble, sincere, confident, and persevering in his pursuit of doing God’s will despite the numerous setbacks he endured during his lifetime of service.
Born on the Feast of St. Stephen, December 26, 1751, Johannes Hofbauer was the ninth of twelve children. His parents, Paul Hofbauer and Maria Steer, lived in Znojmo of the Moravian region, which was part of the Czech Republic. After three more children were born, Paul died, leaving the family destitute.
Nine years old at the time, Johannes already had aspirations to the priesthood. His father’s death left little hope for him to receive the education necessary for the seminary or to become a member of any religious order.
His pastor recognized the boy’s potential and took Johannes under his wing and gave Johannes Latin instruction, but after five years, the pastor died and the tutoring ceased.
Thwarted in his goal again, Johannes knew he must learn a trade to help his mother. Thus when he was 16, he went to Znojmo to work as an apprentice in their bakery. Then in 1770 he went to the White Canons in Bruck to work in their bakery. His assistance was very useful at this time since war and famine had left many families homeless and hungry.
Johannes had a special yearning to help these souls and worked day and night to serve the needy by baking more bread. After five years he decided to pursue the eremitical life. It wasn’t long before these plans were also ruined when Emperor Joseph II (the Holy Roman Emperor) outlawed all hermitages, and made so many changes that his people eventually rebelled against his autocracy.
Next Johannes made two pilgrimages to Rome and in 1782, he settled in Tivoli, Italy, in the hermitage at Our Lady of Quintiliolo. Bishop Barnabas Chiaramonti (the future Pope Pius VII), clothed Johannes in the hermit’s religious habit as he took the name of Clement Mary.
Clement spent much of his time in prayer for himself, but also for those in the world who did not pray. However, after six months, his long held desire to become a priest resurfaced and he left. He reasoned that while praying was good, he could help souls more as a priest.
He made his way back to Bruck where he again became a bread maker. At the same time he restarted his study of Latin. He also assisted at Mass in the cathedral where he met two pious and devoted women. These women, learning of his desire to become a priest, became his patrons as he entered the University of Vienna. He had to attend the university since Emperor Joseph had closed all the seminaries.
Because of the secular influence at the university, there were few classes suitable for the priesthood. Those classes he did attend were laced with anticlerical bias. Thus, once again, he was frustrated in his quest for Ordination. Furthermore, no religious orders were allowed to accept new candidates.
In 1784 Clement, with his friend Thaddaus Hubl made a pilgrimage on foot to the Redemptorist novitiate at the Community of San Giuliano in Rome. Both men professed their vows as Redemptorists on March 19, 1785 and were ordained on March 29.
The superior general, Fr. Paolo, called the two men to his office where he informed them of their assignment: to return to their homeland beyond the Alps and establish the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer in northern Europe.
No easy task, Fathers Clement and Thaddaus were well aware of the animosity Emperor Joseph II held for religious. Rather than go to his land where over 1,000 monasteries had been closed, the two priests decided to begin their assignment in Poland. A former fellow pilgrim and baker with Clement, Peter Hunzman, also joined the priests as the first non-Italian lay brother of that order.
They arrived in Warsaw in February 1787. With 160 churches and 20 monasteries to serve a community of 124,000, they saw numerous opportunities to assist God’s people. Illiteracy, poverty, homelessness, and apostasy were prevalent. The Masons had damaged the Church by drawing many away from the practice of Catholicism.
The country also suffered from successive political upsets, particularly the partitions. Sadly, the land rarely experienced any time of peace.
The Redemptorists’ first endeavor focused on boys living in the streets, taking them in, cleaning them up, teaching them a trade, and catechizing them. They founded the Child Jesus Refuge — feeding the boys by the bread Clement helped make in the nearby bakery.
To support their ministry, they begged with admirable perseverance. According to one story, when patrons of a pub responded to Clement by spitting in his face, he calmly wiped the spit away and began again by saying, “That was for me. Now what do you have for my boys?” A fruitful encounter, yielding over 100 silver coins.
Within four years of their arrival, the school for boys was expanded and became a boarding school, a school for girls was opened, and with only five priests and three lay brothers, they opened the Perpetual Mission. Day and night they heard Confessions, prayed three daily Masses and the Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary, offered Eucharistic Adoration, and preached five sermons each day in both German and Polish.
Reception of the sacraments grew over by over 500 percent. Soon the number of priest grew to 21 and there were nine men preparing for Holy Orders.
In 1795, they saw the end of Polish independence.
With conflict surrounding them, they preached peace and before long the civil authorities attacked. In 1806 they passed a law forbidding the Redemptorists to preach parish missions and soon forbade them even preaching at their center in St. Benno. In 1808 a decree of expulsion was signed and they were put in jail until they were forced to leave the Grand Duchy.
Fr. Clement went to Vienna where he remained for the rest of his life. When Napoleon subdued that city, the priest worked as chaplain in the hospital. At the request of the archbishop, he pastored an Italian parish and then in 1813, he became chaplain of the Ursuline Sisters.
Fr. Clement became an influential priest in the Viennese community, converting the rich and powerful as well as the poor and needy. Repression came once again when Clement was again forbidden to preach and was threatened with expulsion for simply communicating with his superiors in Rome. Providentially, Emperor Francis learned during his visit to Rome about the great work Fr. Clement was doing and allowed the priest to nurture the Redemptorist presence in Austria.
Before he could witness such a wonderful expansion, he died on March 15, 1820. His feast is celebrated on March 15.

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