February 27, 2017
Learn more about St. Clement Hofbauer
St. Clement Hofbauer was born Johannes Hofbauer on December 26, 1751, in Tasswitz, Moravia, the ninth child of a butcher and his wife. His father died when he was only 6 years old. His mother then held a crucifix before him and said, “From now on, He is your father. Take care that you never grieve Him by sin.” He took those words to heart.
As a child he loved to pray the rosary with his family, gathering them together for prayer. He fasted until evening on Saturdays in honor of the Blessed Mother and gave his spending money to the poor. His desire for the priesthood was kindled at an early age.
Clement believed priests were “the light of the world and the salt of the earth,” and he began studying Latin in the home of a local priest. When the priest died, Clement was unable to continue his studies and needed to learn a trade.
He became a baker’s apprentice, and in 1770 he found work in the bakery of a priory, where he labored tirelessly to feed the poor.
In 1775 he lived for a short time as a hermit until Emperor Joseph II abolished all hermitages in the Hapsburg Empire.
After making two pilgrimages to Rome in 1782, he was able once again to become a hermit at the local shrine of Our Lady of Quintiliolo near Tivoli, Italy. His patron was Bishop Barnaba Gregorio Chiaramonti, O.S.B., who would become Pope Pius VII.
Bishop Chiaramonti clothed him in the religious habit of a hermit, and at this time he took the name Clement Maria.
Clement spent his time at the shrine, helping others and praying for them, but his heart still yearned for the priesthood, so he returned to the priory to continue studying Latin and baking bread. Thanks to the generosity of two benefactors he met while serving Mass, he was able to begin studying for the priesthood at the University of Vienna. He was 29.
At that time theology courses were heavily influenced by the Emperor Joseph, who had closed all seminaries. Studies were conducted at state-run universities, which Clement found frustrating because the theology coursework had been influenced by the emperor’s views and rationalism.
Although Clement completed his studies in 1784, the emperor had forbidden new candidates from entering seminaries—so Clement was unable to further his goal of priestly ordination.
That same year, while on another pilgrimage to Rome, Clement fell in love with the Redemptorists (the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer). He and his friend Thaddeus Hübl decided to enter the Redemptorist novitiate at the Community of San Giuliano in Rome, and on March 19, 1785, the feast of St. Joseph, they made their profession of vows. Ten days later they were ordained to the priesthood.
Their first directive, given by the superior general, Father Francesco de Paola, was to return to their homeland across the Alps and establish the Redemptorists in northern Europe.
Again Emperor Joseph stood in his way. He would not allow a new religious institution to open within his empire, so the two Redemptorists moved on toward Warsaw. They were joined by Peter Kunzmann, another baker and the first non-Italian Redemptorist lay brother.
In Warsaw the apostolic delegate, Archbishop Ferdinando Saluzzo, directed them to work with the German-speaking people by putting them in charge of St. Benno Church. Clement was particularly drawn to homeless boys and opened a home called the Child Jesus Refuge for them.
It was common for him to go begging from door to door for his students. Once he approached a man in a tavern to ask for a donation. The man spat at Clement and uttered vile profanities. Wiping his face, Clement said, “That was for me. Now, what will you give for my children?” The men at the bar were impressed by his humility and gave more than 100 silver coins.
At first the locals believed they were too busy to attend Mass. They were also afraid to trust these priests from a foreign country. But after several years attitudes began to change, and eventually the priests were able to turn the children’s refuge into an academy. Regular benefactors contributed money and helped in many other ways, but Clement continued to beg from door to door.
Many Catholics in Warsaw had left the faith and turned to Freemasonry. They banded together, intending to close the churches and harm the priests. Clement reasoned that drastic remedies were required for drastic maladies, and in response he created “Perpetual Missions,” conducted daily throughout the year.
In 1787 the number of those receiving the sacraments had been about 2,000. By 1800 the total had grown to more than 100,000. The number of priests at St. Benno’s had increased to 21 Redemptorists and seven lay brothers. But it was a difficult and bloody time for foreigners in Poland, who were routinely attacked.
Many wanted the Redemptorists out of Poland, and ultimately the parish was closed. Forty Redemptorists were sent to prison for a month and then returned to their own countries.
Clement returned to Vienna, where he worked as a hospital chaplain, caring for soldiers wounded when Napoleon’s army attacked in 1809.
In July 1813 he was appointed chaplain of the Ursuline Sisters. There he developed a reputation as a gentle confessor and a powerful preacher. He also founded an orphanage and two schools and constantly dreamed of increasing vocations to the Redemptorists so they could conduct missions throughout the world.
Clement prayed relentlessly for souls facing death, especially those in a state of mortal sin. One day a sister entered the church to find Clement kneeling at the altar with tears on his cheeks as he begged for the conversion on a particular sinner.
The sister overheard him pray, “Lord, give me this soul, for if Thou refuse, I shall go to Thy Mother!” The sister was deeply affected by his plea and joined her prayers to his before an image of the Blessed Mother.
Clement died in Vienna on March 15, 1820. He was canonized by St. Pius X on May 20, 1909, and his feast is celebrated on March 15. He is co-patron of both Vienna and Warsaw.
He is regarded as the second founder of the Redemptorists for his efforts in establishing the Congregation north of the Alps.
His shrine is in the church Maria am Gestade in Vienna, Austria.
Eight interesting facts about St. Clement
- Clement was the ninth of 10 children.
- He was a baker in his early years.
- He began the “Perpetual Mission,” a full-scale mission conducted every day of the year.
- He worked as a hospital chaplain after Napoleon attacked Vienna.
- The rosary was his favorite devotion.
- His favorite Marian title was “Mother of Our Lord.”
- He is often called the “second founder” of the Redemptorists.
- He was considered a “lion in the pulpit” and a “lamb in the confessional.”
Who are the Redemptorists?
Two thousand years ago Jesus said, “He sent me to preach the Good News to the poor.” Since 1732 the Redemptorists have followed in His footsteps, preaching the Word and serving the poor and most abandoned. Our congregation of missionary priests and brothers was founded by St. Alphonsus Liguori. Like the first Apostles, our mission—and our joy—is bringing the message of salvation to all people. As Redemptorists, we have a special devotion to crib, cross, Mary, and the Eucharist. To learn more, explore our website and connect with us on Google+, Facebook, and Twitter.
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