The pursuit of happiness is a preoccupation in much of today’s world. Yet, sometimes there seems to be so little joy. Joy is one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. It bears in its wake tranquility of soul, physical ease, and acceptance of others. When a joyous person enters the room fear and threat seem to leave. Joy brings people into the true state of their being – gratefulness.
Blessed Francis Seelos was a joyous man whose presence banished fear and threat from so many lives. He was known as the happy pastor. Through his life he reached out to thousands of people, but his joy meant that thousands also flocked to him.
Francis Xavier Seelos was born on January 11, 1819 at Fussen in Bavaria. He was baptised the same day in the parish church of St Mang. In his youth he was drawn to the priesthood, and after studying philosophy, he entered the diocesan seminary in 1842.
When Francis met the Redemptorist missionaries and learnt they were founded to reach out to the most abandoned, he decided to join them. The particular people he had in mind were the abandoned German speaking immigrants who were pouring into the United States. Blessed Francis was accepted by the Redemptorists in 1842, but even before he officially joined them, he was sent on a five-months journey leaving from Le Havre, France, and arriving at New York in 1843.Completing his novitiate and seminary studies in 1844, he took his vows as a Redemptorist and was ordained at the Church of St James in Baltimore, Maryland, USA.
Blessed Francis’s first appointment was for nine years at St Philomena’s Parish, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He began as assistant to St John Neumann, the leader of the community. Later, Francis was appointed community leader and pastor of the parish. During this time, he was also appointed to guide the novices who were starting off as Redemptorists. Together with John Neumann, he preached missions throughout that part of the United States.
Francis Seelos said of his relationship with Neumann, “He has introduced me into the active life. He has guided me as a spiritual director and confessor”. Seelos’s presence and innate kindness meant he became well known, and people came to him over considerable distances. His preaching, while backed with solid learning, was simple and accessible to the faithful. Like Neumann, he also achieved much with his instruction of youth, something he considered a priority.
In 1854, Fr Seelos was transferred from Pittsburgh to Baltimore, then to Cumberland, 1857, and Annapolis, 1862. At the same time, he was the director for the Redemptorist students studying for the priesthood. He was proposed for the office of Bishop of Pittsburgh, but was excused by Pope Pius IX. From 1863 to1866 he was a full-time itinerant missioner preaching in English and German through Connecticut, Illinois, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Wisconsin. Later he worked both in Michigan and Louisiana parishes.
All the while, even when treated unfairly, Fr Seelos was the happy pastor. He lived each day in the joy of the Lord. He died of yellow fever in New Orleans where he was ministering among fellow sufferers. After such a full life, he was only 48 years old. Pope John Paul II beatified Blessed Francis Seelos in 2000.