In October 1875, two young Redemptorist priests, Clement Hofbauer and Thaddeus Huebl, headed north under a commission from the superior general, Fr De Paola. They were sent into uncertainty without money or an exact destination. Their path took them by the shrine at Loreto in Italy and then on to Vienna.
They soon realised that setting up a Redemptorist house in Austria was out of the question. Emperor Joseph II had already closed more than 800 monasteries so Clement and Thaddeus left Vienna, planning to travel north through Poland to Stralsund in Swedish-Pommerania.
When they arrived at the Danube, they ran into a poorly dressed hermit, an old friend named Emmanuel Kunzmann. Clement invited Kunzmann to join them on their journey to Warsaw. Kunzmann accepted and showed interest in joining the Redemptorists. Clement promised to have him admitted and Emmanuel Kunzmann became the first Redemptorist brother north of the Alps!
It took them four months to reach Warsaw, arriving in February, 1787. At that time, the majority of people in that area were Germans, and St Benno’s in Warsaw was their national church. Clement and his companions were given permission to stay in Warsaw and care for the church and its people.
What they were able to achieve in Warsaw in 20 years (1787-1808) is almost miraculous. Their accomplishments can only be appreciated fully when examined against the dark shadows of the time.
The troops of Napoleon had occupied Warsaw after the defeat of Prussia. St Benno’s, because of its influence among the people, was kept under constant watch. In 1808, the church and house were confiscated and the community dispersed. Some found occupation with the Polish bishops, but the rest, including Clement, left the country.
By then, the Redemptorists had made their way out of Warsaw. Clement was eager to expand. His foundations in Poland, Mitau, and a couple of ventures on the outskirts of Warsaw were short-lived. Other smaller foundations and roles were realised.
For over three decades, Clement worked in vain to establish the Redemptorists north of the Alps. He prayerfully placed his plans in God’s hands. The feeling grew within him that the Redemptorists would only be permitted in Austria after his death.
It was no surprise, then, that in 1820, exactly five weeks after Clement’s death, the official imperial decree was signed allowing the Redemptorists into Austria. The content of the document was clear: the upper Passau building was to be its first house, and the bordering church, Maria-am-Gestade, was to be the Redemptorists’ church. Before the church and house were turned over to the Redemptorists, they were to be renovated at the cost of the state.
The new community grew very quickly. In April 1821, there were already 27 candidates. One year later, the number of members had risen to 49. The seed that Clement had sown with difficulty and tears had taken root. His dream, too, of being able to send missionaries to other countries was to be realised. Clement Hofbauer had laid a foundation for further expansion and the spread of the Redemptorists to Switzerland, Belgium, France, Portugal, the United States of America, England and Ireland, and thereon throughout the world.