November 30, 2012

The Redemptorists were founded in 1732 by St. Alphonsus Liguori

Criterion staff report

Before Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin was ordained a bishop in 2010, he had spent 38 years as a member of the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer, more commonly known as the Redemptorists.

This religious order was founded in 1732 in Naples, Italy, by St. Alphonsus Liguori, who lived from 1696 to 1787.

According to a summary of his life found on the website of the Conference of Redemptorists of North America (www.redemptorists.com), St. Alphonsus worked as a lawyer in Naples before being ordained a priest in 1726.

In 1732, he dedicated himself to the service of those in need in and around Naples, and soon gathered disciples who wanted to join him in this ministry.

This marked the beginning of the Redemptorists. The members of the fledgling order traveled to poor areas to preach parish missions with the goal of inspiring a sense of hope in people in need by their loving presence among them.

St. Alphonsus was a noted moral theologian, but also wrote popular hymn texts and devotional works—many focused on devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

He died in 1787 after making a final request, “Give me my Lady.” A picture of Mary was given to him. He died the next day, on Aug. 1, while holding that picture in his hands.

He was canonized in 1839, and declared a doctor of the Church in 1871.

According to the website of the Denver Province Redemptorists, the order stayed within Italy during St. Alphonsus’ lifetime.

Within a few decades after his death, though, the congregation had spread across Europe. The first country outside of Europe where they ministered was the United States. The first Redemptorists arrived here in 1832—the 100th anniversary of the founding of the order.

Among the notable early members of the order in the U.S. were St. John Neumann and Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos.

According to the website of the National Shrine of St. John Neumann in Philadelphia (www.stjohnneumann.org), St. John was born in 1811 in what today is the Czech Republic. He came to the United States in 1836, and was ordained a priest soon thereafter.

St. John joined the Redemptorists in 1842, and within five years was appointed the superior of the order in the U.S. In 1848, he became a U.S. citizen.

Four years later, St. John was appointed the fourth bishop of Philadelphia, and soon became known for his strong promotion of Catholic schools and the 40-Hour devotion.

After leading the Diocese of Philadelphia for only six years, St. John Neumann died in 1860, exhausted by his years of ministry as a Redemptorist and bishop.

He was canonized in 1977 by Pope Paul VI. His feast day is Jan. 5.

According to the website of the National Seelos Shrine in New Orleans (www.seelos.org), Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos was born in 1819 in Bavaria in what is today southern Germany.

He joined the Redemptorists in 1842 with a desire to minister to German-speaking Catholics in the U.S. He came to this country the following year, and was ordained a priest in 1844.

After being ordained, he served as an assistant pastor in Pittsburgh under St. John Neumann’s leadership.

Blessed Francis soon became a sought after confessor, spiritual director and preacher. He also served as prefect of students in his order, helping to form future Redemptorists.

In the 1850s and 1860s, Blessed Francis became an itinerant preacher, holding parish missions across the country. Although there appears to be no evidence that he preached in Indiana, he likely crisscrossed the state while traveling to parishes in Illinois, Ohio and Michigan to preach parish missions.

In 1866, Blessed Francis was assigned to the Redemptorist community in New Orleans. The following year, after caring for people suffering from yellow fever, he contracted the disease and died on Oct. 4, 1867.

Blessed John Paul II beatified him on April 9, 2000. His feast day is Oct. 5.

After coming to the U.S. in 1832, Redemptorist missionaries soon spread out in countries around the world. Today, they minister in 78 countries.

Redemptorists use the initials “C.Ss.R.” after their last names. Those letters stand for the Latin words that mean “Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer.”

According to the website of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (www.usccb.org), Archbishop Tobin is currently the only former Redemptorist who serves as a bishop in the United States.

An online database for information about Catholic bishops, www.catholic-hierarchy.org, reports, however, that many Redemptorist priests have been appointed to serve as bishops in several countries—often developing nations—around the world. †

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