If you needed someone to take on new ventures in changing times and difficult circumstances, then Clement Hofbauer would be the person to do it. He was independent, resourceful and very much a man of God. Ironically, Clement was a late bloomer. He had tried many good things in his youth and early adulthood, but had not quite found his place in the world.
The ninth of 12 children, Clement was born to Mary and Paul Hofbauer in Tasswitz, Moravia in 1751. At the age of 29, after being a baker and a hermit, Clement entered the University of Vienna. At this time, the Church was out of favour and suffering persecution, making study for the priesthood difficult.
During a pilgrimage to Italy in 1784, Clement and his friend Thaddeus Huebl decided to join a religious community. They found the Redemptorists and entered the novitiate at San Giuliano. In the following year, they took their vows as Redemptorists and entered the congregation. Ten days later, they were ordained to the priesthood at the Alatri Cathedral.
Very soon after their ordination, Fr De Paola, the superior general at the time, sent Clement and Thaddeus across the Alps back to their homeland to establish the Redemptorist Congregation in Northern Europe.
In Austria, the emperor had recently closed over 800 monasteries. It was obvious that Clement would be unable to start a new community in his homeland. But it didn’t perturb his pioneering spirit. He moved on to Poland and into the slums of Warsaw, and for 20 years, with meagre funds, the small community of Redemptorists worked with Clement. Based at St Benno’s Church, they worked among the people, particularly homeless youth and the poor. At St Benno’s, a mission of preaching and prayer continued around the clock all year. The fledgling community was respected and loved by the people around them. Supported by the well-founded innovations of Clement Hofbauer, St Benno’s became a thriving centre for the spread of the Gospel. By 1787, there were 21 Redemptorist priests, seven brothers, five novices and four seminarians ministering from the church.
But they were foreigners. That fact, together with the unsettled political situation, saw several of the community murdered, including Clement’s right-hand man and best friend, Fr Thaddeus. On June 9, 1808, the king of Saxony signed a decree for the expulsion of the Redemptorists from Poland. Eleven days later, St Benno’s was closed and the 40 remaining Redemptorists were imprisoned for four weeks before their expulsion from Poland.
In September that year, Clement reached Vienna, where he ministered among the people, particularly with the students and intellectuals of the thriving city. After a lifetime of refusals, Clement finally received the support of Emperor Franz to open the first Redemptorist foundation in Austria. However, on March 15, 1820, he died before it was opened. St Clement was canonised in 1909, and in 1914, Pope Pius X gave him the title Patron of Vienna.