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Catholic Heroes… St. Hermann Joseph

April 5, 2018 saints No Comments

By CAROLE BRESLIN

Some saints undergo extraordinary conversions, including St. Paul, St. Augustine, St. Mary Magdalene, and St. Ignatius of Loyola. Some saints, on the other hand, seem to possess an uncommon holiness from very early in their lives, such as St. Rose of Lima, St. Teresa of Lisieux, and St. Hermann Joseph, who had a deep love for the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Child Jesus.
Hermann was born in Cologne, Germany, around 1150 to a noble but impoverished Catholic family. From his childhood he enjoyed a special relationship with Mary, the Mother of Jesus. Frequently, he would leave his playmates and go before the statue of Mary in his parish church. This tender devotion was noticed by the townspeople.
Although it was a struggle to open the church door for the young boy, he persevered and spent quiet moments before the lovely lady. He would speak with her as though conversing with a dear friend.
At the age of seven he attended a nearby school and every spare moment he would visit Mary. Several times he was privileged with mystical experiences by which he interacted with Jesus and Mary.
One time he saved his apple from his meager lunch that he had taken to school. With the trust of a child’s faith, he quickly made his way to the church to present his small gift to Mary and Jesus. Disappointed that he could not reach high enough to place it at Mary’s feet, he expressed his sorrow to the Virgin that he was unable to give it to her. Suddenly, Mary leaned down, carefully holding the Child Jesus, and accepted the apple from Hermann. Some accounts claim that Jesus actually took the apple.
Later during another visit, Hermann saw two young boys playing at Mary’s feet. Her altar was enclosed by a grille that was locked when the church was not in use, so Hermann could only watch as the boys played. Mary invited Hermann to join Jesus and John the Baptist, but he told her he could not get in. Again Mary helped him by showing him how to climb the grille safely and enter. He placed his hands and feet carefully as she instructed and joined the boys.
The third event happened during the cold of winter. Because his family was destitute, they could not afford shoes for Hermann. Nevertheless, his love for Mary did not allow that situation to keep him from visiting her altar. Once again he entered the church to pay homage to the Virgin. With warm concern she asked Hermann why he was barefoot in such cold weather. When he informed her of his family’s poverty, she instructed him to look under a stone in another part of the church. Obediently he turned it over and there he found enough money to purchase some footwear.
In 1162 when he was about twelve years old, he applied to and was granted permission to enter the Premonstratensian Canons Regular — commonly called the Norbertines — at Steinfeld, about 230 miles southeast of Cologne. However, since he was still so young, they sent him to Mariengaarde in Friesland, the Netherlands, so that he could receive more education and formation.
He approached his studies with great diligence, finishing his courses and returning to the abbey where he made his vows and received the habit of the Premonstratensians.
He was first given the responsibility of caring for the dining room and later the more important task of taking care of the sacristy, overseeing the sacred vestments, parish records, and sacred vessels.
He continued his simple and humble approach to his dear Mother Mary. He also continued to receive special favors from her when she bestowed the name of Joseph on Hermann, calling him her betrothed in 1190.
One night, while absorbed in prayer in the church, he saw the Virgin standing before him. She was extraordinarily beautiful, clothed in a garment of stunning colors. She was accompanied by two angels, and Hermann heard one of them say to the other, “With whom should we marry the Mother of God.”
The other replied, “Who else if not this brother?” They placed his hand in the hand of Mary and said, “I commit this lady as wife, and therefore I will call you Joseph.”
As with most saints who received special favors, his experiences were largely misunderstood by his confreres, leading them to mock and deride him. This did not disturb Hermann — he embraced it as the treatment he desired for being unworthy of the gifts he had received from Jesus and Mary.
On the other hand, his superiors recognized that Hermann was indeed a special person. His piety, obedience, and quiet long suffering were exceptional. He did not complain of his many physical illnesses and excruciating headaches that would only lessen when he went up to the altar of God to celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
During his priesthood (the exact date and circumstances are unknown), Hermann could frequently be found before the statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary in prayer, contemplating and loving her as always. That is where Fr. Hermann wrote his commentary on the Song of Songs, and composed hymns and prayers to his beloved Mary. He also dedicated one of his hymns to the Sacred Heart of Jesus — the first person to compose such a hymn.
His duties as a priest included traveling to many villages as he performed pastoral duties for those in need. Oddly enough, people in need of clock repair called on him frequently to use his skills in that regard.
The Cistercian nuns at Hoven near Zulpich found a kind confessor and wise spiritual director in Fr. Hermann. He served as their chaplain for many years. When he died on April 4, 1241, the nuns were grieved at their loss. At first his remains were placed in their cloister, but then the remains were transferred to Antwerp. Now Fr. Hermann Joseph rests in Steinfeld where you can read on his tomb, “Joseph Hermann and devoted husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary.”
The people continued to honor Fr. Hermann for another 400 years. Finally in 1626, Archbishop Ferdinand of Cologne and Emperor Ferdinand II petitioned the Vatican to open his cause for canonization. Although the cause was approved, it did not move forward. Meanwhile the Norbertines continued to celebrate his memorial on April 4.
It was not until 1958 that Pope Pius XII confirmed his status as a saint rather than proceeding with the expensive and laborious process of a full canonization. His feast is celebrated on April 7.
Dear Fr. Hermann Joseph, what simple and pure devotion you had for Mary. You recognized the joy of spending time with her, talking heart to heart, listening, and obeying Mary. Help us also to be still and know the peace of learning from Mary how to better serve her divine Son. Amen.

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(Carole Breslin home-schooled her four daughters and served as treasurer of the Michigan Catholic Home Educators for eight years. For over ten years, she was national coordinator for the Marian Catechists, founded by Fr. John A. Hardon, SJ.)

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