St. Clement Mary Hofbauer: “Apostle of Vienna”
March 16 is the feast day of St. Clement Mary Hofbauer (1751-1820), a hermit and a priest of the Redemptorist congregation, who is considered a co-founder of the congregation and called the “Apostle of Vienna.”
John, the name he was given at Baptism, was born in 1751, to a poor family in Moravia [now known as the Czech Republic], the ninth of twelve children. Although he desired to be a priest, the family did not have the money for him to attend the seminary, so he became an apprentice in a bakery at the age of 16. At 19, he went to work in the bakery of a monastery. At that time, the effects of war and famine were sending many homeless and hungry people to the monastery for help. John worked diligently to feed the poor who came to his door. While this was still not the priesthood that he desired so badly, it was an opportunity to serve God’s people who were in great need.
John lived the life of a hermit, but when Emperor Joseph II eliminated hermitages, he went to Vienna, where he once again worked as a baker. One day after serving Mass at the cathedral of St. Stephen, he summoned a carriage for two ladies waiting in the rain. In their conversation they learned that he could not pursue his priestly studies due to a lack of funds. They charitably offered to support both him and his friend, Thaddeus, in their seminary studies. The two young men went to Rome, where they were attracted to St. Alphonsus’ vision of religious life and to the Redemptorists. The two were ordained together in 1785.
Father Clement Mary, as he was now called, and Thaddeus were sent back to Vienna. However, the religious problems there caused them to depart and continue north to Warsaw, Poland. There they encountered numerous German-speaking Catholics who had been left without priests. Initially, they had to live in great poverty and preached outdoor sermons. They were given the church of St. Benno, and for the next nine years they preached five sermons a day, two in German and three in Polish, converting many to the faith. They were active in social work among the poor, founding an orphanage and then a school for boys.
Attracting candidates to the congregation, they were able to send missionaries to Poland, Germany and Switzerland. All of these foundations had eventually to be abandoned due to the political and religious turmoil of the times. After 20 years of hard work Clement himself was imprisoned and expelled from the country. Only after another arrest was he able to reach Vienna, where he was to live and work the final 12 years of his life. There he served as chaplain and director at an Ursuline convent. He became known as “the Apostle of Vienna,” hearing the confessions of the rich and poor, visiting the sick, acting as a counselor to the powerful, sharing his holiness with all in the city. His crowning effort was the establishment of a Catholic college in Vienna.
Due to his hard work, the Redemptorist congregation, upon his death in 1820, was firmly established north of the Alps. Father Clement Mary Hofbauer was canonized in 1909. In 1914, Pope Pius X gave him the title of “Apostle and Patron to Vienna.”