Saint Clement Takes on the World
Readers of Liguorian receive regular doses of information about the Redemptorists and their founder, Saint Alphonsus Liguori. For Alphonsus’ vision of preaching God’s plentiful redemption among the poor to endure, it would require men with a desire to preach and the ability to adjust their preaching and ministry to new eras. The Redemptorists would find such a man in Clement Hofbauer. It was Clement and a few other stalwart souls who were commissioned to spread the faith in a context different from that of the Papal States, where the Congregation was born in 1732. His work attracted the attention of many people in the nineteenth century and eventually led to his canonization in May 1909.
Today we remember Clement Hofbauer for introducing the Redemptorist Congregation to northern Europe, improving the lives of the poor while sustaining their spiritual needs, and defending the Church’s right to conduct its affairs without interference from rulers and states in internal Church matters such as the appointment of bishops. (In German, a bauer is a “farmer,” an appropriate word for his zeal and care for those he served.)
The faith in a new era
Europe in the late 1700s was on the verge of political revolution, fueled by such Enlightenment ideas as self-governance and the autonomy of the political state. In the 1770s, Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II promulgated a kind of state control over Church affairs. Under his rule, countries found their administrations dismantled and German declared the official language of the Austrian Empire. Monasteries and convents were suppressed (closed) to generate funds that, oddly enough, went toward establishing other Catholic churches or dioceses; the state controlled the education of seminarians; and the Jesuits, among other religious orders, were suppressed and expelled. Out of this context in 1784, Clement and his friend Thaddeus Hübl emerged into the world of the Redemptorists in Rome. The first non-Italians to join the Congregation, they stayed in Rome until mid 1785, when they returned to the milieu they’d left only a few years earlier.
In 1787, Clement and two other Redemptorists arrived in Warsaw, Poland, and began to minister out of the Church of St. Benno to a community of Poles and Germans. The obvious work of ministering to the people through the sacraments and encouraging their faith through preaching, processions, and promoting a vigorous parish life was of first importance to Clement. While there, he oversaw the care and education, in Polish and German, of orphaned children and erected a trade school for girls. For more than twenty years, St. Benno served as the center of Redemptorist ministry in northern Europe, until Napoleon expelled the Congregation in 1808.